Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th November 2009.
Let's start with breakfast. "That," Chris Chown told me, "was the best breakfast I have ever had in an English hotel." High praise indeed; as chef proprietor of the delightful Plas Bodegroes, a beacon of excellence in Wales, Chown has always understood that a hotel's breakfast should be the equal of dinner and always cooked it himself.
Chris and Gunna, his wife, and I had bumped into one another by chance in the Pheasant the night before. We had all enjoyed our dinner, and given it high praise. My creamy gratiné of roast salsify laced with crunchy cobnuts was quite wonderful, and a fat slice of halibut cooked in viognier with a cep sauce and a sprinkling of seashore vegetables was almost as good. At the end, the chef emerged from the kitchen, in a friendly, unobtrusive way, to chat to his guests.
Chef Peter Neville has run the Pheasant (along with manager Paul Wanless) since it reopened earlier this year. Neville co-owns the Pheasant with Andrew and Jacqui Purns, proprietors of the renowned Star Inn, along the road in the village of Harome. Neville was Purns's head chef when the Pheasant came up for sale. "It seemed the natural thing," laughs Purns, "to buy a hotel in a recession."
The acquisition of the Pheasant has increased the Star's empire (recently expanded restaurant and accommodation; butcher's in Helmsley, shop in Harome) to gargantuan proportions for a couple who started with one tiny run-down pub, but who, with massive doses of hard work, talent and commitment to Yorkshire, now have a rooted, lasting success on their hands. "What's he bought now?" Purns's mother, a Whitby farmer's wife, is often heard to groan.
Hasn't she got a point, though? Why have two hotels, both with fine chefs (Purns has a Michelin star), in the same sleepy village? But it works. The Star has superb food and an amazing kitchen garden, but little space for its overnight guests. It also appeals, now, to a younger element with its flashy new restaurant and bar and fun version of the must-have chef's table (whoever invented that particular fad should be lassoed).
The Pheasant, on the other hand, sympathetically redecorated by Jacqui in natural colours, has space, including a large and comfortable sitting room leading to a lovely terrace overlooking the village pond. There's even a swimming pool. It's a truly relaxing place and the service is superb.
And what, by the way, made breakfast so special? Its quality, and the elegant simplicity of its presentation. On the table were little glass pots of proper fruit salad or berries and yogurt, a dish of charcuterie and another of home-smoked salmon and roll mops, a hunk of pungent local cheese, home-made bread and croissants. On the menu: porridge with Harome honey; frittatas; Whitby kippers… could you resist?
Harome, near Helmsley (01439 771241; www.thepheasanthotel.com) Doubles £150 per night, including breakfast. Access for guests with disabilities