Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Star Inn at Harome, Yorkshire

Though I'm sure this part of the world has its charms at any time of the year and whatever the weather, I've been fortunate enough to experience perfect summer sun each time I've had cause to travel to Yorkshire. For the Black Swan our meal was preceded by a stroll through the surrounding valleys, spotting a few of the animals that were to appear on our plates that evening. And in Leeds a couple of years later, though most of the day was spent on a train or in that strange dining room on the top floor of a clothes shop, we did have time for a pint outside Whitelock's before the journey home, soaking up the rays as we debated the merits or otherwise of our lunch.

And so too last weekend, where a long-awaited tasting menu at Yorkshire super-gastropub The Star Inn at Harome happened to coincide with the hottest April day for 70 years, a fact not lost on the hungry group of people (myself included) climbing the huge hill to Wombleton on our way to lunch. But there's nothing like a long walk up a hill in 27C to work up an appetite, and once walking boots had been swapped for high heels (not mine) and a bottle of fizzy rosé opened in the Star's back garden, we were ready to get stuck in.

First of the courses was a baked oyster covered in shaved (though strangely not melted - I think the cheese was grated over the already-baked oyster) Parmesan and a kind of wild garlic pesto. I've never not preferred a raw oyster to a cooked one, but this was still very nice, using good lean oysters and just the right amount of cheese and garlic to season them.

Next, one of my favourite things in the whole world - beef consommé - here poured into a bowl containing fresh horseradish, pickled beetroot and charred miniature onions. The vegetables were well chosen and well cooked, but of course we were mainly here for one thing, and that was a big Bovril-y hit of glossy beef soup, which was everything I needed it to be.

Another cracking dish was this of octopus, tender and touched with a slight char from the coals, in a rich, pitch-black Venere risotto, dotted with cavolo nero from the garden, dill, nasturtium, lovage, chorizo and who knows what else. In fact if I was going to pick fault I'd say we could have done with losing a few ingredients (particulary the raw lovage which tends to beat everything it's put up against to oblivion) as there was more than enough to enjoy in the octopus and risotto alone, but I suppose there's no point having a kitchen garden if you don't use it.

Then two foie gras dishes arrived simultaneously, our lovely waiter (more on whom later) happy to swap out a couple of the "signature Star Inn" foie, black pudding and apple for something from the shorter Garden menu which sounded more intriguing. And yes, although the signature "posh full English" (if you like) was immensely enjoyable, not least because the foie dissolved in the mouth like meaty butter and the sugar-coated apple was a perfect foil for it, the simpler yet slightly more experimental pairing of foie with warm spiced pineapple and cool cep ice cream was even more successful, garnering universal praise from our table.

Mains weren't disappointing exactly, just not quite up to the standard of what had come before. Turbot was lacking a bit in flavour (I'm told the older, larger animals taste better so this could have been a young-un), and an "oyster velouté" was subdued to the point of invisibility, although a cute little "wild garlic butter pie" it came with was warm and comforting.

And a slightly mealy venison loin played second fiddle to a braised faggot, plump with tasty offal, which really should have been the star of the show, especially once drenched in a sauce of fermented black garlic. Now I come to think of it, I don't think I've ever had a really good venison dish - it always seems to be a bit of a characterless protein, despite 'game' being my favourite category of food overall - so maybe this was just a personal thing and someone else would have found far more to rave about.

Despite the odd mis-step, though, we were enjoying ourselves, and in an effort to make the lunch stretch as far as possible into the afternoon (and also because we like cheese), availed ourselves of the cheeseboard. Don't ask me to remember everything that arrived (the matching wine measures were extremely generous) but Yorkshire Blue and Stinking Bishop were as good as they usually are, and all served at a perfect temperature.

I'm willing to believe there are people in the world who would not enjoy a Pontefract Cake Soufflé with salted caramel sauce and banana ice cream, but I am certainly not one of those people, and I thought the combination of the sweet banana and faintly bitter liquorice in the soufflé was seriously impressive, an experiment that very much worked. I am told, though I didn't try it myself, that the other dessert, "Whipped Brillat-Saverin with Flavours of Yorkshire Curd Tart" was equally experimental but less successful, although full marks for imagination. (I accidentally took a photo when my camera was on the table, but I quite like the effect so I've left it in)

Moving from our cosy little private dining room (the Star is full of cosy little nooks, as building that have been around for about 700 years generally do) back out to the glorious sun of the garden, the afternoon soon dissolved, as it generally tends to do with this particular bunch of people, into spirit-soaked, alcoholic oblivion. I notice from the itemised bill that one of us was the lucky recipient of a £26 shot of 15yo Glenfarclas while two others had to make do with a £6 Kilchoman Sanaig apiece, and did somewhat less well out of the equally-shared bill. And I have no idea who ordered the Mini Cheddars. Still, the point is, a marvellous time was had by all, thanks in no small part as well to our fantastic Spanish (I think) waiter who was a model of his profession and coped with every one of our increasingly lively requests with charm, knowledge and more than a little patience.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps The Star Inn isn't quite up there with the very best country restaurants I've been lucky enough to visit over the last few years. You've probably come to the same conclusion yourself by this point. But at £120/head for a full afternoon of fun, seven courses and enough quality booze to knock an elephant out, it's certainly good value and I'd be very surprised indeed if you booked a meal here and didn't have just as much fun as we did, booze or no booze, sun or no sun.


We stayed at Plumpton Court which was great value, very comfortable and did have a well-stocked bar before we arrived. I'm sure they'll have restocked by the time you get there, though.

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