I will allways remember my first visit to a genuine British dining pub, the Dering Arms in Pluckley Station in Kent. It was for me a magical moment, with gleaming sunlight that fell through the small windows, the smell of yesterday evening's woodfire, old fishing tools and hunt-memorabilia against yellowed walls, a friendly girl behind the bar, a big pint of fresh real ale, and then, to my utmost continental surprise a delicious dish that would put many a French restaurant to shame. That day I fell in love with that wonderful combination of two things I like so much: a traditional pub in the countryside and a good restaurant. And now, on a rainy day at the end of may we arrived in Harome, to find what I consider to be the best gastropub I ever visited: the Star Inn, owned by Jacquie and Andrew Pern.
The village of Harome is quite nice, very much Yorkshire countryside, but it was raining cats and dogs when we arrived, and we found ourselves quickly back in the pub where we conquered a corner table, ready for the thirst-quenching pint of real ale, a Black Sheep. A young waiter brought us the menu's, a bloke from the local cricket team convinced us to gamble two pounds (we lost) to support the village team, and there was the comfy and oh so human, sans pretention, warm feeling that a good pub can give. Combine this with a one-star Michelin kitchen and a very very decent wine list and we were ready for a magical evening.
We were seated close to the kitchen, where a kitchen team worked with the silent and efficent drive of professionals. The Star Inn concentrates very much on produce from the North and does not work with fancy exported foodstuffs. Quite the contrary even, because a lot of it comes from their own farm, their own butcher in Helmsley (do you know lots of good restaurants who own a butcher ? ) and from a list of top suppliers in the area. In the cookbook by Andrew Pern he dedicates some pages to them, with Jo Campbell for the vegetables, Richard & Ronda Morritt for the asparagus, Paul Talling for the poultry and during the season for all what the hunt can produce, Alan Hodgson for the fish (directly from nearby Hartlepool) and Father Rainer Verbourg from the Benedictine Monastery for the apples. I adore this, for while I am eating I taste what surrounds me, not only the chef and his talent, but the landscape, the air and the feeling of a region. Andrew is considered to be a master in this and is absolutely briliant in combining luxury foodstuff with ordinary everyday things, but then of supreme quality.
But enough blabla for now, for what did we eat ? I was served one of the best starters of my life, a chicken liver & foie gras parfait with girolles and gooseberries, with a parfait made in heaven, I never have eaten so slow...The gooseberries were enveloped in a stuff that gave them a fantastic taste, I can't decipher my handwriting, but every one of them was an explosion of taste (white truffle ?). J. took the signature dish of Black Pudding and Foie Gras, and I rarely saw him happier at a restaurant table We took a bottle of Les Setilles, Bourgogne Blanc, Olivier Leflaive, 2008, made from vineyards in Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, with a well defined nose with fruit and a certain minerality, and in the mouth a great fraîcheur, fine and light and elegant but capable of blending with my dish. **(*).
My main course was a woodpidgeon with peas and a mash made in heaven, but I am showing the picture of my neighbours dish, a Rare Breed Pork Rib with Seared Scallops and a brilliant risotto. By now teardrops of emotion were falling on my notes...so I can't decipher what risotto, but we were by now all in a state of culinary heaven, helped by a bottle of Jean-Baptiste Ponsot, Rully, 2008, a young and talented winemaker, with an aroma of clove and red fruit, with cooked fruit of high quality in the mouth, and supported by enough tannins and acidity, *** for me.
About the puddings, a word of warning ! They are delicious, but the English are great pudding eaters, and the portions are quite uneuropean. And when a gourmet like me orders A taste of Star Inn Desserts in Miniature, than there is one word misplaced in this phrase. This "miniature" plate could have served our table of four, maybe even included one of the other groups, but for one overfed tourist this was a bit over the top. The price, 15£, gave unsufficient warning, and the worst thing of it all was that it was so good...so I stood fast...and was rewarded...
This dinner costed the four of us together 299 £, drinks at the bar included, and worth every penny. The service was professional and friendly, the environment very nice, and we slept in the rooms at the other side of the road. These were very expensive and far better for a romantic weekend (a bubble bath ! luxury ! seduction !) than for four overfed and slightly drunk friends, but we were compensated by a breakfast that in itself was culinary heaven and one of the best I ever had (hmmmm...maybe the Stein Inn on Skye). A chat with Andrew about food and pubs, his signature in his "Black Pudding and Foie Gras" cookbook, toppedit all up and we departed happily (and in for a bit of a walk).
I love this picture, also taken this evening. It shows how in a top restaurant even a "simple" dish like potatoes and vegetables, something you get in every pub in Britain with your meal, becomes a small work of art. As usual we at first did not touch them, until someone took a bite. They disappeared like a snowman in the Mojave desert...