This Friday was treat day. Richard and I’s anniversary is the week before Christmas so we tend to go away somewhere a bit nice in lieu of Christmas presents. This year we opted for the Star Inn at Harome. I was taken there in the summer as a 30th birthday treat, and whilst it was a beautiful experience we agreed that it felt like more a winter kind of venue, so we rushed back at the first sight of snow!
The Star Inn has been a pub (or similar) for about 600 years. It’s a gnarled old timber-framed building with loads of exposed beams and character. It was set up in its current format by Andrew and Jacqui Pern. Andrew is a bit of a game guru and has published a number of books, including Loose Birds and Game, which has a foreword by none other than Michel Roux. The Inn is consistently at the top of restaurant and gastro pub awards lists and is generally seen as a place to be in North Yorkshire.
We picked probably the worst night to go as the A1 had been closed for most of the day due to an accident that morning, and York traffic is bad enough at the best of times. What is typically an hours journey took us two and a half hours in the end – tedious! And upon arrival the heavens opened with chilly wintry showers. Luckily our accommodation for the night was the Star Inn’s ‘garden shed’ – part of their Black Eagle Cottages range. It was not, as the name suggests, a garden shed but actually an old outbuilding/ barn that had been luxuriously renovated for guests. It was warm, cosy and the decor was straight from an ‘Ideal Homes’ feature. We quickly got our slippers on and got a bottle of vino opened so we could sit and enjoy the classic carols that had been put on for our arrival – very festive!
The restaurant is a five minutes walk from the cottage. Unfortunately the wintry showers were still prevailing but luckily we had warm coats and reception had provided us with big umbrellas, so all was well. Needless to say I got SOAKED through on the walk up and was slightly cross on my arrival. Luckily there was a lovely fire in the pub and so I soon dried out. Also, set in front of the fire was a huge cauldron of mulled wine keeping warm. A lovely touch I thought.
We sat and perused the menu, which included an array of locally caught game and wild fare. I have to say that the menu is one of the most exciting things for me as it was completely different to my last visit. Only too often an eatery can get complacent with their menu and this is so boring. While we chose an amouse bouche arrived to tickle our tastebuds. I can’t for the life of me remember what is was but it consisted of some bizarre mousse topped with an aniseedy foam and fresh samphire. It was very prettily presented and was a feast for the eyes as much the mouth.
I opted for cured salmon to start. This was poached at the table using a hot lobster tea, poured from an iron teapot. It was a huge portion for a starter and presented like a work of art. I can’t say that the tea poached the salmon much but it was delicious nonetheless. The salmon was delicate and was topped with pickled julienne vegetables that were delightfully sour and crunchy. The lobster tea was amazingly smoky and rich. It was a delicate dish but bizarrely filling at the same time.
My main course was pheasant with juniper juices. I was determined to pick things I wouldn’t normally choose as it was such an exciting menu. The pheasant came two ways – a pan-fried breast and a slow cooked leg. Both were soft on the inside and lovely and caramelised on the outside. They came with a smoked mash and parsnips. The mash had such a depth of flavour and the parsnips were cooked aldente. I was worried this might make them a bit too raw but actually it meant that I could taste the true aromatics of the parsnip – we obviously overcook them way too much in the real world! The dish was very rich and every a mouthful a treat. If I had one criticism I would have wanted more juniper juices, as they were stunning. I wish I had taken a picture of this dish as, yet again, the presentation was lovely. But my greediness had set in before I remembered my camera – sorry!
A special Christmas array of desserts were on offer, to my pleasure! I opted for a trifle, which obviously was a bit more glam than the name suggested! Served in a martini glass, it consisted of a mulled wine jelly, booze soaked cherries, a thick and unctuous nutty syllabub and then topped with a cranberry sorbet and a ‘walnut whip’ which was a bit like a brandy snap. I think the concept of the dessert sums up the meal really. Pern takes classic dishes and classic ingredients and completely turns them on their head to get you thinking. I literally savoured each mouthful, tasting a new flavour each time and wondering what it was. The flavour combinations are not always the ones you would expect and so this keeps you guessing and excited about what might come next. I finished full and wanting to come back! We wandered back beneath the stars (as the showers had gone) to our warm bed in the garden shed.
A little quirk of the Black Eagle Cottages is that they come with self catering facilities and a hamper of local goodies with which to prepare your own breakfast. To me, this sounded like loads of fun. But when it came to it next morning it was actually quite stressful! The facilities are a teeny bit inadequate for cooking all the items to perfection, especially when you are used to your own kitchen. Following copious amounts of swearing, I did manage to serve up a full English of sausage, egg, bacon, black pudding etc. As we sat down to eat, it was obvious that all the ingredients were of the best quality, it was stunning – even with me nearly ruining it! The other odd thing was that once we had finished, we were left wondering if we had to do our own washing up (we did!)
So all in all, a lovely stay. Whilst there were a few teething problems with the accommodation, the staff were amazing and only too happy to sort out any issues and problems. The meal itself was faultless and a perfect way to mark an anniversary. I can’t wait to go back and I have my eye on the private dining room, which does tasting menus for you and your friends/ family – when I’ve won the lottery that is! I would stay there again as well. But maybe next time in the main hotel, but only so that I can have my breakfast cooked for me!