‘Tweeness aside, this is a lust-inducing cracker of a place, a posh gastropub with wit’
It is a truth rarely challenged that if there’s a worst table in the house, it will have my name on it. And so it is at this spectacular new restaurant in York. The room we’re delivered to is handsome in a wood-panelled, stag-antlered way, but it’s populated only by a brace of silent couples and a lonely cheeseboard. We’re nowhere near the wood-burning stove, plonked beside a chilly, viewless window, whereas the dazzling main room is alive with chatter, with glamorous women, and men who look like that hot headmaster from Educating Yorkshire. Could we move, please?
Justin, the tweedy rugger bugger who’s shown us to our table, is astonished. “It’s all booked in there,” he sputters. Yes, but I’ve booked, too. I booked as soon as I heard there was an opening date for the highly-regarded Star at Harome’s first sibling. For this converted 1836 pump house in the centre of York, a glorious location by the banks of the Ouse, above Dame Judi Dench Way, with huge, plate-glass windows looking on to Museum Gardens. I booked before most of these chaps carousing on the crushed velvet banquettes even knew it existed.
There follows a stand-off of surprising intensity. Tweedy Justin ain’t budging, and neither am I. My pal looks as though he wishes the tartan carpet would open up and swallow him. Justin blusters off, finally returning with the deathless instruction, “I’ve managed to find a table. C’mon then, you.” Blunt Yorkshiremen, indeed.
There’s more Yorkshireness on the menu. I’m not being sneery: they milk it themselves with tea called “Ee by gum… Madam!” and home-cured charcuterie announced as a “Yard o’ Yorkshire”. Tweeness aside, this is a lust-inducing cracker of a place, a posh gastropub with wit. Chef Andrew Pern has spoken about a “rich man, poor man” approach to dish planning, so we find Harome-shot roe deer in cottage pie and carpaccio of beer-fed (!) Dexter fillet with corned beef fritters. Portions are Brobdingnagian, fuel for the fields rather than a potter round chichi cobbled streets. There’s a “terrine” of oxtail, a towering barrel of slow-cooked, shredded meat titfered with two mini Yorkshire puddings. Hot, carroty gravy (“ale’n’onion soup”) is poured over from a silver urn. So it’s a surprise to find the “terrine” is stone cold. Is this deliberate? “Yes,” says our cheery server, “Andrew says it’s supposed to be ambient.” Odd, yes, but it buffets you with vast, beefy flavours and would easily feed two. It’s a starter.
More refined is my “cassoulet” of excellent, smoked “Hodgson’s of Hartlepool” haddock (a direct import from the mothership) in cream sauce flecked with fresh herbs loaded with the tiniest, tautest haricot beans, so fine they could be Sicilian heritage cannellini.
“Butter roast” suckling pig comes with a stout, squidgy sausage roll, the filling spiked with dried fruit and Christmassy spices. Way to a girl’s heart, in every sense. The crackling crackles, the rich, sticky gravy hums with apple brandy. It’s the size of a baby’s head. There’s roast rump of lamb, pink, chewy, with the kind of ovine honk more often associated with hogget. It’s dotted with barley, and there’s bubble and squeak and “Yorkshire salad”, which mostly features little gem and mint. For pudding, there’s parkin (a touch burnt), and Welsh rarebit, four Bunterish slices, slippery with onion jam and served with a vat of fruity chutney in case your buttons are ever in danger of fastening again.
Snarky metropolitan types might snigger at loos titled “Helgas” and “Olafs”, or at wall art of a knitted pig’s head, or the dreaded crossed chive garnish. And the kitchen could lose 98% of the truffle oil it’s so keen on; the smell hits you as you walk in. But this is a splendid restaurant. At night, it’s like the approach to a fairy castle, the city’s beauty creating the kind of ambience designers can only dream of. Justin chases us out the door when we leave: “Well,” he barks, “did you like it?” It’s fabulous, I gush. And I mean it, Justin, I do.
• The Star Inn The City Lendal Engine House, Museum Street, York , 01904 619208. Open all day, 11.30am-10.30pm. About £30 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.
Atmosphere Room A 4/10 Room B 8/10
Value for money 8/10
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• This article was amended on 23 November 2013 to correct the atmosphere score for Room B to 8.