It is four years since I last set foot in the Pheasant Hotel in Harome, near Helmsley. Then, the place was the newest venture in the already burgeoning empire of Jacquie and Andrew Pern which included The Star Inn, an eight roomed lodge, shop et al.
At that time I was happy with all I found at the Pheasant yet did question if this was a step too far even for the indefatigable Perns?
It seems it wasn’t. There may have been changes and a little trimming of the realm, but all has come through shiny and bright. The Pheasant has quietly gathered its own awards, plaudits and a loyal following.
Any hesitation I may have had about the durability of the hotel was made, I must admit, without consideration for chef Peter Neville’s input. Peter was head chef at the Star until he crossed the road and became head chef/director of the Pheasant. He could so easily have kicked back and rested on those esteemed laurels but crucial to the now proven success of the hotel, he didn’t.
The menu at the Pheasant is wholly different to its older sibling with any resemblance only around the locality, provenance and quality of produce used. Each section of the à la carte holds five choices, with each neatly headlined by main ingredient (duck-scallops-pork-polenta). Not a lot to choose from but a hard choice to make with many appealing and unusual combinations.
There is also a seven-course tasting menu with matching wines at £65 for food, £40 for drinks (but it is for whole table only) and a more approachable market menu at £36. The wine list is a handsome affair and caters right across the spectrum in style, grapes, country and price. Good choice by the glass as well.
Peter has a deft touch with his food. Descriptions like cannelloni of crab and cucumber, oat crumble and spiced yoghurt sorbet belies what appears on the plate. There’s not a scrap of pasta, instead, the crab meat is neatly wrapped in whisper-thin slices of cucumber, texture comes from a sprinkling of oats and delicate spicing is enveloped in a velvety sorbet.
A creamed polenta bears no likeness to the mountainous slop often associated with Italian cornmeal. This one comes handsomely dressed with wild mushrooms, a wafting of black truffle and rather surprisingly a hint of dark, rich coffee. It sounds odd but it really worked.
The poor old sea bass has gone much the same way as the salmon, so over-farmed it has appeal neither in the plate nor in the mouth. At the Pheasant, a hunk of exquisite wild sea bass sat justifiably pompous in the middle of the plate surrounded by braised fennel, slightly gritty morels, a smattering of seasonal wild garlic, all bathed in seaweed broth. This was a fish so perfectly cooked it restored my faith that we do still have fish worth eating. Every mouthful was a delight. Thank you Peter.
With equal reverence, roast sirloin came as two decent slabs both with slight caramelisation on the outside and soft, melting middles. A neat quenelle of mushroom duxelle shared the plate alongside a block of pommes anna and two swishes of spinach purée. If this sounds easy in chef terms, let me tell you there was nothing simple about it. The dish was carefully conceived to marry great flavours and textures, then cooked with extreme skill ensuring each component was damn near perfect.
A heavily-laden cheese trolley has ambled past our table several times during dinner; it was a beauty to behold groaning with its abundance. Even so, after such a lovely dinner on this occasion it was too much to contemplate. Room only for one pudding and despite a long deliberation between a panna cotta, a chocolate confection, an assembly of Granny Smith tastes and textures or great Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger cake, Lime won. This it transpired was a teeny tart packed with a luscious lime drenched filling and a banana and lime cream-like sorbet. Heavenly.
Service throughout dinner was shared between Jacquie Pern and restaurant manager Liz Allen. It was impeccable yet unfussy.
The Ralph-Laurenesque hunting lodge look still prevails in the sitting rooms and bars and they remain as immaculate as the day the Pheasant opened.
I am happy to report The Pheasant has become its own person, of that there is now no doubt. They still share all the values and standards of the revered Star; what a cracking combination.
The Pheasant Hotel, Harome, York, YO62 5JG. Tel: 01439 771241
The Pheasant is open to both residents and non-residents throughout the day. Lunch, 12pm to 2pm; Afternoon tea, 2pm to 5pm; Dinner, 6.30pm to 9pm.