Remote location in idyllic country village? Check. Thatched roof? Check. Log fires crackling away throughout (including one outside, filling the air with soothing woodsmoke)? Check. Enough certificates to fill several walls? Check.
And finally, a menu you might imagine an English king from the Middle Ages might stoop to if he were caught unawares out in the sticks (which I imagine happened quite a lot back then)? Check.
Check, check, check. Welcome to The Star Inn at Harome (which is exactly six minutes outside the quintessentially English village of Helmsley, assuming you are travelling by car and there are no hold-ups). On the surface at least, it looks to have it all. It’s the sort of place you could imagine Mrs Doubtfire pottering about, or perhaps Marco Pierre White when he out on one of his hunts and he’s shot a deer.
It’s a page from a fairy tale. The cottage is low ceilinged in parts, cloistered and wreathed in a deep sleepy heat which wafts from the glowing log fires within (we passed at least two on our way from the bar to the main dining area). The whole place just purrs, like a contented cat snuggled beneath a sizeable duvet (the thatched roof). We arrive at 6pm prompt and even though it’s already dark by then, the inn makes for an impressive sight. Surely even a king would want to linger here a while.
The interior is bedecked with all manner of wall hangings, mostly certificates commending their culinary accomplishments. It is, after all, a Michelin Star restaurant and is recognised as one of the top gastro-pubs in the country. There are other things on the walls too, including some stuffed animals, except both are knitted: one is a bull’s head, the other a hare, so, there’s a sense of humour here, which is always good because a) it sets the customer at ease and b) you know they’ve more than likely got their feet on the ground.
In fact, just about every surface at The Star Inn has something on it, whether its an ornate bottle stand, a candleholder, a silver jug or something else. I won’t go so far as to say it’s cluttered but there is plenty to look at.
It’s a page from a fairy tale... wreathed in a sleepy heat from glowing log fires. The whole place just purrs, like a contented cat
Food then. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I drove an hour-and-a-half to be here. So, let’s get one thing out of the way immediately (if you’ve not worked it out already, that is): this is not your standard country pub fayre, it’s fine dining.
Regular readers of this column will no doubt have seen last week’s appraisal of The Man Behind The Curtain, the Leeds-based fine dining restaurant run by Michael O’Hare, which we crudely branded the culinary equivalent of modern art. Actually, we quite liked it, although price-wise it’s prohibitive. The Star Inn, however, is a world away from that kind of experimental, avante garde style of dining, rooting itself sure footedly in classical, earthy tones, painting with a tried and tested palate of time honoured dishes involving pork, ‘village shot deer’, chunky chips, buttered vegetables and pea and ham soup.
It might have its foundations in pub classics but this food has been elevated to new levels of wonder. Each plate looks like a painting, which, in a way, it is: artists are at work somewhere, unseen, within the bowels of the building.
We begin with pea and ham soup (£8), delivered to the table in a mis-shapen rustic bowl, in which lies a bed of beans and greenery, over which the waiter duly pours said soup: a thick and warming pale green broth which was deeply nourishing.
I ordered black pudding and foie gras (£15), which is as dark and lustful as you like: the black pudding delivering a deep, smouldering, almost sinful kick, which contrasts well with the indulgent, rich foie gras, still sizzling in its juices as it’s brought to the table, all finished off with the lightest of scrumpy reductions (and watercress to decorate).
Okay, it’s expensive. But you’re not driving here for the usual pub lunch. This is more than just an A-list cast of ingredients, it’s a full-blown masterclass in the art of theatre, for theatre this most certainly is.
The performance continues with mains. I have the aforementioned ‘village shot roe deer’ done pink (£26.95), while my dining partner goes for the selection of pork (£21.50).
To go with that, we also ordered chunky chips (£3) and some veg and potatoes, which were free according to my bill (and very nice too - crisp and buttery and hot).
I’ll vouch for the deer but after the foie gras I kind of wish I’d gone for something less rich. It’s a sweet meat and it’s served with parkin (yup, the cake), which, rather oddly, works. There’s also anise scented carrot purée, which is a nice foil to the richness of the deer and pulls it back down to earth, plus a confit of orange zest and game juices. It’s deceptively filling.
The pork includes tenderloin, homemade blood sausage, belly and pancetta, a brawn croquette and treacle-glazed cheek, mulled Yorkshire cider.
Dessert was ice cream (£5) and rice pudding (£7.50), the pudding good and creamy, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream in the middle and chopped rhubarb, which was my only qualm, because the rhubarb was poached and no doubt deliberately al dente, while I think it could have been soft and sweet, falling apart and oozing flavour - for me, it was the only part of the dish which didn’t work.
The final bill came to £114 (minus the kids’ very delicious sausage and mash at £9.50 each), which included a bottle of Pinot Gris (£26) and a lemonade (£2). Overall, it feels like stepping into a fairy tale and stopping for dinner.
FACTFILE - The STAR INN, HELMSLEY
Address: Main St, Harome, near Helmsley, YO62 5JE
Opening times: Mon 6pm-9.30pm, Tues-Sat noon-2pm and 6pm-9.30pm, Sun noon-6pm
Phone: 01439 770397