We confess we haven’t returned to The Star, taken over earlier this summer by Duncan (ex-Stag), since a fleeting visit just after it reopened.
Back then Duncan seemed pretty confident about his new chef and food offering. But we think, despite its gorgeous tiled interior, The Star is a tough call: it’s an off-the-beaten-track location, and been sold a couple of times, most recently by the company behind hipster Hackney boozers the Royal Oak and Spurstowe. And so we were pleased to check it out, upon invitation, the other evening.
He’s hired Jeremy Hill (The Savoy) to design a menu that is deceptively simple. Think coley and chips; walnut and chicory salad; rabbit saddle. The wine list hovers merrily around the classic European countries, with a decent French house red at £16.
What was instantly apparent was that this chef is an, um, star. Starters hit all the right notes: an attractive plate of sweet scallops were offset nicely by apple and cauliflower puree (above pic); whilst the most extraordinary tasting salmon, marinated in grapefruit for 24 hours, was served with a shot glass of tender, moist white and brown crab. We could’ve died. Really we could.
The mains continued to surprise (because that’s what dining out’s really about, isn’t it? No weight of expectation). Crispy-skinned sea bass and paella married the warmth of saffron with rich flavour of fish stock. An accompanying handful of merely okay mussels were not even needed.
But even better was a fried calamari salad. A dull-sounding dish, if ever there was one, especially as it arrived on a bed of lettuce. But this was the squid you yearn for but rarely eat: smokey, chargrilled, tender. Not a chewy limb in sight. It literally melted. Mango salsa was almost superfluous but still added that extra citrus ooomph.
Duncan explained that they are the first pub to sell hit Tufnell Park Village outlet Ruby Violet’s ice cream. So inevitably we tasted salted caramel (again) with a gooey treacle tart, and a refreshingly intoxicating ‘gin & tonic’ sorbet. Giddier still with a Tokaji dessert wine.
It was quiet all night, but he assured us they’d had a busy weekend. I hope so. And there’s live music on Thursdays (and other regular events in the pipeline).
Our verdict? Quite simply, wherever you live in London, ‘the manor’ or not, this is worth a diversion; it’s one of our favourite local foodie discoveries since the Colonel Fawcett back in January.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms