Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
when you wish upon a star
The barn owl that silently quarters the field next to the kitchen garden of The Star Inn at Harome is a common sight. Chef patron Andrew Pern, who is walking his two labradors in a rare moment of relaxation, points it out. “We love to see it hovering and then suddenly diving into the grass for its breakfast,” he tells me.
Meanwhile a more elaborate breakfast than a field mouse is about to be served indoors; Pern’s guests are eagerly circling a King Arthur-style round table, set for twenty, in what he calls the Piggery - a room with curved stone walls and giant beams with twisted hazel over them and yet another owl, this time a stuffed tawny.
We are here for two nights and looking forward to delicious food served in cosy, comfortable surroundings, for this is one of the country’s outstanding gastro pubs sporting a Michelin star. Pern is classically trained; a Roux scholar he remains good friends with both Michel and Albert Roux. Michel has written a foreword for his latest book and they sometimes go shooting together. Not surprisingly game plays a big part at The Star. Grouse, pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, wild duck and hare.
I like the sound of a wild rabbit pie and the ubiquitous wood pigeon which he cleverly, and perhaps uniquely, turns into a chestnut and lentil broth topped with pigeon breasts. And there is venison too - a choice of roe or fallow. Imagine a snipe on spelt toast with air-dried ham and apple brandy juices. Or Harome-shot hare hot pot, with baked pan haggerty. Alas, we are here in early May, well out of the game season.
Sitting at the bar on a Mousey Thompson stool (the bar is full of the famous furniture which always has a little mouse carved into it) Pern tells us how he and his first wife arrived here more than twenty years ago. The pub had been on the market for a long time and was terribly run down. “The previous owners had walked away and left it. The freezers were switched off and full of rotten food and the ash trays piled high with cigarette butts.” Undaunted they fixed it up and opened in the summer of 1996. “Me in the kitchen, my wife front of house and her mother looked after the bar,” he beams.
Next they bought the derelict farm buildings opposite the pub. “We paid over the odds to get them but it was worth it. Nine bedrooms and plenty of space for our guests to relax in and another kitchen to serve breakfasts from.”
He’s about to embark on yet more expansion in the form of a new house behind the pub. He and his second wife will move into it freeing up space for yet more bedrooms. (His first wife now runs The Pheasant Hotel in the same village; they remain friends and quite often share the same customers).
At his own admission Pern likes to keep busy or he gets bored; for that reason The Star act has spread its wings. There’s a thriving brasserie in York and another little place close to the river all under The Star banner. And his latest venture is The Star in the Harbour at Whitby, which concentrates on fish.
With 178 staff dotted between four restaurants, you might think that would be more than enough on any one’s plate but I suspect not. His new wife holds the fort at reception, his head chef of eleven years, Steve Smith, has been handed the kitchen baton, although Pern will happily return to the stove when needed. “The Star is my baby. This is where I live and this is where I am every day. It’s an extension of me,” he tells us.
My wife Lynne and I are sipping limoncello and prosecco, eyeing the starters and mains. There are oysters, barbecued octopus, a beef consommé with fresh horseradish and oxtail brioche. Charred and marinated mackerel with pickled Yorkshire rhubarb. Or could we fancy a twice baked Stinking Bishop souffle? Instead we dive into a rockpool of North Sea shellfish; butter- poached lobster, king scallops, mussels, cockles, and langoustine bisque and the foie gras with grilled black pudding, watercress, apple and vanilla chutney and a scrumpy sauce. All delicious and perfectly cooked. (It was so good that I had to have it on the second night).
Mains prove just as tempting. Turbot, squab pigeon, mutton, cod, liver and venison are on offer and we are glad of the second night to sample more from the menu but I had already earmarked what turned out to be mouth-wateringly, tender mutton. My wife chooses a fillet of wild turbot. It’s grilled with a wild garlic butter pie and accompanied by garden beans and moss parsley with an oyster veloute. Priced at £33 it’s the most expensive dish on the menu but worth every penny. The fish is beautifully cooked. Meanwhile I can’t resist the French squab pigeon poached in celeriac juice with scorched radicchio, parsnip and raw honey vinegar; it’s tender and bursting with flavour. Another time we must try the tasting menu for £85 and an additional £60 for wine pairing but you are gently reminded that it takes three hours to get through it!
We Brits have a special place in our hearts for a good pub and this one has all the right credentials - thatched roof, beamed ceilings, log fires, a bar, nice bedrooms and a bountiful kitchen garden. Add to that a restaurant with crisp white tablecloths, excellent waiting staff and a Michelin star (it was one of the first pubs to get one) all of which has merged into a picture post card village then you have the makings for a place of pilgrimage. Pern's hard work and dedication has paid off; the broad smiles on his customers’ faces prove that. But if he’s not finished yet, and there are more projects up his sleeve, my hope would be that he leaves Yorkshire behind and boldly heads north for Scotland. And there are plenty of owls up here too!
The Star Inn, Harome, near Helmsley
North Yorkshire YO62 5JE.
Telephone: 0044 (0) 1439 770397
E mail: email@example.com