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Chef Bex Toppin reveals ‘local and seasonal food’ at heart of new York Minster Refectory Restaurant menus

The very best, locally sourced, seasonal food ingredients with a worldly flavour will be at
the heart of the menus at York Minster’s new Refectory Restaurant which opens later
this year under the direction of chef Bex Toppin.

Bex and partner Will Pearce have made a name for themselves since they opened their Bishopthorpe Road, Robinsons Cafe, bringing good quality but affordable dining to York. That winning characteristic will also be apparent in the Minster’s new accessible-to-all refectory-style restaurant cafe when it opens later this year.

“Like we have at Robinsons, the food at the Minster Refectory Restaurant will be sourced locally as much as we can,” said Bex, who expects that dishes at the new restaurant will have two or three main elements, ones that she and Will know work well together.

“The idea is a simple one – to let all the high quality ingredients shine through, without any fuss. If the ingredients are good you don’t need to do that much with the food.”

At Robinsons the menu is very much what Bex and Will like to prepare and eat themselves, supported by seasonal and local produce with a worldly flavour from the independent shops, butchers and grocers of York’s ‘Bishy Road’.

“We really want to carry on that focus of local, good quality, seasonal, dishes at the Refectory Restaurant,” she adds.

One challenge they will face at the new restaurant is setting full multi-course menus and preparing food for a new large restaurant.

“It’s a challenge, for sure, but I’m really excited about that opportunity, of being able to prepare special and seasonal dishes, but in the much larger dining environment we will have at the Refectory Restaurant.”

Breakfast/brunch options will range from traditional bacon sandwiches on locally sourced bread to kedgeree using locally smoked haddock.

Lunch and dinner will include a selection of small plates and seasonal brasserie-style dishes.

Although it is still very early days, and plans are still being finalised, the new team expect there will be a small daytime takeaway counter area with homemade cakes, breakfast lunch options and drinks. 

The main ground floor hall restaurant is likely to have capacity for 60-plus covers with breakfast and lunch options and evening menus; and smaller function and private dining rooms upstairs.

“The upstairs has amazing views of the Minster which will be unbelievable for special occasions… 

“I can see that being very, very popular.”

For Bex and Will this is the latest stage in a journey that has taken them on a tour of some of the country’s finest dining and hospitality venues. 

Bex, who is originally from Darlington, started as a trainee chef in 2007 at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin Star, Oxfordshire Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison.

She was two years under head chef Kerry Atkinson at Rockcliffe Hall, Co. Durham, where she met Will, who was running front of house.

They moved together to the Channel Islands, working with head chef Saun Rankin at Ormer Jersey, where, with Bex in the kitchen and Will as assistant restaurant manager, they gained a Michelin Star after just four months.

They finally decided to open their own place back in the North, and after working at Yorebridge House in the Yorkshire Dales, they launched Robinsons in York in 2016.

Bex and partner Will now form one of the main ingredients of a prominent, award-winning Refectory Restaurant development team that also includes The Star Group of Restaurants, GEM Construction (York) Ltd. and Rachel McLane Ltd.

As one of the two main investment partners – with Mike Green of GEM Construction – Andrew Pern at the Star Group of Restaurants brings the expertise and resources of those restaurants including The Star at Harome and The Star Inn the City, York. 

“Although Andrew and I will be working very closely together, people can expect the Minster Refectory restaurant to be a quite different concept to the Star,” adds Bex.

The plans for the new Refectory Restaurant remain subject to final planning permission in a deal that is ‘subject to contract’, as York Minster, Gem Construction and The Star Group of Companies work in partnership to finalise contract arrangements.

This follows December’s City of York Council’s Planning Committee unanimous resolution to grant planning permission for a new refectory restaurant on the site of the former Minster school. 

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