Jan Moir Are You Ready To Order
Mist drifts along the glacial valley and the temperature steadily drops as we travel onwards, onwards ever north. Freshly churned fields reveal that the last of the sugar beet has been pulled, a sure sign that the shortest day and the hard frosts of winter cannot be far away. At the verge, a handsome pheasant watches mutely from his fence-post perch, almost as if to say, yes, this is the right way. Keep going, keep going.
Sometime afterwards, we turn down into the village, past a stout red phone box and the pretty church, following the road as it bends sharply to the right. And, suddenly, there it is. A fir tree decked with lights and a brazier heaped with burning logs stand sentinel outside a low-built, 14th-century thatched inn, with yellow walls and a steeply pitched roof. Clementines and chillis stud the holly wreath that hangs on the green front door, so small that you have to duck down to enter. Inside, a fire roars away at the far end of the bar, candlelight gleams on polished oak and the warming aroma of wood smoke, beeswax and something good in the oven fills the air.
Taking a seat in a little nook near the fireplace, we look at the menu, which is bursting with the most delicious-sounding dishes, including roe deer steak with bubble and squeak, York ham lardons, buttered Brussels sprouts and chestnuts; roast mallard with baked forcemeat; duck sausages with curly kale colcannon and home-baked beans; Whitby cod fish cakes with a warm kipper salad; dark chocolate and orange pudding with satsuma sorbet and boozy cherries. Ah, how wonderful. Like the Three Wise Men, we have followed the star and now our journey is over.
To be honest, coming to the Star Inn at Harome is more of a pilgrimage than anything else, because I've wanted to visit for years. Sometimes, late at night, after a trip to another deadly, overpriced dive in the centre of London, I'll click on to the Star's website and scroll down its menu, just to see what's cooking. Ginger parkin with rhubarb ripple ice cream, hot spiced syrup and a shot of rhubarb schnapps? Fresh crab with plum tomato and basil salad, green herb mayonnaise and Bloody Mary dressing? I always knew that one day those dishes would be mine, all mine, and - thank you, Father Christmas - that day has finally arrived.
This, says S - as he orders a light lunch of crab for me, a slab of pheasant and pork terrine for himself, and a bottle of wine to share - is our own little office Christmas party. Celebrations begin with the perfumed, gamey hunk of terrine, which comes with a little salad of shards of crackling, a few brandy-soaked prunes and some hot toast, while a fluffy hillock of sparklingly fresh crab is garnished with thick dots of that extremely clever dressing spaced around the edge of the plate. It's all simply, but elegantly served in the dark cosiness of the bar and, because we sit in front of the crackling fire, planning our dinner tonight of locally shot woodcock and grilled halibut, we say to each other: isn't this the most perfect place?
In 1996, a local chef called Andrew Pern and his wife, Jacquie, took over this old pub in Harome, a tiny village in the wilds of north Yorkshire, and worked hard at establishing their vision of a country inn used by locals and travellers alike.
It became very popular. So much so that a Michelin inspector told them that they would have to make a decision about what sort of establishment they were running. It could be a pub or it could be a restaurant, but not both. You're wrong, said the Perns, it can. They stuck to their guns and won their Michelin star anyway and, to this day, the Star remains somewhere you can drop in for a steak sandwich or just a pint in the bar, or opt for a more structured meal in the restaurant next door.
At night, the small, relaxed restaurant in what used to be a cowshed glows with the bonhomie of a proper, old-fashioned auberge, with more polished woods, candles, Cognac bottles clinking on a trolley and specials chalked up on a blackboard. The cheerful Mrs Pern takes our order and details of how the woodcock should be served.
"Do you want your head left on or put on the side?" she says, a question I've not been asked since inadvertently trying to get a drink after last orders in a Glasgow pub.
On the side, please, we say, and the woodcock Rossini arrives complete with long beak, head cleaved open and a handy little teaspoon to dig out its bird brain. Woodcock is the best, the most delicious of all game birds, with a refined, delicate flavour that is quite different from anything else and, here, the chef has roasted and added luxury in the form of a little foie gras and two discs of black truffle - the classic Rossini treatment.
Cheese with fish never does it for me, but I'll make an exception for this heaping slice of halibut - proper Yorkshire portions here - and its puffy glaze of Montgomery Cheddar. Alongside is a sweet little salad of marinated tomatoes, with a dressing in which tiny, sweet shrimps swim upstream.
At the Star, expect wonderful cooking rooted in traditional British style, with the chef's deft Northern dash spiced up with a sure instinct for food that will deeply please, rather than flashily impress. It has excellent wines, which start at around £13, but for a celebration, the Château L'Enclos-Pomerol is fabulous with the woodcock, while a Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 2000 is terrific with fish.
We love the Star - which has lovely overnight rooms - even if there's a difficult moment in the dining-room when a cat wanders in and some customers object. After several requests, the waiting staff don't quite get it together to eject it, so an irritated man in the corner takes it upon himself to do so.
"Does that cat want putting out? I'll do it," he roars and, after only a small bout of unseemly wrestling and yowling, they both disappear through the front door. Who knows what happens next, but I bet that poor critter's paws don't hit land until it's south of the Humber.
Really, my admiration for Yorkshire and all its people grows by the second.
- Star Inn,Harome, Yorkshire 01439770397. Dinner for two excluding drinks and service, £70.