The miserable wet and windy weather that has befallen the north of England in the past few weeks is more conducive to staying at home in front of the fire than stepping out for a meal on a Sunday lunchtime.
But that would never do and so Oliver braved the elements and ventured out to the Pheasant Hotel in the beautiful little village of Harome in North Yorkshire to sample one of its Sunday lunches in a bid to banish the winter blues.
Harome is a tiny little place with just 100 houses and, according to the 2011 census, just 261 people. Some of the cottages are thatched, it has retained its red telephone box, has a proper duck pond and exudes rustic rural charm as you drive through it to the Pheasant country house hotel just across from the church.
According to the hotel website, it was created by knocking together the blacksmith’s shop, village shop and barns and boasts 16 rooms set around a courtyard as well as its own swimming pool.
There’s a line of colourful wellies outside the reception door for guests to use - presumably to keep their feet dry if they decide to go for a ramble around the garden after dining. A nice touch but one we didn’t avail ourselves of.
We arrived on the dot of 1pm to take up our reservation and were shown into the conservatory, a bright, light and airy room just off the main bar area. We were surprised to find only one other table occupied and a couple in the bar having a drink and looking at the menu.
The decor at the Pheasant was designed by co-owner Jacquie Pern and interior designer Peter Silk of nearby Helmsley. They have captured the country chic theme perfectly. Modern plaids and plump upholstery combined with an array of hunting lodge-type decoration and creatively upcycled furniture.
The menu changes regularly with the seasons and has been created by head chef and joint owner Peter Neville who combines seasonal game, meat and fish with a variety of vegetables and fruits from The Pheasant’s kitchen garden.
The lunchtime menu is not extensive with just five starters, mains and sweets to choose from - though we didn’t have any trouble finding something we liked. It’s a fixed price, two courses for £28.50 and three for £34.
Before we got as far as ordering though there was the question of the drinks to attend to. As I was driving and sticking to water my companion opted for a glass of the house white instead of a bottle - a chardonnay that was deemed to be crisp and fruity and good value at £5 for a large glass (my water was icy cold and served in a lovely pewter jug).
To keep on track with one of my new year resolutions I was determined not to eat any bread but when it came down to it I accepted a small piece from the waitress who persuaded me it would be a shame to resist.
How right she was. Moist and fluffy with a deliciously nutty flavour - I could have made a meal of it on its own.
Starters and main courses duly ordered we sat back and waited for them to arrive.
By this time the restaurant has begun to fill up with a few more couples and a small family party with two well-behaved young children, so the atmosphere lightened.
I’d opted for fennel cured salmon with beetroot, confit lemon and more of the amazing granary bread.
Beautifully displayed, the salmon was plump and juicy, the beetroot’s taste and texture complementing the flavours perfectly. After changing her mind several times my dining companion finally went for a lovely meaty duck terrine which was accompanied by plump glazed figs, watercress and a pile of intricately crafted sourdough crisps that looked almost too nice to eat - but she did.
Starters dispatched, the main courses arrived after a suitable interval. I decided to stick with fish and ordered north sea bouillabaisse accompanied by some more works of art - this time anchovy straw - and soused in saffron mayonnaise. It was a wise choice, the pieces of fish succulent and the sauce tasty and not at all overpowering.
My companion ordered a traditional leg of lamb which came with a pile of crispy roast potatoes and parsnips and we were served with a side portion of beautifully-cooked vegetables to share. However these were crammed into an impossibly small dish that caused quite a bit of fall-out when we delved in to serve ourselves.
The lamb was the only disappointment of the meal so far; not as tender as expected and with a fair amount of gristle.
On to dessert-although we both knew we should have resisted. We ordered apple and blackberry bavarois with hazelnut ice cream; and warm pistachio cake with mulled pineapple and coconut sorbet and agreed we’d share.
The pistachio cake came out the clear winner, it tasted as good as it looked, the flavour of the bavarois however was a bit too subtle and the overall dish really quite bland despite being beautifully presented.
It was redeemed by the ice cream which had a satisfying crunch of hazelnuts and a lovely creamy taste.
We finished off with two large pots of coffee(£3.75) and the final bill came to £80.50 including the drinks.
A not insubstantial amount but representing good value bearing in mind we’d had three course, coffee and wine and spent a very pleasant two hours in lovely surroundings putting the world to rights while the wind howled outside and the rain threatened.
Address: Harome, near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5JG
Tel: 01439 771241
Opening times: lunch: noon-2pm; afternoon tea 2-5pm; dinner 6.30-9pm