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Travel: Feversham pitch

Simon Binns finds a Michelin in the making across the Pennines

Written by . Published on January 11th 2011.


Travel: Feversham pitch
THERE are several reasons why the hour and a half drive to The Feversham Arms is no great hardship.

The village of Helmsley in North Yorkshire, home of the Fev, is utterly and breathtakingly beautiful, set against the backdrop of rolling hills with immaculately kept cottages, tea rooms and cosy country pubs.

Being in the Dales during shooting season, I thought it only right to follow up with loin of venison (deep, rich, yum), artichokes with a slug of oil and a dash of lemon juice and wild mushrooms in sloe gin. It took me back to the outdoor hot-tub and comfortable warmth despite the cold outside.

It has a fantastic spa, as reviewed by our health and beauty editor Lynda Moyo here earlier this year.

Pan-fried scallops, chicken wings cooked in maple syrup, Thai mushroom puree and crispy chicken skin

But, as I discovered on a crisp November weekend, it also has an impressive restaurant offering and a new head of food determined to bag the place a Michelin star.

Former Michelin man Chris Staines joined the Feversham Arms in October and has slowly started about tweaking the menu towards the more adventurous. Staines has pedigree – he spent time at the five-star London Mandarin Oriental and did a stint at Heckfield Place in Hampshire before teaming up with the Fev’s head chef, Simon Kelly.

The first change is the introduction of a five-course tasting menu – priced at £45, the same as the fixed price a la carte. You can pair wines with the tasting for an extra £24.

The main dining room is apparently set for a makeover to bring it more into line with the cosier, more sultry sage green and exposed sandstone look of its adjoining private dining room. It’s a worthwhile move although the deep red walls and dim light creates a suitably atmospheric setting.

I started with pan-fried scallops, chicken wings cooked in maple syrup, Thai mushroom puree (although I’m not sure why that bit was italicised on the menu) and crispy chicken skin, which must be the in-thing at the minute.

My partner Sarah, who needed little convincing to join me at a posh retreat, picked the wild rabbit ravioli - a single, plump dome of filled pasta with a confit of Bugs Bunny’s leg, pumpkin puree and curry oil.

Both dishes were expertly executed and presented – this was possibly the first time I’d had a properly cooked scallop in half a dozen attempts and the ravioli was packed with flavour as well as the meat itself. A good start.

Being in the Dales during shooting season, I thought it only right to follow up with loin of venison (deep, rich, yum), artichokes with a slug of oil and a dash of lemon juice and wild mushrooms in sloe gin. It took me back to the outdoor hot-tub and comfortable warmth despite the cold outside.

Also on an ‘it-could-have-been-shot-this-morning’ vibe, Sarah decided on poached pheasant breast, celeriac purée, and the Christmas favourites, brussel sprouts. The meat was moist and succulent, a rare triumph with pheasant, which can dry out all too easily and stick to the bones – and your teeth - like glue.

I ate the accompanying veal sweetbreads – Sarah doesn’t do offal - and could have put away an entire bucket of the salty little treats. Think KFC popcorn chicken for grown-ups.

This is probably a good time to mention another reason to make the trip out to the Fev – a girl called Carolyn, one of the restaurant staff who, on this particular night, was tasked with managing the cheeseboard – a selection so pungent the entire dining room could smell it the second it was wheel out of the kitchen.

Carolyn knew her way around the 18 cheeses on the board without prompting, even pointing out a couple of pasteurised blues (Pico’s De Europa and Cropwell Bishop Stilton) , a rarity on most boards.

Not wanting to be greedy, we just had five cheeses each before dessert, including a Stinking Bishop, some local Swaledale and a wonderful, textured Oxford Blue.

With barely enough room for the last course, but fuelled by an iron will to eat as much as possible, I ordered a chocolate fondant with amaretto parfait to finish off, mostly due to the fact that it should buy me 15 minutes of digesting time.

It actually bought me slightly longer, when a waiter came out to tell me the first one had been slightly burnt and another was being prepared; a nice touch when the easier option would have been to wait and see if I complained or not. Extra marks for honesty.

When fondant 2.0 arrived, it was done to perfection. The pearl barley sorbet was full of gentle, malt flavour which worked well and added depth to a dish that normally starts and ends with the fondant’s gooey insides.

Sarah made her way through a delicate but wonderfully sweet apple tarte tatin, paired perfectly with caramel ice cream. All the dishes we'd tried were about pairing gentle flavours with a punchy main event. Seriously impressive stuff.

So it’s not all about the spa any more. A hearty breakfast the morning after, before we set off back to the North West, had plenty right about it too.

Given that the Star Inn is a two minute drive down the road in Harome, the Fev is a good shout for a foodie day out too.

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Jed ClampettJanuary 10th 2011.

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