Katherine MacAlister reviews The Star at Sparsholt:

As we hurtled ironically past a sign that said Goosey, I wondered whether they had this much trouble in the nursery rhyme to get upstairs or downstairs.

Almost biblical in our intent to find The Star this December, we were as hungry as Mary and Joseph when we limped into Sparsholt, wherever that may be – I’m still none the wiser.

But as it houses the immense talents of head chef Matt Williams, I cared little, so keen was I to be sitting in his dining room, while he cooked my lunch.

Matt is young, ambitious and his reputation certainly precedes him.

Once we’d finally come upon The Star, almost weeping in gratitude, we were welcomed into the lofty, calm interior with it’s big atrium style dining area at the back.

It was a bit dark inside however, a bit of light would have helped. Certainly not Bethlehem then.

Not to be disparaged we sat at a corner table and enjoyed the horse racing memorabilia, which enlightened us further, The Star’s proximity to Lambourn and its breeding, training and racing bent, evident.

The staff were lovely, a Scottish lad, George from Oban, a gift of a waiter, brought us the homemade bread with buttermilk butter, which we tore into like savages.

Then a suitably rustic amuse bouche of a home-made sausage roll packed with dense pork and crispy flakey pastry and some beetroot dip which I turned my nose up at until I tasted it, and apologised telepathically to Matt for underestimating him.

Smoked and then blitzed with coriander and rapeseed oil, I actually picked up the ramekin and held it to me protectively until every wee dram had vanished. So much for goodwill to all men (or women as it turned out). Not when Matt is in the kitchen.

We ordered from the set lunch menu which was fantastic value at two courses for £20 and three for £23, weighing in immediately with the celeriac soup, toasted almonds and curry oil.

I was expecting it to be overpoweringly thick, autumnal and beety, but instead it tasted delicate, fragrant, and balanced.

The bacon, pistachio and guinea fowl terrine with whisky poached prunes, sage and cranberry chutney was similarly well received and conceived.

But the pie won the dish of the day, the chicken, smoked ham hock and mustard shortcrust with mustard mash, braised onion and red wine gravy ticking all the wintery boxes.

Deceptively simple to regard (see pic), it was dense, gamey and moist inside, with some damn near perfect pastry enveloping it. It even had a star on its lid.

If there was a duff note, it was the chick pea saag aloo with roasted squash, saffron braised shallot, coconut and coriander sauce, which sounded much richer and more exotic than the reality.

The resulting dish was just too swotty, even though it ticked all the gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian boxes.

For a start the over abundant root veg were too al dente even for us, proving hard work for a dish supposed to be light and refreshing, as were the chick peas.

This wasn’t helped by the extraneous kale which stuck in the throat detracting from the sauce. Perhaps an option of paneer and some more aromotic herbs might have helped?

Luckily the desserts utterly side-tracked us from the dish’s deficiencies by totally side-lining both with promises of the sticky toffee soufflé and the blackberry and apple crumble.

We chose well, the crumble, pictured above, sacrificing nothing in its simplicity, but managing to encompass all the right elements of sugary crumble, light fresh fruit, a hint of ginger, lashings of custard and that required slightly sharp aftertaste.

The sticky toffee soufflé with salted caramel parfait and butterscotch (£7.95) eclipsed even that.

I was allowed none of it, a small teaspoon eventually being proffered in a puff of icing sugar cloud. I could see why. It was subliminal.

With the menu changing yesterday and a new Christmas pudding souffle already in situ, I need to revisit already.

If I can find it that is.