Yorkshire Life Luncheon - Feversham Arms Hotel, Helmsley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:24 24 October 2015
There's a warm welcome whatever the weather at the Feversham Arms in Helmsley
There was a hard frost on the ground and a crisp chill in the air but that didn’t stop our guests enjoying a drink by the pool at the Feversham Arms Hotel. Granted, the drink was hot mulled wine and there wasn’t a bikini in sight (not even a thermal one), but the warm, welcoming atmosphere engendered by this luxury rural retreat proved to be the perfect ice-melter.
After we adjourned inside for a delicious seasonal lunch, one or two hardy souls braved a few laps of the steaming pool (we could see their zealous splashes from our toasty vantage point behind glass in the restaurant) but the heat of the water was not enough to keep them away from the hotel’s popular Verbena Spa for too long. The call of the saunarium was just too strong.
Many visitors to this award-winning country hideaway add a spa package to their stay, but for us it was all about the food, prepared with a cool head in a hot kitchen by new head chef Jason ‘Bruno’ Birkbeck.
He joined the talented Feversham team at the end of last year, bringing a wealth of experience (and his pastry chef wife, Emma) with him.
‘My life has always revolved around food,’ he said. ‘My mother baked a lot, and so my brother and I only ever ate home-cooked food. It was through this we learnt the value of good food.’
Bruno began his catering training when he was 16, signing up for an NVQ at Kendal College and securing his first work experience at the secluded Shap Wells Hotel, deep in the Shap Fells near Penrith in Cumbria. He also spent part of his course at a hotel in Switzerland and at Langdale Hotel & Country Club, one of the finest four-star hostelries in the Lake District, where he stayed for two years.
Next came successful stints at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire and Lancashire’s Northcote Manor under the tutelage of top chef Nigel Haworth.
‘I started as a chef de partie on the sauce section and worked my way up through the ranks; eventually becoming sous chef,’ Bruno explained. ‘Northcote Manor helped to shape me.’
It was during his stay at the Langho restaurant that he scooped the coveted British Young Chef of the Year title in 2001, but his win was overshadowed by sadness as it coincided with the death of his father.
‘After his death, I just wanted to be nearer home, so I moved back to Kendal to work for Chris Meredith at The Samling Hotel near Ambleside,’ Bruno added.
His first head chef role came at Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale, where he attained three rosettes. Then it was on to The Torridon Inn in the Scottish Highlands, where three more rosettes and an appearance on the BBC’s Great British Menu soon followed.
Now he’s landed in Yorkshire – and he couldn’t be happier: ‘Working in a larger hotel offers me more scope to experiment and try different elements with the food,’ he said. ‘It’s certainly a step up.
‘The hotel has a wonderful reputation, and the food on offer is among Yorkshire’s finest. I plan on working hard to build a strong, focussed team that delivers consistently outstanding food at an impeccable standard.’
He’s certainly hit the ground running. The menu he created for our guests was a grade A lesson in outstanding produce delivered at an impeccable level.
The starter of Isle of Ewe salmon with Whitby crab was a light delight, the fresher-than-fresh Scottish salmon providing a deeply delicious, silky foundation for the piquant, crunchy vegetables.
Next came a plate of porcine delights as beautiful to the eye as it was to the tastebuds (a number of diners couldn’t resist snapping it for their Twitter feed).
For pudding, Bruno and his team served up parkin and red wine-infused figs, full of the sort of seasonal spices that make you glad it’s cold outside, teamed with a tangy yogurt sorbet to cut through the richness.
Finally, each table was presented with a collection of childhood favourites given a fiendishly clever contemporary makeover (more pictures were soon being snapped by the Twitterati). There were toasted marshmallows like sweet cumulous clouds with a mouth-melt that left diners weak at the knees; perfect cubes of sugar-frosted fruit jelly; and individually-wrapped white chocolate fudge sweets spiked with lime that were as close to heaven as any of us are going to get anytime soon without a day-pass from the big man himself.
‘Fabulous,’ decreed our food and wine consultant, Annie Stirk, as the last crumb-strewn plates were wrestled from us. ‘Simply fabulous.’ n
For more information about the Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, phone 01439 770766, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit fevershamarmshotel.com.
Isle of Ewe smoked salmon and Whitby crab
Roast fillet of Easingwold pork with Ampleforth cider jus
Red wine figs, parkin, Goosnargh yogurt sorbet
Sauvignon Blanc, Echeverria, Curico Valley, Chile 2012: this vibrant, vivid yellow wine is packed with the scents of fresh herbs, green pepper, tomato leaves and citrus notes of grapefruit and lime. Made with 100 per cent hand-picked sauvignon blanc grapes from a single vineyard, it is fresh and crisp with a lovely fruity finish.
Foundstone Merlot, Berton, Australia 2011: a classic merlot with a deep, youthful colour and expressive aromas of plums, blackberries and just a hint of violet. This fragrant wine has a smooth, velvety texture and offers generous flavours of sour cherries, plums and herbs.
Muscat de Baumes de Venise Delas, France 2008: this is a sensationally aromatic dessert wine full of lychee, grapefruit, orange peel and honey. It’s not too sweet on the palate, offering peach, spice and orange marmalade plus a little hit of heat from the 15 per cent abv alcohol content.