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)

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk