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The Star In The City – York

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Although very proud of my home city, it has to be said its never been a mecca for foodies, yes there's a very well organised, and attended food festival but it all seems a little 'knit your own sprouts' to me, and restaurant wise other than the most excellent Melton's there's never really been anywhere else that can compete with the likes of the Star at Harome, the Pipe & Glass or the St Vincent arms for me to in that hard to define quest of cracking cooking and conviviality.

I'm sure the rents and transitory nature of the tourist trade that encourages chains and italian restaurants are a large part of the food gap so the opening of an outpost of said Star at Harome in York town centre can only be described as very-big-news indeed.

In days of old I'd have been there at 11.59 for the first days lunch service but times have changed, the original intention was for a boys lunch on the first Friday with some other like minded foodies where the full menu and any passing ortolans, foie gras, turbots and burgundy would no doubt have been consumed with gusto, but unfortunately things like 'half term' now have to be factored into dining plans.

I managed to wait a whole four days before venturing through the door, having decided on Tuesday I had to go, arranged a baby sitter, hassled anyone connected to the restaurant to confirm the table by phone, email, twitter stopping short of carrier pigeon, as they were incommunicado due to technical problems, though unfortunately for them I am not the sort to happily leave something as important as dinner to the vagaries of the internet. Reservation then confirmed, and relax.....

Upon walking to the restaurant on said saturday night, it struck me how unusual it was nowadays for me to go to a restaurant pretty much blind, I didn't know what it looked like, what was on the menu or wine list, which were the 'best dishes' , it was very much like the start of my napkin sniffing career where a small cabal of like minded food nerds would meet on the web and discuss restaurants, you wanted to know what Winteringham Fields or the Merchant House, or what that funny chap in Bray was up to, this was how you'd find out. Though given my history of fine meals at the mothership the Star at Harome I was content I'd be in safe hands.

From across the river the scale of the place hit me, a substantial stone building with a glass extension to the side glowing with light from under giant 'grandma' lampshades, it's quite a sight. We took the side stairs down to the river along 'Judy Dench Way' (who knew?) and up into the SITC, I was amused to note the smell of wood smoke just before the entrance, exactly what hits you at Harome and it is so evocative. I have read complaints about the smoke at Harome, and also witnessed diners ask for the 'fire to be turned down' - 'yes sir, which glowing coal or burning log would you like me to remove?' both the barman and I no-doubt thought, whilst also at the same time again thinking - southerners'. I love the smell and in no small part led me to my current obession in sourcing the driest smokiest wood for my fires.

Upon entering, it was apparent the source of the smoke was not some Heston-esque 'eau du country' being spritzed around the place, but a good sized wood burning stove. A good start. To the right appeared to be an attractive wood pannelled dining room, in front a long, if overly brightly lit bar, where to uncharictaristically, I made a bee-line.

I was a little surprised not to see more in the way of real ales on offer to continue the 'sticks in the city' feel but started with a pint of Wold Top Yorkshire Lager as a change, with Mrs M her usual glass of champagne. We milled around in the bar for a bit noticing the old Molteni range from the star now cunningly converted into a coffee station and wondering where to confim our arrival , It was at this point I noticed the large reception desk. It appears we came in the back way.

Table confirmed we headed into the glass dining room, having noted the scale of the place on the way in, it's actually a reverse tardis, inside it is not a cavernous Quaglinos-esque space its 120 odd cover capacity might suggest, but cleverly arranged into smaller areas, the central tall banquette effectively splitting the room in two so you'll never feel lost in the space if it is quiet, or you can escape the irritating loud bores in the corner if you are unfortunate enough to be in when I return with said food nerd mates.

Having in my mind expected a more stiripped down casual offering I was pleased to see nice table cloths and for my extavangantly padded posterior, good comfortable chairs and already at this early hour (7-ish) a nicely buzzing room, the atmosphere punctured every now again by over loud music something forgivable as a snagging point.

The large menu featuring the now familar artwork work of Tim Bulmer packed a lot in, including children's menu and hot drinks, at the time I thought it was a little too busy with the dishes not quite leaping out at you, but can understand the desire to not have too many bits of paper around the place.

Again anticipating a more stripped back affair the menu thankfully is still very Star-like and will not be unfamiliar to regulars at Harome, with plenty of interesting garnishes and local produce which although ubiquitous now, was a trend very much started in Harome.

Given this was a quiet dinner a deux rather than a stumps up blow out, we were reasonably restrained on the ordering , resisting the special of turbot with a lobster salad and chateubriand with toad in the hole that would usually have my name all over it, having grown out of ordering the most adventurous things on a menu, to following Mrs M's approach of ordering what she fancies eating. I doubt it will catch on though.

So we finally after much deliberation, decided upon a prawn cocktail for Mrs M, my innate nerdism only just saw me off ordering that myself, I had Cassoulet of Hodgsons Smoked Haddock, one of the finest comfort food dishes known to man beans, haddock, potato, cream. The fish makes it healthy I reckon. Mrs M's prawn cocktail came complete with a good chunk of hot smoked salmon, again another gift from the food gods that I am almost convinced must be good for me due to its sheer deliciousness.

A little intermediate course of scallops and brown shrimps arrived next from the kitchen, repete with addictive curried picallili blobs, samphire and fried air dried ham. It didn't last long.

Mrs M couldn't get past the burger for her main and again after forcing myself to step away from the grill section of the menu I had Harome shot venison cottage pie.

The mooreland tomme chips and truffle oiled fries that were ordered as a side with the burger announced their presence from a few feet away, needless to say they soon became a side dish to share, i also got a bite of the burger and was immediately very impressed with the sweet/savory balance of the patty and its accompaniments, a very good burger.

My cottage pie was somwhat fancier than the dish that emanates from my kitchen being served in a recatngular cast iron pot and studded with parmesan crisps , fried ham and micro herbs, plus a sprouts and bacon garnish, as country a dish as you could wish for, the long cooked venison an umami foil to the celeriac & thyme mash on top.

Although by now the calorie count would safely have fuelled Chris Froome through a particularly mountainous Tour de France stage but I pushed on regardless, with the upside down cheesecake catching my eye, 'what's the upside down cheesecake?' I enquired to the super friendly and chatty waiting staff, 'it's like a cheesecake that's upside down' she not unreasonably responded. Arriving not unexpectedly with the biscuit on top with a dairy curd cheese ice cream, it was a suitably somnolent finish to a lovely meal. With an espresso and mint tea to complete and honorable mentions to the pint of two chefs ale with the dessert and bottle of Jaffelin bourgogne with the mains, a most pleasant evening concluded.

If you're a fan of the Star you'll love that the attention to detail and country DNA of Harome are very apparent in a slightly logistically easier venue, if SITC is your first taste of the Star, I suspect you'll be plotting a visit to the mothership in the near future, and very grateful for something new, independent and genuinely bar raising in the York restaurant scene. Your visiting friends will be very jealous.

I'm certainly very pleased to have another option in York for one of *those* lunches, factor in it's walkable from the train station, a new Leeds Brewery pub, an osset brewery pub and the Maltings across the river and you've got the makings of a very dangerous day out, now there's an idea......

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you don't win friends with salad

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