An historic drovers inn in one of North Yorkshire’s most picturesque villages is reopening in November.

The Owl at Hawnby, near York, is a hidden gem in the heart of the North York Moors National Park and will be run by Yorkshire-born chef Sam Varley and his team.

Sam is chef and co-owner of Bantam, the Michelin-acclaimed restaurant in Helmsley, which has attracted positive commentary in the national press from neighboring Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks. Bantam is now also listed in the top 100 local restaurants nationwide in the Good Food Guide.

After university in Scotland, Sam left for Australia to work at the Fitzrovia Restaurant in the St. Kilda area of Melbourne. Returning to the UK, he worked at Duck Soup in Soho, before leading the team at sister restaurant Raw Duck. He then moved to Naughty Piglets in Brixton before joining James Ferguson to open the much-celebrated Kinneuchar Inn in Fife.
Then, three years ago, he launched Bantam in Helmsley. Speaking of this latest initiative, Sam commented: “I love pubs and I’m concerned about the rate at which they close. I think they are an important part of society that we are losing. I’m excited to help to preserve such a fantastic one in such an amazing location.

“The food and drink that I will be serving at the Owl will help to maintain and enhance one of the loveliest pubs in Yorkshire. It will be covering all bases, from walkers coming in for a pint and a snack, to guests staying for dinner and bed and breakfast. Everyone will be treated to the warmest of welcomes and tremendous food.

“There will be a clear distinction between the bar snacks and the full restaurant menu, but all our food will be created in house and served with the same attention to detail & care we take at Bantam. I am very proud of what we have achieved at Bantam in a short space of time and I am determined to extend this success at the Owl. The potential here is amazing.

“We will source much of our food locally and we are fortunate to be part of the Hawnby Estate, which has a plentiful supply of game, beef, lamb and vegetables, while the wonderful North Yorkshire coast, with its abundance of fish, is less than a hour away.”

As well as Bantam’s take on pub classics such as pies - think pheasant and bacon, for example - and the house cheeseburger with chips, Sam’s menus will include delights such as ham hock and game terrine, with pickles and sourdough toast; monkfish scampi and tartare sauce; devilled kidneys on toast; Barnsley chop, puy lentils and green sauce; roast cod, girolles and beans; pot roast grouse with trimmings. To follow, if there’s room, there might be damson sorbet; steamed lemon sponge and custard; or chilled rice pudding with poached blackberries and oat crumble.

Sam is supported in both ventures by Joanne, who is the overall business manager, and his father Peter, a Professor in tourism and hospitality at Newcastle Business School.

Jamie Savile, from Mexborough Estates, commented: “The arrival of Sam, supported by Peter and Joanne, at the Owl is great news. In only a couple of years, Sam has established Bantam as one of the finest restaurants in area. Bantam is already in the 2023 Michelin Guide and has had glowing reviews in both the national and the regional press.

“I am very confident that Sam’s move to the Owl will be a tremendous success, making the most of the inn’s enormous potential. Sam and his team all share our enthusiasm and desire to build a sustainable and successful rural hospitality business and in particular it is great that Sam shares our love and understands the importance of the classic British country pub.
Jamie added: “Sam’s CV speaks for itself. We are extremely fortunate to have him cooking here in Hawnby, with the surrounding area now becoming a real culinary hotspot with the Star at Harome, the Black Swan at Oldstead and the Abbey Inn at Byland all having stellar reputations.”

Peter added “We want the Owl to remain the heart of the village, where everyone from villagers and local farmers to visiting fell runners, cyclists and hikers rub shoulders with the shooting parties, gourmets and beer enthusiasts. All can expect superb hospitality, great Yorkshire food and beer. We can’t wait to get started and make the Owl a proper pub for everyone to enjoy.”