Saturday, 3rd August 2019 – The Hovingham Inn, Hovingham
Right. I’m going to declare an interest here. I love The Hovingham Inn and want it to succeed so much that I’ve actually invested money in it. That investment was based on the past record of the team running it, Richard and Lindsey Johns. We’ve eaten at all the places they have been starting back in the Artisan days, through The Falcon at Withernwick, and Rascills which was a great restaurant in the wrong place! Now, as of the beginning of August, they are front and centre at the Hovingham Inn (formerly the Malt Shovel) in the village of Hovingham, close to Castle Howard among other tourist attractions in that part of Yorkshire. We first clapped eyes on the place back in March at the start of renovation works that were going to turn a badly neglected hulk of a building into something far more stylish and welcoming. here’s what it looked like at that point:
They opened for business on 31st July and the change was obvious as soon as we arrived. Here’s how it looks now:
Anyway, we’d arrived for dinner, so after a nose round both front of house and the kitchen, we settled in with a glass of Champagne, to celebrate the new venture. A, E and W arrived as we were finishing the first glass, so we had a second because it would have been churlish not to and then we settled in to study the menus.
Once we’d made up our minds, we sat back to enjoy the evening. A plate of foccacia arrived along with some butter and we attacked that while we waited for the starters to arrive. Lynne and I decided to share a couple of starters while other people went for the white onion soup, or the fish cakes on pea puree. I started with an Asian-style duck salad, with watermelon balls, some unadvertised charentais melon, pomegranate, and a mint and lime dressing. The duck was delicious, strands of the meat mingling with the dressing, and with the crunch of pomegranate seeds coming through now and then. It was fresh, zingy and fruity, and just the thing for a Summer evening.
The other starter we shared was also citrussy and zesty and fabulous, a fillet of lime-cured mackerel, with smoked cucumber yogurt, little balls of cucumber, cucumber oil, and a crispy quail egg. Again, it was delicious, beautifully presented, and full of the flavours of Summer, even if it was going to be hanging about digestively for some time, given the tendency of cucumber and of mackerel to repeat on me, but it was well worth it.
Everyone seemed happy with their starters (they weren’t sharing, so that proves something) and so we moved on to the mains. I was sticking with duck and so was Lynne, no sharing this time. It just felt like the best way to go. Richard produced a perfectly pink duck supreme, glazed with honey to make the skin sweeter, and accompanied by crispy, crunchy possibly thrice-fried chips, that were just brilliant, along with crushed peas and a red wine sauce that was deep and dark and properly sticky. If I had any reservations at all I thought the skin on the duck could have done with a few more minutes rendering and becoming crisp. but it was otherwise completely perfect as far as I was concerned.
The 10 oz flat iron steak that W was having looked pretty good too. It was with the same fabulous chips, a Parmesan and tomato salad, and again the deep, dark red wine sauce. It looked lovely and he wouldn’t let me have any!
Again, I hadn’t been intending to have dessert, but then I fell victim to the lure of a white chocolate panna cotta, with white chocolate ice cream, chocolate crumb and raspberries. I defy anyone to turn that down, if they love white chocolate and they love raspberries as much as I do! It was a sensible size, and I tucked into it with enthusiasm. The panna cotta was rich, creamy and sweet, and the tartness of the raspberries married up with it so well. The crumb added crunch to something that could be bland in textural terms, and the ice cream was just wonderful. I don’t know what white chocolate gets used in it, but it has none of that “artificial” chocolate taste you sometimes get from white chocolate. It was the perfect end to a very good dinner.
Afterwards, A, E and W left at the end of the meal, while we sat around and chatted with Lindsey for a while, before heading out into the night and getting stuck in a traffic jam leaving a concert and fireworks display at Castle Howard. We will be back at least a couple of times this year if we get the opportunity, and will be hoping it turns into a massive success for all concerned. Rooms will be coming soon, three of them, upstairs, and as soon as they are operational, we’ll be wanting to test them out. It’s been a while coming, but it makes me happy to see a talented chef doing what he does best, alongside one of life’s natural front of house people doing what she does best.