After transforming the North Yorkshire village of Harome into a gastronomic Mecca with his two posh pubs, the Star and, more recently, the Pheasant, Andrew Pern has extended his operation to the local metropolis.
Opened last September, the awkwardly-named Star Inn The City is a shrewdly-positioned venture on the banks of the River Ouse, bang opposite the York City Rowing Club. A crew of oarswomen, transformed into a single organism by their bellowing cox, sculled past as my wife and I entered the Star on a balmy Tuesday evening.
Less energetic citizenry thronged its riverside garden and bar, installed in a former water-pumping station of 1836. For food, you trickle through to a modernist glass wedge given a hint of tradition by Miss Marple-style tasselled lampshades. The All-Day Menu (available from noon to 10pm) plays the Yorkshire card with a heavy hand. White Rose patriots can start with 'Nidderdale chicken liver paté' before moving on to 'deep-fried Scarborough woof' and the barely pronounceable 'salad o't day'.
Seating 80, the dining room steadily filled during the evening. A long banquette enhances sociability, though it meant that an elderly couple opposite us were obliged to endure the conversational sallies of a well-refreshed pair of thirtysomethings, who loudly informed them about the right way of drinking champagne and many other topics. Most diners seemed to be York businessmen who clocked up steaks of 'prime Yorkshire beef' (£26-30) on the company plastic. The arrival of a huge pile of onion rings gave one table the appearance of a fairground hoopla stall.
Bread and butter (£2) arrives in a cloth cap. At least, it should. Ours came on a plate. "I'm afraid people keep nicking 'em," explained our waitress. "I'll get you one." The repeated appropriation possibly explains the label hidden inside this time-honoured symbol of God's own county: 'MADE IN CHINA'.
My wife's starter of 'seared sea scallops with spiced Yorkshire pork cheek' proved to be even more disturbingly alien. Though this gastronomic marriage worked well, the price of £14 for two smallish scallops suggests that the celebrated Yorkshire obsession with dosh has gone the way of the cloth cap and whippet. Gratifyingly, my corned beef turned out to be reasonable value at £9. Topped with Black Sheep ale jelly and studded with little gherkins, it had scant connection with the tinned version. Moreover, you rarely get Fray Bentos accompanied by marigold petals and thyme flowers. If we had been on the bank of the Oise rather than the Ouse, this juicy item would have been quite at home as terrine de boeuf aux cornichons.
From a list of mains, accurately described as 'more substantial', Alison was lured by 'pan-fried breast of Beverley-reared duck', which proved to be as pink and tender as you would hope. She was impressed by accompaniments of citrus sausage roll, pickled cherries and anise carrot purée. "You can tell a lot of care has gone into it."
Pressed by the staff to order a side plate of vegetables, she turned down leeks as "too oniony". "How about creamed spinach?" But when it arrived, this too proved to be weirdly dominated by the taste of onion. A glance at the menu explained it was actually 'creamed spinach and shallots'. This odd combination went untouched.
Feeling in need of something lighter on a warm night, I plumped for the daily special of 'North Sea lobster and saffron risotto, summer vegetables and Ribblesdale smoked cheese'. It looked great – golden rice punctuated with commas of saffron – like the risotto alla Milanese I'd enjoyed in that city, though the taste was quite wrong. Substituting for a whisper of Parmesan, the Yorkshire cheese made the risotto far too saline and fatty. The lumps of lobster vanished amid the claggy morass. It was a case when less would have been more, though I don't suppose Mr Pern could have charged £22 for Milan's simple perfection.
At the dessert stage, the same cheese tasted fine among a generous selection that also included Yorkshire Blue, Harrogate Blue, Dale End cheddar and a fresh goat's milk cheese from Lowna Dairies near Beverley. Alison said her 'elderflower rice pudding with gin-soaked goosegogs' delivered "lots of lovely subtle flavours" as she followed the advice of a waiter to "have a gooseberry with each mouthful of pud".
All in all, our dinner was a mixed bag at a somewhat daunting price. The limited choice Market Menu (served noon to 6.30pm) looked a better bet at £17 for two courses, or £22 for three. Located midway between York station and the Minster, you won't find a finer setting for lunch in this delightful city.
The Star Inn the City, Lendal Engine House, Museum Street, York (01904 619208). Around £140 for two, including wineReuse content