What's on the menu in Malton?

Former Malton resident Tony Greenway takes a foodie's look at what is happening in the North Yorkshire town Photographs by Joan Russell

Hard times are with us but to its all credit to the town of Malton, near York, which has gone on the offensive, searching for new ways to keep the high street and its independent retailers afloat.

One idea was to launch the Food Lovers’ Festival, part of the We Love Malton campaign, with the aim of helping to increase the number of visitors and support local food producers.

‘We run a programme of special events and central to the whole programme is the Food Lovers’ Festival,’ says Ian Shepherd a campaign member. ‘Malton is steeped in farming, local produce and food. There is a real quality food offering here.’

I take Ian’s point: there are lots of fabulous food suppliers in the area. The SLOEmotion gin producers for example at Barton-le-Willows; Cretan olive oil from Yiannis Kardamakis, based in neighbouring Norton; Malton Honey and Cropton Cider.  But — and I say this as a former resident — the town itself never struck me as a foodie location. Has that changed?

‘Certainly,’ says Ian.  ‘And the long term intention is to strengthen that reputation. If you walk around the central Market Place you’ll see a vast array of food shops and specialist food outlets. This is a different food shopping experience than the one you’ll get in a national supermarket. It’s more leisurely.’

There are (and have been for as long as I can remember) two great independent butchers in the town: Overton’s on Finkle Street and Derek Fox on the Market Place, where game hangs outside on hooks; and a couple of proper greengrocers, Paley’s, also on the Market Square and Dale’s fruit and vegetable store on Wheelgate. But there’s more going on than that.

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There’s an old-fashioned sweet shop, Mennell’s Sweets; a couple of excellent delis; a Mexican restaurant, an Italian, the long-established Florio’s, Indian, Thai as well as a variety of coffee shops. Good coffee shops, too.

Put it this way, Simon Robertson, who owns Leoni’s Coffee House, was one of the first baristas in Britain to be recognised in his field. He was voted UK Barista Champion of the Year three times and his business was named by The Independent newspaper as one of the 50 best coffee shops in the country.

The town received another foodie boost in February, when it was announced that Daniel Taylor, head chef at London’s Brook and Bond restaurant and who previously owned his own restaurant in America, is to open a new restaurant in Malton. This is on the back of scooping the top �10,000 investment prize in the town’s unique Chef Challenge competition.

Many local artisans can be found at the farmers’ market, held on the last Saturday of every month and even more will figure at this year’s Food Lovers’ Festival, which, for the first time, will be a two-day event. Last year there were 60 food producer stalls at the festival; this year it’s anticipated that there will be over 90. The festival has up to now attracted about 5, 000 visitors, so Malton hopes that this year’s bigger event will do even better business (and there will be a Beer, Wine and Drinks Celebration to help in this regard, outside the Milton Rooms).

The big celebrity guns are out in force, too, because the festival patrons include TV chefs Brian Turner and Rosemary Shrager. Rosemary, who runs her own cookery school at Swinton Park, at Masham, has a family link with the Malton area. Her grandmother lived at Kirby Misperton. ‘Although I don’t know the area well,’ says Rosmary, ‘I feel as though I have Yorkshire roots because of the Kirby Misperton connection. I have an affinity for Malton and I’m really honoured to be asked. I feel as though I belong there.’

Food festivals, says Rosemary, are hugely important for towns like Malton. ‘People use them to find out what the area offers in terms of local produce. A festival like this can urge someone on to buy from local producers, rather than gong to the supermarket — and that’s terribly important.’

One of those producers is Sophie Legard, who runs the Malton Relish deli. ‘Malton is a great place to be,’ says Sophie. ‘We have the Moors but we’re close enough to the sea. There are plenty of farmers around, too, so if you know where to look, you can pretty much get anything, be it honey, olive oil or fudge. We’re at the epicentre of all the good things that Yorkshire can produce.’

Sophie, who will be appearing at this year’s festival, opened her shop three years ago after spotting a gap in the market. Now, she says, there’s a real buzz in the town. ‘And Malton definitely needs it because there are more empty shops than full shops. Something needs to be done to turn the tide and get it all going again.

A few shops have opened in the last couple of weeks and the Malton (Fitzwilliam) Estate is keen to get more food outlets into the area.’ Clearly, out of town centres are putting a squeeze on local independents. ‘The two need to live together happily,’ says Sophie. ‘To get that harmony right, we need to keep Malton’s independent shop owners going.’

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