The White Swan Inn, Market Place, Pickering, North Yorkshire

 

Pickering in North Yorkshire is a country town with exactly the right sort of attractions: 12th-century castle; bustling steam railway; church with medieval wall paintings admired by Pevsner and, not least, a quietly handsome inn on the high street.

So often, this kind of establishment can disappoint. Outside, they look tempting but inside, the piped music, the laminated menu, the knocked-through walls, the dreary, bland décor with food to match indicates the dread-hand of corporate ownership.

Entering the White Swan, owned by the Buchanan family, a small, wooden bar selling Black Sheep ale from Masham is the first indication that you have struck gold. Seating 10 maximum, it is the definition of cosiness. Any overflow can be accommodated in a comfortable bay-windowed lounge.

Long, low and rectangular, the dining room at the back of the inn is an object lesson in refurb, with maroon walls, stone-flagged floor and room dividers in the form of folding screens. At 8pm on a Thursday night, it was filled with a friendly buzz of chat and singularly well-behaved children, who have their own menu at a tempting £5.85. The grown-up menu starts with Black Sheep-battered Whitby fish and chips at £12.95, though most dishes hover around £20. The meat is notable for its provenance. The menu declares: "All meat except feathered or with antlers is from the Ginger Pig".

The three farms that supply this pricey but excellent London chain of butchers are a few miles outside Pickering. For a brief period, the Ginger Pig also sold meat in Pickering and nearby Thornton-le-Dale, but they did not gain traction. Though the prices were a shade down on sister branches in the capital, locals could not 'thoil' them (a characteristic Yorkshire expression meaning, "I've got sufficient funds but prefer to keep them in my pocket"). In consequence, the White Swan acts as the sole local outlet, a carnivorous equivalent of the brewery tap.

The chef, Darren Clemmit, who according to our waitress "has been here for donkey's years", wisely prefers to limit any elaboration of this meaty asset. A starter of potted pork accompanied by rhubarb chutney is about as fancy as he gets. Arriving in a Le Parfait preserving jar, Alison's substantial serving proved to be delicate, smooth and perfectly seasoned; like rillettes but without the fibres. Her kind donation of a sample for tasting purposes prompted me to return for more. Unfortunately, it had disappeared. My Whitby fishcakes with herbed shrimp salad took the form of three small, golden spheres. The interior revealed a delicate Farrow & Ball pink. This was perplexing since it was months before the wild salmon season at Whitby, but undeniably tasty.

Our main courses were hard-core Ginger Pig. Alison's 'roast Levisham spring lamb rump' was immaculately cooked, pink but not bloody. Served on a disc of spinach-enhanced Puy lentils, the plump slices had a sweet, subtle, lingering flavour. The contrast between the crispy surface and juicy, rosé interior is the most powerful argument I know against the cheffy fashion for sous vide cooking.

I went for chargrilled rib-eye of Longhorn beef at a slightly startling (at least for North Yorks) £23.50. The Ginger Pig Meat Book describes this cut as "the youthful, trendy eater's steak" (sirloin is "the city boy or snob's steak", rump is "the steak-eater's steak", while fillet is damned as "the ladies' steak"). Despite corresponding in no respect to this description, I loved my great lump of rib-eye. Accompanied by twice-fried chips and a punchy green peppercorn sauce in a doll's house saucepan, it was steak perfection, miraculously tender and deeply tasty. Our wine was a real discovery. With a label bearing the deific pedigree 'Domains Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)', an extraordinary Argentine malbec called Aruma delivered the cedary nose, velvety texture and layers of complexity of a great claret for £29.45.

Alison declared her two scoops of ices – a sorbet that was the refreshing quintessence of pink rhubarb and a sublime blackberry and plum ice-cream – to be "a very good £4.50-worth". From a cheese board that stuck to local produce, I went for a crumbly white cow's milk cheese called Ryedale and an old favourite called Bluestones, a blue goat's cheese. Flavour and quantity drew contented sighs.

My only gripe concerns our table, which was too small to be illuminated by a night-light. I contrived to set fire to my menu at one point ("We kept smelling burning," admitted our waitress) and Alison singed herself while handing over the occasional forkful. "Thank goodness for that!" she announced when the flame finally guttered out. This quibble aside, it was an exceptionally pleasurable evening. What a shame that the combination of splendid, simple dishes with efficient, friendly service in a pleasant setting is such a rarity in our country towns.

The White Swan Inn, Market Place, Pickering, North Yorkshire (01751 472288)

About £120 for two, with wine

Food ****
Ambience ****
Service ****

Tipping policy: "At the discretion of customers. All tips go to the staff"

Side orders: Yorkshire gold

Green's of Whitby

With seafood straight from Whitby Quay, pick one of the super-fresh catches of the day such as fillet of Whitby turbot with salsa verde.

13 Bridge Street, Whitby, North Yorkshire (01947 600 284)

Piazza by Anthony

Set in Leeds' dramatic Corn Exchange, this restaurant offers good value and impeccable dishes ranging from tapas to Cumberland sausage with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Corn Exchange, Leeds (0113 247 0995)

The Box Tree

This Michelin-starred restaurant is set in a 16th-century cottage – try the squab pigeon 'en vessie'.

35-37 Church St, Ilkley, West Yorkshire (01943 608 484)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?