YOU only have to glance over the menu at the recently-refurbished Hovingham Inn to realise this is a pub that focusses on hearty country fare. And that means meat - a lot of it.

When I rang up to book a table, the ‘supper menu’ included the likes of slow-cooked pork belly, 10oz flat iron steak, free range chicken supreme, and pan fried fillet of sea bream. Very nice it all sounded, too: except that I’m a vegetarian.

“Do you do vegetarian dishes?” I asked plaintively, when I called to book. “Don’t worry, we’ll find something for you,” I was told.

The Hovingham Inn, formerly the Malt Shovel, is right in the centre of Hovingham’s main street (if the village can be said to have one). The pub was reopened with its new name by new owners Richard and Lindsey Johns in the summer, following a £500,000 makeover.

The Johnses have quite a reputation when it comes to Yorkshire gastropubs. Their first restaurant was Artisan in Hessle, where they were listed in the Michelin Guide. More recently they took over Rascills at Raskelf, which won the James Herriot Award for Restaurant of the Year and was recommended in the Michelin Guide and Good Food Guide. So would their latest venture match up? Our mission was to find out.

We’d booked a table for 6.30pm. But by the time we set off from York it was already dark, any starlight completely hidden by thick clouds overhead. The narrow back road that we followed to Hovingham was twisty and pitch black. It felt as though we were heading to the back of beyond instead of a picturesque village just a few miles from York. By the time we came down the hill into Hovingham, we were delighted to see the village’s few street lights. We were even more delighted to park up behind the pub and push through into the explosion of light and warmth inside.

The first thing to be said is that this is a lovely country pub; warm, stone-flagged, with wooden beams, huge fireplaces and country artefacts hanging on the walls.

Our greeting was every bit as warm as the pub itself. Our host (we assume it was Lindsey) giggled and pretended to pose for a photo when we hauled out a camera to photograph the interior. We felt instantly at home.

We were shown to a large round table in a corner next tot the fire, and sank into the warmth.

Lindsey didn’t even raise an eyebrow when I asked for a jug of hot water for Lili and our Chinese friend Guanyu to share. I ordered a pint of local bitter, and we pondered the menu.

It was still heavy on the meat and fish. But I was delighted to see a starter of fried halloumi cheese, which came with roast tomato and olive and herb couscous (£8.50).

I ordered that, then looked at the mains. They were all meaty - but the young waitress who had by now replaced Lindsey suggested the chef could cook the free range chicken and wild mushroom, tarragon and truffle risotto (£17.95) without the chicken.

I opted for that. Lily chose the slow-cooked free range pork belly, pork fillet and creamed cabbage and bacon with a red wine sauce (£19.95) while Guanyu went for the pan fried fillet of seabream with crushed peas, triple cooked chips and a garlic dip (£17.95).

My halloumi starter was perfect - two large ‘chips’ of crisply-fried halloumi with a lovely, squeaky texture and the rich flavour of goat’s milk served on a bed couscous. The dish was sprinkled with flecks of olive, tomato and coriander that provided little flashes of delicious flavour.

My risotto main didn’t quite match that - it missed the chicken. But it was warm, creamily rich and satisfying. The best part was a sliver of ‘parmesan crisp’ the chef had placed on top to compensate for the chicken. It was miraculous: a crunch of salty flavour that perked up the entire dish.

Guanyu was also well satisfied with her sea bream, which had crispy fried skin and meltingly tender flesh. Her chips were firm, thick and beautifully cooked. The real surprise for her, however, were the crushed peas. "Normally I don't want to eat mushy peas, but these I had to finish!" she said.

Lily also polished off her pork belly and glazed pork fillet combo - and particularly relished the creamed cabbage and bacon. "Very good!" she said, smacking her lips.

I had a light, creamy panna cotta - an explosion of lime on the tongue - to finish, and an excellent coffee for the road home.

The bill for three came to just north of £80. Not cheap, and it would be nice if the Hovingham could do more for veggies. But the food was every bit the equal of what you'd get in a top York restaurant - and the setting and beaming welcome were second to none. A real winner.