White’s Restaurant, 12a North Bar Without, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Despite its deprived-sounding name, North Bar Without is the most sought-after address in the ancient East Yorkshire town of Beverley. An assemblage of deeply covetable Georgian and Victorian houses, it is just outside the North Bar, a dinky town gate that would fit happily into Disneyland. At No 12a, a small restaurant is doing something unusual, at least for this part of the world. In a region where steak is king and servings can attain Texan dimensions, a homegrown chef/restaurateur is serving inventive, carefully considered dishes at reasonable prices. As a result, 20 of the 24 Charles Rennie Mackintosh-style chairs in White's Restaurant were occupied on a Friday night.
In a stylish L-shaped room with appropriately blanc decor, the diners were on best behaviour, rather like extras in a romantic comedy. All but one table were couples. It came as no surprise when I later heard that White's is a favourite spot in Beverley for popping the question. John Robinson, the bespectacled 28-year-old chef/owner who trained at the gastronomic nexus of Winteringham Fields on the other side of the Humber and honed his skills in New Zealand, peered genially from his kitchen hatch. "I didn't think I was that ugly," he announced when I asked to be moved from an adjacent table because the warmer above the hatch was grilling me as well as the food.
On a previous visit, when the set lunch at £15.50 went down very well, Robinson had won my heart from the outset with a heavenly velouté of Jerusalem artichokes. This time, I did not swoon at my first mouthful. The introductory nibbles of chilled sardine sushi and chickpea purée on oatcake seemed a bit nondescript, though my wife, perhaps the greatest devotee of sardines outside the Iberian peninsula, felt different: "I loved it".
White's (steak-free) menu describes food in staccato manner reminiscent of an old ticker-tape machine. I went for a starter of 'oxtail carpaccio – piccalilli purée – frozen foie gras – capers' largely because I couldn't imagine how oxtail could be transformed into carpaccio. The answer is: it can't. What arrived was a disc of slow-cooked, boned and rolled oxtail that had no link to carpaccio as it's generally known, apart from being served cold. The flavour was surprisingly delicate, bland even, for oxtail. More savour would have helped. As far as I could see, the frozen foie gras amounted to one chilly molecule (possibly due to the aforementioned warmer), while the piccalilli was a minuscule dribble.
Alison scored with a starter of 'pigeon – oats – beetroot – coriander – aubergine paste'. The twin arcs of pink, pleasingly-solid pigeon breast, fried in butter with thyme and garlic, were perfectly set off by the crunch of toasted oats and a burst of sweetness from tiny beetroot. Her main course of pan-fried lamb rump arrived in the form of two thickish slices with a surprisingly assertive flavour, edging towards the muttonish but none the worse for that. Imaginative accompaniments included crisp-cooked nuggets of sweetbreads and an onion bhaji so elegant that it might have graced a maharajah's table.
My generous allowance of venison loin (five pieces) was partnered by a wonderfully sweet onion tart and a scattering of peas in a dab of eau de nil-coloured pea purée. The flavour of the venison was sensational – I can't remember ever having better – but the perfection of cooking (pink without a hint of blood) suggested the use of sous-vide. "Yes," reported our helpful waitress when she returned from an information-gathering mission to the kitchen. "John cooks the venison sous-vide at 62C for 22 minutes, then browns it over gas." I later learnt from the chef that this was the sole use of the water bath in our meal: "I wouldn't sous-vide lamb. I love the smell too much". This is precisely how sous-vide should be used, judiciously on meat suited to it, rather than the scatter-gun approach of certain well-established chefs.
The cheeseboard was well chosen and in good nick, but it was the one area of our meal where I felt short-changed. "You can pick four," said the waitress. That's OK – just about – but for £8, the resulting slivers of Epoises, Manchego, Alex James's Blue Monday and Mrs Bell's Blue Yorkshire were a bit too sliverish for my taste.
Once again, my wife hit the bull's eye with her pud. 'Basil cream – tomato syrup – dehydrated tomato' was a revelation. Who would have thought that a sweetened panna cotta infused with basil (grown on a terrace herb garden above the restaurant) would work so supremely well? This sensational dessert alone merits a detour to Beverley. Though the odd dish might need a little fine-tuning, White's quiet, smooth-running kitchen produces gastronomic marriages of great accomplishment – and a few literal ones as well.
White's Restaurant, 12a North Bar Without, Beverley, East Yorkshire (01482 866121). Dinner including wine, around £130 for two
Tipping policy: "At the discretion of customers. All tips go to the staff"
Side orders: East Yorkshire eats
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