AN award-winning North Yorkshire restaurant has closed its doors after more than 80 customers developed sickness and diarrhoea and members of staff contracted norovirus.

The Star Inn, at Harome, near Helmsley, has confirmed that it has temporarily closed its kitchens and dining area as a precautionary measure as staff work with council health chiefs to resolve the problem.

The Star Inn has won a raft of prestigious awards since 1996, including a Michelin star, the Egon Ronay Gastropub of the Year title and, most recently, The Good Pub Guide County Dining Pub of the Year for 2010.

Jacquie Pern, who jointly runs the venue with her husband, leading chef Andrew Pern, said yesterday: “We can confirm that The Star restaurant is temporarily closed as a precautionary measure. Early indications are consistent with a viral incident.

“We are taking the matter very seriously and are co-operating with the health authorities.

“We look forward to returning to our normal food standard as soon as possible.”

The venue was expected to be open as a pub only today.

A spokesman for Ryedale District Council said: “The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that it is working with Ryedale District Council to investigate an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhoea connected to a restaurant in the Ryedale area.

“More than 80 people are known to have developed symptoms after eating at the restaurant between October 18 and October 28.

“A number of restaurant staff are also known to be affected by symptoms.”

Dr Simon Padfield, consultant in communicable disease control for North Yorkshire and Humber Health Protection Unit, said: “We’re working closely with environmental health colleagues at Ryedale District Council to investigate the cause of illness.

“Although tests have confirmed that norovirus is affecting a small number of staff at the restaurant, a common cause of illness affecting diners has not been confirmed.”

The virus is easily transmitted from person to person. It can also be linked to contaminated surfaces or objects, or to consuming contaminated food or drink.

Andrew Pern’s first cook book, Black Pudding And Foie Gras, won the Gourmand World Cookbook Silver Award for Best Chef Book In The World last year.