Food & Drink: Socking great flavours of the bistro: The Whites are back in business, the customers back in droves. Emily Green revels in the well-made, classic food she loves

NEAR the castle in Newark, Nottinghamshire, dinky placards advertising local businesses protrude from a civic flowerbed. Strung from the first- floor window of Gannets Bistrot 94, right next to the castle, a rather silly white banner announces the arrival of 'top-rated chef Colin White'. I cannot speak for the veracity of the messages in the flowerbed, but the one about Mr White is true.

Few chefs have received the sort of praise heaped on Mr White during his 30-year catering career. And few have his pedigree: apprenticeship at the Sharrow Bay Hotel in Cumbria, whose kitchens cooked straight from the pages of Constance Spry, followed by two years at the Hole-in-the-Wall in Bath, where menus came straight from Elizabeth David. Here he met and married a waitress called Gwen, who, after 26 years in catering, knows the nature of loyalty.

The Whites opened their first restaurant in the Jew's House, Lincoln, said to be the oldest building in Europe. They built up a local following from 1979-85, and caught the attention of The Good Food Guide. But the lease was problematic. By 1986, acting on advice to set up shop in the 'M4 corridor', they opened Whites restaurant in Cricklade, Wiltshire.

It soon became Jane Grigson's local, and that great lady promoted Whites until her dying day, attracting guide inspectors and critics whose reviews could have filled Quaglino's. They might have filled Whites had it not been launched at the onset of the recession in a grey village on the outskirts of Swindon. By 1990 it was clear to Mrs Grigson, friendly critics and the Whites that the restaurant was bound to go bust.

Mr White returned to jobbing, never very happily. Then friends from the Lincoln days invited him and his wife to take over a small bistro above their cafe in Newark. No premium. No financial grief. Six weeks ago, they did just that.

It feels right, this quirky upstairs operation. A temporary side- entrance skirting the cafe kitchen leads to a small upstairs dining room and bar. Smoking is strictly prohibited; the nicotine yellow of the bistro's walls come from a paint pot. But it has a proper bistro buzz, and customers from the 'Lincoln days' are already returning in droves.

One can see why. A chalkboard menu, which changes twice daily, reflects one of the canniest fish- buying operations in the Midlands. Sourcing local produce is one of Mr White's strengths. He has long made a practice of seeking the best of British, be it lamb from Jacob sheep, fresh free-range eggs or first-class pork from Gloucestershire Old Spots.

Mrs White runs the dining room, and her robust brand of cheer slots in more naturally, more charmingly here than in the prissier Cricklade operation.

As for the food, it is so appealing I ate to bursting point, starting with a salade nicoise from the blackboard. Two good fillets of steaky tuna were grilled, and served with soft boiled egg, rather harsh anchovy fillets, beans, yellow cherry tomatoes and lettuce. It was fine, but not Mr White's best. Charring the tuna left a metallic- tasting sear, pleasant in other dishes, but here undermining the rich salty-savoury flavour that makes the dish. In short, the fish should have been poached.

Next: mushrooms armenienne - mushrooms cooked in red wine with bacon. Very Seventies, very tasty. Next: a wonderful vegetarian gratin made of layered polenta, tomato sauce, fontina and gorgonzola. Next: cod 'chowder' with puy lentils and salsa verde. Chowder it was not - otherwise it was a knock-out. The stock, the fish and the pungent salsa gave this soup a robustness I have not tasted outside the Mediterranean countries that buy most of our cod, then cook it properly.

Next: gingerbread with a cider sabayon and caramelised apple. The sabayon was delicious, its cider spritely and teasing. The cake was very good. It would have been perfect made with more sweetly pickled ginger and less harsh-tasting powdered spice.

As one might gather from such a binge, this is all just the sort of cooking I love: hearty with socking great flavour. I was too painfully full to taste a plate of food ordered for the photographer. I had thought she had asked for tuna, so I left her to her char-grill, only dimly wondering when I looked up from my own food what Mr White was doing serving prunes with tuna. When I asked him about this, he roared with laughter and said it was pork, from a local organic grower called Mrs Potter. I took some of the pork steaks to cook at home. They were superb.

Mrs White is gradually selling off existing wine stocks before compiling a new list. The 1992 Blondelet Pouilly Fume she has already laid in is on the list for pounds 16 a bottle and is, like the Whites' food, well made and classic.

Gannets Bistrot 94, 35 Castlegate, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1AZ (0636 610018). Open lunch and dinner Tues-Sat. Light meals from pounds 10, full meals and wine approx pounds 20- pounds 25. Children welcome. Piped music. No smoking. Visa, Access.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003