My father is an understated sort of man, but for the big occasions in life he likes to do things properly. That means serious food and even more serious wine. So last Friday, the Wright children and grandchildren duly assembled at Kings Cross for a pilgrimage to North Yorkshire in search of culinary and vinous excellence to celebrate the patriarch’s 70th birthday.
The delights of National Express East Coast, minus air conditioning, York station on race weekend, general toddler-wrangling and the trials of nappies and car-sickness seemingly attendant upon all journeys with small children, are best passed over swiftly. We kept our spirits up with tuneless renditions of the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme tune and other 21st century children’s classics and soon arrived in the idyllic hamlet of Harome, home to The Star Inn.
Andrew and Jacquie opened The Star Inn in 1996 and such has been their success that they are to the North Yorkshire Dales as Rick Stein is to Padstow. As well as The Star Inn itself there is The Star Inn shop, The Pheasant, Perns of Helmsley (a fantastic butcher and delicatessen in the next village) and a hotel, cottages and farmhouse. We opted for the last of these as it the only Michelin starred BYO I know of.
The Perns used to live in the Farmhouse and now it provides luxurious living for up to eight people. There is a Wendy House in the garden to occupy the infants and a herb garden that made me thoroughly ashamed of the few paltry pots that adorn my terrace in London. You get a hamper crammed with everything you need for breakfast including the world’s best black pudding and Heinz Baked Beans (although you can pay for a chef to come and cook it for you if that is beyond your skill set) and a box of deadly cakes in case you feel peckish (unlikely) at some other point in the day.
On Saturday night we had the following menu:
Dressed Whitby Crab with Green Herb Mayonnaise, Plum Tomato and Basil Salad, Bloody Mary Vinaigrette
Le Montrachet Remoissenet 1988
Sandhutton Asparagus Soup with a Poached Village Quail Egg
Harome Honey Roast Rack of Lamb with Hot Pot Potatoes, Lemon Balm Buttered Vegetables, Garden Mint Hollandaise, Rosemary Roasting Juices
Chateau Haut Brion 1er Cru 1985
A selection of British Cheese served with Celery, Homemade Chutney and Biscuits
Hermitage Jean-Louis Chave 1989
“Oldroyd’s” Yorkshire Rhubarb and Custard Tart with Gingerbread Ice Cream
Chateau d’Yquem 1988
The food barely needs comment. Utterly utterly delicious. The highlights for me were the sweet delicate crab with its perfect herb and tomato counterpoint, the sublimely rich asparagus soup and the rhubarb and custard tart, a heavenly quivering masterpiece.
The wines had been collected over many years with this particular evening in mind. The Le Montrachet was extremely good, very intense. It had stood the test of time a lot better than many much younger white Burgundies of an ostensibly similar quality. However it was rather overshadowed by what followed.
I give you Parker’s note on the Haut-Brion below. As so often he is absolutely on the money. This was quintessential Graves – incredibly elegant, a superlative match for the lamb, gone all too quickly.
“This has always been one of the more seductive, savory, complex Haut-Brions of the eighties. My notes have always suggested that it is the quintessentially elegant, finesse-styled Haut-Brion. The color remains a deep ruby/purple with slight lightening at the edge. The knock-out nose of intense jammy black fruits, smoke, cedar, herbs, and new oak is followed by a generously concentrated, rich, gorgeously proportioned and layered Haut-Brion with no hard edges. Everything – alcohol, acidity, tannin – is beautifully integrated into the seamless personality of the 1985.” 94 points
My father’s two enduring obsessions are the Rhone and sweet wine, so it was only fitting that we should finish with a spectacular vintage of Chave’s Hermitage and a 99 point Chateau d’Yquem.
The Hermitage actually outshone the Claret. It was a masterpiece of restraint but with extraordinary power. He has one more bottle which is earmarked for ten year’s time. And then the d’Yquem. My father’s dear friend Don Eccleston very occasionally encounters what he calls an “Oh Jesus” wine. He was not with us on Saturday night but we felt it appropriate to borrow his terminology. It was absolutely off the clock and again Mr Parker agrees.
“The 1988 is a backward-styled Yquem, built along the lines of the extraordinary 1975. With a honeyed, smoky, orange/coconut/pineapple-scented nose, this powerful wine possesses full body, layers of highly concentrated, extracted flavors, considerable botrytis, and a sensational finish.” 99 points. Robert Parker.
We rolled to bed after a glass or two of Cask Strength 25 Year Old Talisker, but were strong enough the next morning for more Black Pudding. Yorkshire is a glorious place.