In England, almost every street corner once had a pub. In an age before television, they were the primary focal point of the community, a place where people drank beer and spirits, and the principal entertainment was conversation. But with the exponential growth, first of video, then the internet and Netflix — to say nothing of home-delivery pizza — pubs began to suffer an existential crisis. Many went under. Among the survivors, a few saw a profitable future in providing high-quality, home-cooked food to an increasingly sophisticated clientele. Forty years of vacations in France and Italy had given many Britons a taste for more elevated cuisine than Anglo-Saxon culture had traditionally supplied. And so, the “gastropub” was born.
The term was coined in 1991, when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in the London district of Clerkenwell and began serving good wines, soups, salads and casseroles from a kitchen that measured five by eight feet. Their fame spread and soon they were being aided in their venture by Pedro Chaves, a chef from the fashionable Michelin-starred The River Café, a restaurant owned by Ruth Rogers, wife of the internationally acclaimed architect Richard Rogers.
Although English gastropubs were initially an urban (chiefly London) phenomenon, they have now spread to rural areas throughout the land. For some obscure reason, the northern country of Yorkshire has more than its fair share, including no fewer than three with Michelin stars. If you are touring England’s North Country you are now assured of excellent food, outside of country house hotels (part of the long-standing appeal of which is superior cuisine).
Housed within a thatched 14th-century, Grade II-listed building, The Star Inn is located in an idyllically pretty village, close to the medieval town of Helmsley, Rievaulx Abbey and the North York Moors National Park. Inside you will find flagged floors, low beams and two attractive dining rooms. Owner and chef Andrew Pern is a Yorkshire native who grew up on a farm in the Esk Valley, near the fishing port of Whitby, on the county’s North Sea coast. He and his wife, Jacquie, took over the pub in 1996. Pern has long been a champion of local moorland game (grouse, pheasant, partridge), pasture-fed lamb and beef, and coastal fish. You might expect dishes such as pressed galantine of partridge with pistachio, sherried fig jam and roast cep brioche (a starter), and mains like pan-roasted turbot with North Sea lobster, sausage and chestnut pie, nutmeg spinach and shellfish au poivre, or black treacle saddle of roe deer with a deep-fried game bonbon and sweet potato. The inn has held one Michelin star since 2014.
The Star Inn
Harome (26 miles, 50 minutes north of York). Tel. 01439-770397
In 2006, The Black Swan was on the verge of closure. A local pub in the quiet village of Oldstead, it was rescued by the Banks family who had lived and farmed in the area for generations. In 2013, Tommy Banks became the youngest chef in Britain to win a Michelin star, at the age of 24. On the ground floor of the unassuming 16th-century building there are stone floors, an open log fire, oak furniture and cozy bay windows with window seats. Upstairs, the dining room overlooks the kitchen garden. In addition to seasonal lunch and dinner menus, chef Banks also serves a tasting menu with wine pairings. Recent dishes have included cod with cauliflower and parsley, accompanied by 2013 François Cotat Sancerre Les Caillottes, from the Loire, and scallop with fermented celeriac, paired with 2011 Muhr-van der Niepoort Prellenkirchen, an unusual blend of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Carnuntum winemaking region in Austria’s Danube Valley.
The Black Swan
Oldstead (23 miles, 45 minutes northwest of York). Tel. 01347-868387
This 18th-century coaching inn is set in Nidderdale, an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Situated in a postcard-perfect location next to the church and overlooking the village green, the handsome creeper-covered building has mullioned windows and a resolutely traditional interior. The inn has long been associated with Michelin-starred chef Frances Atkins, who grew up in West Yorkshire. The formative experiences of her culinary education came at the Hideaway Report-recommended Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons near Oxford, where legendary chef Raymond Blanc was a “huge mentor.” The Yorke Arms was sold in 2017, but in November Atkins announced that she would be staying on as chef. Her cooking is a celebration of fine local ingredients, including those from the inn’s huge kitchen garden. Look for dishes such as truffled turbot with English lobster mousse, tomato and saffron, and saddle of venison with oxtail, beetroot, lovage custard and gnocchi.
The Yorke Arms
Ramsgill-in-Nidderdale (22 miles, 40 minutes north of Bolton Abbey). Tel. 01423-755243
Standing at the top of the village green in the picturesque village of East Witton, surrounded by the rolling hills of Wensleydale and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, The Blue Lion is an 18th-century coaching inn that has been run by Paul and Helen Klein for more than 25 years. The inn’s atmospheric traditional interior comes with open log fires, oak settles and print-covered walls. It is possible to eat either in front of the fire in the bar or in a formal candelit dining room. The seasonal menu offers sustaining local fare like Yorkshire dales lamb rump, with peas, roasted vine cherry tomatoes and creamy mashed potato, and beef and black sheep ale suet pudding with red onion gravy, as well as lighter, more-cosmopolitan dishes such as pan-seared fillet of sea bass, with peperonata, roast garlic aioli, olive tapenade and cocotte potatoes.
The Blue Lion
East Witton (35 miles, 70 minutes north of Bolton Abbey). Tel. 01969-624273
The tiny village of Brearton lies at the center of a web of walking trails on the Mountgarret Estate. Its whitewashed 16th-century village pub, The Malt Shovel, is consequently much-loved by hikers. With beamed ceilings, handcrafted furniture, slate floors and log fires, this is a much simpler establishment than its Michelin-starred cousins. Nonetheless, the restaurant serves excellent local meat, as well as sustaining dishes like spiced smoked fish cakes (made with cod and Gruyere cheese), steak and ale pie, and Nidderdale chicken saltimbocca. In summer, it possible to eat outside in the garden.
The Malt Shovel
Brearton (21 miles, 30 minutes east of Bolton Abbey). Tel. 01423-862929