Northern stars

In Yorkshire, big is beautiful

Leaning on the bar of the Star Inn in the North Yorkshire village of Harome, a customer glowered at his freshly pulled half-pint of Theakston, in particular the minute gulf between the froth and the lip of his glass. "Is it all right?" asked the barmaid. "Well, you could top it up for a start," he growled in response. Not an unusual exchange for a pub in this part of the world, I'd guess, but in many ways the Star Inn is out of the ordinary. Not only is the thatched, whitewashed building of great antiquity (a sign dates it to "twelvesomething"), but it also serves some of the finest nosh in the north. Since he took it over in June 1996, 28-year- old Andrew Pern has accumulated a slew of awards, including the Yorkshire Post Restaurant of the Year. Locally trained, aside from a stint in Fontainebleau, he has learned that Yorkshire folk don't like to go short.

When I rang on the previous day, the only available table was at 7pm. Since Harome is somewhat off the beaten track, even by Yorkshire standards, I arrived more than 20 minutes late. Still, Jacquie Pern, who manages front-of-house, was politeness itself as she showed us to our table in the small dining room. At my request, she turned down Ella Fitzgerald, who was a rather too insistent companion in the otherwise empty room. The "chef-patron", a beefy cove with hair cut en brosse, beamed down from a large framed photo in which he was hugging Michel Roux.

From the fish menu, a blackboard which changes every day, my companion plumped for deep-fried squid. A peculiarly mundane dish from the "chef- patron", I sniffed, what an earth could he do with it? Well, fry the tender rings in a rich saffron batter, then place a huge pile of them, like a dismembered Michelin man, on a generous slurry of gazpacho, that's what. From the standard menu, which changes every two weeks or so, I picked a kind of posh ploughman's lunch: three large curls of air-dried ham alternated with wedges of blue Jersey cheese. Here and there were dabs of sour cream topped with lovage flowers. A salad with the Pern trademark of two chives arranged like lobster feelers was crammed into one corner of this feast. I took a whole, warm ciabatta from our bread basket and plunged in.

One by one, the other tables filled up around us. The diners tended to be well-heeled and well-upholstered but thankfully less raucous than their counterparts down south. Most of them seemed to choose rack of lamb rather than the maritime items on the blackboard, and so did my companion. Four huge cutlets arrived, their juices imbued with rose and lavender. "Mmm, I'm in lamby heaven," she cooed after nibbling on a roseate sliver. I went for sea bream on champ potato with veloute of chives and roast calamari. Though the fillet was generously sized and correctly cooked (grilled, skin-on), its subtlety was overwhelmed by the richness of the thick disc of creamy potato and cabbage on which it rested and the surrounding pool of chive sauce. The stronger flavours of the three clumps of crispy squid tentacles, frantically pedalling in the air, fared far better. Accompanying the main course were great bowls containing mange tout, salad with strawberries and croutons, and boiled potatoes in herb butter.

The dessert course was no less prodigious. Noting the startled expression of one diner when presented with a portion of banana bread and butter pudding the size of a half-brick, my companion went for caramelised rice pudding on a bed of summer fruit mulled in red wine. Snaffling a spoonful, I found the rice a touch on the bland side but a wonderful blotter for the crimson lake of spiced berries. For my pud, I picked something called peppered pineapple tarte Tartin. This turned out to be a pastry shell containing a caramelised wheel of warm pineapple, spiked with black pepper, and topped with a melting splodge of honey ice-cream. Despite having a chunk of caramel welded to the back of my front teeth, I found the dish to be masterly. A triumph.

We were offered the choice of having coffee in the garden or in the "coffee- loft". Though I'm sure it's deliciously snug in the depths of a Yorkshire winter, this cramped attic, criss-crossed by a multitude of wildly contorted beams, proved to be stifling on a warm summer night. It was a delight to get out into the night. Under an inky sky, bats flitted against a horizon fringed with pomegranate pink. Including a most satisfactory bottle of Chateau Thieuley white Bordeaux at pounds 13.50, our bill came to pounds 61.35.

A similar generosity prevails at the Magpie Cafe, Whitby. Occupying a two-storey harbour-front structure dating from 1750, this has been a Yorkshire institution since 1937. And in some ways, the Magpie seems frozen in the Thirties. Its white-painted walls sparkle, its brasswork gleams, and many customers prefer to drink tea of a rich mahogany hue with their provender. Its extensive menu includes a whole lobster starter for pounds 10.95 (half for pounds 6.95), followed by such exotic offerings as grilled tuna on salad Nicoise or local haddock cooked en papier with sun-dried tomatoes and white wine.

There is even a Weight Watcher's Selection, but you can tell that the Magpie's heart isn't in it. Patrons are unlikely to shed many pounds by consuming "Mushroom and Butterbean Stroganoff with Rice". In fact, the vast majority of customers have fish and chips: "Nine out of 10 have it at lunchtime," a chef told me, taking a breather from his murky subterranean haunt. "The specials are more popular at night."

We both plunged for the standard (8-10 oz) haddock and chips, but the menu pointed out that "those with even bigger appetites" could have a fish of "approximately 12-14 oz" and "those with enormous appetites" could tussle with an ichthyological monstrosity weighing "approximately 16-18oz". "We don't get many asking for those," admitted the cook. When it appeared, apparently a few seconds after we made our order, the standard fish was perhaps a foot in length, but it had been fried in dripping so hot that it had curled into a parabola. The crunchy batter assumed wildly elaborate Gothic forms. The fish hiding inside wasn't bad, but didn't match the milk-white, piscine perfection I've had in the past at the Magpie. The chips, again, were middling, not flaccid but lacking the crunchiness of a faultless frite. But, to be fair, we were dining at the crowded height of the season.

Unless you come very early, you have to share tables at the Magpie, which is usually a very jolly experience. Two of our dining companions decided to order prawn salads, which took the form of massive mounds of crustacea surrounded by six different salads: coleslaw, potato salad with sultanas and so on. We left them giving careful thought to the pudding course. The Magpie tackles this end of the meal with great thoroughness, offering a choice of 30 hefty desserts, ranging from sticky toffee pudding to Jamaican fudge slice at pounds 2.60 a time. Even without sweet, we felt to have eaten enough for a week as we carefully manoeuvred our way into the broiling cauldron that is Whitby in August. As we left, at exactly 1pm, there was a queue of 22 people waiting to enter. Including one pot of tea and a half-pint of lager, the bill for lunch came to pounds 15.85

Star Inn, Harome, Near Helmsley, North Yorkshire (01439 770397). Open Sunday 10.00am-6.00pm, Tuesday to Saturday 12.00pm-2.00pm, 6.45pm-9.30pm. Magpie Cafe, 14 Pier Road, Whitby, North Yorkshire (01947 602058). Open from early Feb to end of December: 11.30am-9.00pm

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee