Fish&Forest is a small, sustainably focused, low-waste restaurant in York that is wowing the critics. We meet the chef/owner, Stephen Andrews, to find out all about it
I was a ridiculously fussy eater as a child – there was a rather lengthy period where all I would eat was macaroni cheese from a tin – but chatting to Stephen Andrews, the man behind Fish&Forest in York, I feel that maybe there is some hope for me yet. “There was once a time when I was a super fussy eater too,” he grins. “I didn’t like much at all, so my culinary skills were limited to beans on toast.”
Looking at the Fish&Forest menu, he’s certainly come far, with dishes like monkfish, venison croquette and Skrei cod leaping off the page. Self-trained – “It wasn’t really a choice of mine, I fell into the kitchen later on when I was around 23/24” – Stephen initially moved from front of house to being a chef at York bar 1331, before leaving to go travelling and cooking in some of the most exciting kitchens in Sydney, Australia, which inspired his interest in sustainable, ethically sourced food.
When he returned to York, he decided it was time to strike out alone. “I was at the point in my life where I had all the knowledge and pedigree I needed to open my own business,” he says. “It was always a dream of mine to own a restaurant before I turned 30, so it was more a case of now or never for Fish&Forest.” And there was no doubt in his mind that York had to be the destination for his venture. “York has always been home – this is where I live and where I grew up,” he says warmly. “The food scene here is getting better and better year on year, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Fish&Forest launched in March 2019 at Spark, York’s space for food & drink and creative start-ups. “If I never opened my unit at Spark there would be no Fish&Forest today,” Stephen says. “It was hard work, a lot of graft and long days with some challenges, but what I got out of it far outweighs the negatives. My overall memories of Spark are pure happiness and pride. It was a great place to start.”
Word quickly spread about Stephen’s offering and, just three months after opening, he was approached by the team at the Gillygate pub, who offered him the opportunity to use their underused front room as a new base for Fish&Forest. “Like Spark the Gillygate were taking a risk on me, but the opportunity they afforded me cannot be forgotten,” Stephen says. “They allowed me to have a space to trial my restaurant before I took the leap to landing a spot of my own. The freedom I had gave me the final push I needed to create my own identity and really solidify myself as a great up-and-coming restaurant and chef.”
Again, like his time at Spark, Stephen’s popularity grew swiftly and just over a year after Fish&Forest first impressed diners, they opened their own space at 110 Micklegate in April 2020 – during lockdown. “It’s never a good time to take a big risk,” he shrugs at the timing, “and you will always find an excuse why not to do something. Sometimes you need to just believe in what you do and take the leap – so that’s what we did!”
In the space of two years, Fish&Forest has become one of York’s finest dining establishments. Stephen is supported by a young and welcoming front of house team led by Yohan Barthelemy, a French native with years of experience in hospitality and who curates a well-balanced and diverse wine list. The ethos behind the food offering, Stephen states, remains just “the same” as when he first started out at Spark. “We want to bring good quality fish and game dishes to York, something that people may not have tried before,” he says. “We strive to be sustainable and our ethos is if something doesn’t happen straight away, we keep pushing ourselves to be better at it.”
The menu changes frequently, evolving with the seasons, and you can sense the excitement in Stephen’s voice when he chats about what’s available right now. “Currently we have plaice on the bone to be filleted by the customer at the table with a sauce that has some similarities to a Grenobloise. We have torched mackerel with dashi and courgette kimchi. We also have very traditional rabbit and boar rillette.” Are there any dishes that are particularly exciting him? “At the moment I’m really enjoying cooking fish over the Konro Grill,” he enthuses, “so anything that involves that is exciting really.”
York locals and those who have travelled from further afield have only great things to say about Fish&Forest, and clearly a lot of work has gone into creating the right ambience. “We are a bistro, but we like to say we are a neighbourhood bistro because we want our guests to be relaxed and feel at home whilst being served fresh, high-quality dishes that are cooked with a lot of passion and soul,” Stephen says.
He’s certainly come far since those beans on toast days, but recounting his earliest memory about food, perhaps this was always inside him. “That would be the first time I tried my gran’s bramble pie,” he smiles. “I can remember just being impressed that something that looked so nice was made from so few ingredients.” It perfectly encapsulates the cooking at Fish&Forest, which last year was recognised in the Michelin Guide for its ‘Commitment to Sustainable Gastronomy’. This is one restaurant that’s certainly worth making a fuss about.