Malton - Yorkshire's foodie mini-break
PUBLISHED: 17:00 11 April 2017
Malton is calling itself 'Yorkshire's food capital' with an impressive and growing list of artisan producers. But can it really compete with the likes of Leeds and York, asks Tony Greenway.
For a good while now, Malton has been looking... well... rather delicious. I used to live there 27 years ago when it was a pretty little market town but, food-wise, wasn’t much to write home about. It didn’t even have an Indian restaurant. It’s still a pretty little market town. Now, however, Malton has morphed into a foodie paradise that’s home to myriad artisan producers, and has taken to calling itself ‘Yorkshire’s food capital.’
In the stylish Talbot Yard Food Court alone, for example, there’s the brilliant Groovy Moo gelateria, the Roost Coffee and Roastery, the Food 2 Remember butchers and The Bluebird Bakery. Drop down into the town centre and you’ll find the Yo Bakehouse artisan bakery and coffee house, Mennells chocolate and sweet shop, McMillans of Malton (for all your specialist gin and whiskey requirements), No 46 Cafe and Cocktail Bar, Chapter One Bistro, Kingfisher Cafe Gift & Bookshop, Leoni coffee shop (whose owner, Simon Robertson, has been crowned UK barista champion in past years), Dales of Malton fruit and veg, Costello’s bakery and Derek Fox Butcher and Game Dealer (although this last one is hardly new, having been in Malton for around 100 years). Brass Castle, meanwhile, is a microbrewery whose Burnout beer was crowned UK Supreme Champion at the Society of Independent Brewers national beer competition.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
There have been some disappointments: Butterbees of Malton — the UK’s first butter boutique which was widely publicised in the press — has closed, for example but the Malton Cookery School, the monthly markets, and an acclaimed food festival (which returns in May) have put the town squarely on the culinary map. So much so that other names are now considering Malton as a location, such as bar and restaurant company Stew and Oyster, who are reportedly looking at setting up in the renovated town hall building plus a wood-fired pizza restaurant and a gin distillery.
But ‘Yorkshire’s food capital’? Isn’t that tag a bit... well... overblown? Can Malton really compete with the likes of Leeds, Sheffield or York, when it comes to food and drink?
Tom Naylor-Leyland, from Fitzwilliam Malton Estate, is the man leading the Malton food town project. He says that’s not really what the town is trying to do. And, anyway, it wasn’t Malton that came up with the ‘Yorkshire food capital’ title. That was something chef Antonio Carluccio said on his first visit here (he’s now something of a regular).
The truth is, says Tom, cities have more food outlets and producers than Malton because (no spoiler alert necessary)... well... they’re bigger. Obviously. ‘But Malton is specialising in food,’ he points out. ‘We have food businesses, producers, makers, markets, the festival, the cookery school... it’s not just one aspect with us. It’s the entire food world. The idea is to offer the customer a complete foodie experience when they visit. We’ve been calling it a “foodie mini-break”. You can stay here, have a fantastic dinner, then go on a food tour, visit the producers and see how the food is made. You might go to our markets, the festival, or you might spend the day at our cookery school. Malton totally engrosses you in Yorkshire food — and British food, as well.’
Michelle Walker, the owner of Groovy Moo, set up her business in Malton after reading a newspaper interview with Naylor-Leyland. ‘Tom mentioned Talbot Yard, so we went to have a look,’ she remembers. ‘I took a gamble, bearing in mind this is prime farming community here. They can be set in their ways, but they value what I call “the experience” — customer service, value for money and (buying) something good. If it’s not good, you won’t survive in this town. So I don’t think it’s about ‘come to Malton and you’ll make a fortune.’ I think you have to believe in (what you’re offering). And if you believe in it, you will succeed here.’ Indeed, Groovy Moo has been so successful Michelle is now in the process of opening a second unit in Howden, East Yorkshire.
The lesson for would-be retailers in Malton is this: Michelle hasn’t simply opened her business to tie in with the festival or the tagline. She’s here for the long-haul and admits the food capital title can be a bit overdone. Malton gets most of its revenue from the local people, which she says, speaks volumes for the town as a whole. It’s a loyal kind of place. ‘When I came here with a cabinet full of gelato with all different flavours, do you know what?’ she asks. ‘They got on board — and they’re all singing with us. And now the net is spreading and people are coming from far and wide to Malton.’
Navigation Wharf — the next phase of Malton’s foodie development — is now opening. This is an area of former riverside warehouses that has been developed by Fitzwilliam Estate and Costello’s, famous for its pies, will be moving in soon (and probably will have done by the time you read this).
Yet are more developments really necessary? Isn’t the Talbot Yard Food court and other units in the town — not least the renovated town hall — enough to be getting on with? ‘Navigation Wharf will be a little bit different,’ says Tom. ‘We don’t see it as raw retail. It’s more production. Costello’s will be going into a large unit there and will be visited on the food tour, for example.’ Yo Bakehouse will also be taking a production unit.
And anyway, Tom says that one of the biggest changes to have happened in Malton over the last few years hasn’t been to the physical infrastructure. Instead, a feeling has been growing in the town. ‘People have become excited by Malton and are starting to really believe in it. We had 1,000 people at our first food festival nine years ago. Last year we had 30,000 visit us over two days. Food is such a universal, emotive subject.’ There is still work to do, he admits: the restaurant offer could be bigger and better, he says, and he’d really like to entice in a chocolatier and a cheesemonger. ‘And it’s not that we only want food businesses, because we have some fantastic non-food businesses here. Food is just the catalyst to get people in.’