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Short break - The Principal York, York

00:00 17 February 2017

A junior suite with a view of York Minster

A junior suite with a view of York Minster

Tim Winter

The Principal, York, is an old favourite of a hotel which has undergone a lavish makeover. Louise Allen-Taylor was charmed.

The impressive Principal York HotelThe impressive Principal York Hotel

There is nothing quite like a railway hotel - big, bold emblems of the days when Britons were relishing the novelty of getting around their country with ease and style.

And the Principal York - formerly known as the Royal Station Hotel and the Royal York Hotel - is one of the better railway hotels. You can imagine the great and good of Victorian times disembarking from smoky steam trains and strolling to reception following porters manhandling steamer trunks full of big frocks. Queen Victoria herself came this way, taking a pitstop at the precursor to the current hotel in 1853 en route to Balmoral, which is how come the ‘royal’ epithet was added to the name.

The exterior is all proud Italianate architecture, the interior full of ornate pillars, vast staircases, huge chandeliers. Entering the Garden Room, an elegant lounge with an aspect across gardens to York Minster, you feel a little like a Borrower, such is the scale of the space.

The 139-year-old hotel has scrubbed up well from a multi-million pound refurbishment by the Principal Hotel Company, also responsible for the Principal Manchester (the Refuge Assurance Building before becoming the Palace Hotel) and the De Vere Cranage Estate, Holmes Chapel. The colour scheme in York is all whites and blacks, greys and other muted shades, with large wooden display cabinets, foxed mirrors, curiosities and wildlife pictures. It’s effortlessly sophisticated and has entirely avoided the possible pitfall of seeming like a noble old grandmother being forced to undergo a radical facelift.

Principal York dining roomPrincipal York dining room

Our spacious room has the same understated elegance as the public areas, and also a stunning view towards the Minster.

This hotel is, naturally, right next to York’s station, and the history of that long association is marked with displays of ancient suitcases and framed artefacts such as a 1922 refreshment room menu promising a chop or steak for 1s 9d, sardines on toast for 3d and the even less appetisingly-named ‘fish (ordinary)’ for 1s 6d.

I think we can do a bit better than that in the 21st century. So off we go to The Refectory Kitchen and Terrace. Bearing in mind the grandeur of most of the Principal’s interior, it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the main restaurant is a modernist lean-to: a huge slanting conservatory-style structure at the station-facing rear of the hotel. But it’s plainly a popular place, as is the nearby Chapter House bar, which is thronged when we pass through early on a Friday evening.

The menu is strong on British classics and Yorkshire ingredients. A superb starter of Whitby crab with mayonnaise and shaved fennel salad (£8) is fresh as a sea breeze. Crispy squid on garlic mayonnaise with a salt-charred lemon (£8.50) is lip-smackingly peppery with a gathering heat.

The Garden Room at the Principal York HotelThe Garden Room at the Principal York Hotel

A main of rump of Nidderdale lamb (£21.95) is as tasty as hoped-for, and curried monkfish with roasted cauliflower, couscous and coriander yoghurt £21.50) is lovely, though a warning from the waiter that a side dish really would be needed might have been helpful.

A luscious lemon posset (£6.50) proves a perfect palate-cleanser, and I also enjoyed my partner’s Yorkshire parkin with custard (£6.50), a gooey, syrupy treat! w

The Principal York, Station Road, York, YO24 1A. 01904 653 681, www.phcompany.com

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