The White Swan, Pickering – Restaurant Review
The White Swan, Pickering
By Matt Callard
Hilly Pickering could just be another cute pre-coastal town that you might bypass prior to visiting nearby Whitby or Scarborough, were it not for the culinary delights on offer. In the town you’ll find a good wine merchant, an excellent chocolate shop and the kind of deli that we foodies spend too much time, and way too much money, in.
But the star of Pickering’s show is The White Swan. It is 450-years young and centrally-located on the main hill. The cosy pub will beckon you in and entertain with a good selection of real ale. But it’s the small but perfectly formed restaurant at the rear that will ensure that you’ll want to return.
Genuinely good gastropubs aren’t as easy to find as they should be in Yorkshire. There are plenty that look the part, but few that source their ingredients as intelligently and use them as well as The White Swan. Meat comes from the famous Ginger Pig on the Yorkshire Moors, whose ethical, free range meat farming is becoming another reason to boast about Yorkshire produce. Oh, and the taste is exemplary too – but more of that later.
“Little fuss or pretension”
If you choose to stay overnight, we see nicely decorated, modern-rustic courtyard rooms that were sparse but elegant, just a few steps away from the main pub and restaurant. Our room has a terrific wet room shower, comfortable bed and complimentary tea and coffee. Although the under-floor heating seems to work a little too efficiently in the middle of the night. But we were too dazed/tired/hot to work out how to cool it. C’est la vie.
There’s also a handy meeting room called The Bothy that guests can use at their leisure. You’ll find a TV, relaxation area and bar, which are all very handy if you’re with kids, want a change of scenery, or if you’re simply the sociable type and fancy getting to know some fellow diners prior to the big event – the evening meal.
And an event it truly is. Fairly informal, although quiet (thankfully, for once, there’s no irritating muzak playing in the background). The rustic theme continues, albeit with the addition of an air of refinement. Service isn’t overly starchy – in fact ours is quite chatty, which we enjoy. But it’s certainly attentive and expertly drilled.
So, to the food. The menu offers eight starters and mains each, with little fuss or pretension. There are no fancy names or headscratching combos, just classic-sounding dishes in familiar order, with the odd twist. The lack of pretension suits The White Swan. It is as if they are simply saying ‘these are great ingredients and you don’t need to know any more’.
“A testament to Yorkshire produce”
A seafood platter comes fresh from Whitby, full of the kind of taste you can only get from seafood that was recently alive. The breadcrumb oysters are a meaty triumph and the light garlicy clams are divine. My partner’s scallops, with a rich and creamy cauliflower puree, are equally well cooked. Lovely home baked bread comes in abundance too – no stingy servings here.
For mains my dining partner’s double fish whammy continues with an irresistible Whitby crab with new potatoes. Here is the very definition of a great ingredient treated with respect and not over-tampered with. The white and brown meat is gently mixed and layered into the shell, then drizzled with a dash of lemon juice. If anything else was added to it, bar a pinch of seasoning, we couldn’t tell. And, frankly, it doesn’t need it. When an ingredient is this good, adding needless extras is a culinary crime.
And then comes my first taste of Ginger Pig steak. And it’s not one I’ll forget in a hurry. Meat is a bit of a family speciality, so I know a good steak from a great one. This one was spectacular. Again, it was not an over-treated ingredient and, crucially, it was cooked to medium-rare perfection (I like my meat with just a hint of cooked flavour). The texture was light but with a strength and depth of flavour that develops and lingers in the mouth. As a testament to Yorkshire produce it is sublime.
“A little Yorkshire foodie haven”
As, indeed, is the terrific Yorkshire cheeseboard with some lovely Ryedale goat’s cheese and that old favourite, Bluestones. Home made ice cream cleans the palette. We have a zingy rhubarb serving next to an original and shockingly moreish black liquorice flavour.
We do our best to shout about Yorkshire produce and Yorkshire cooking whenever we can. But we also don’t mind saying otherwise if some places don’t deliver what they promise on their elegant blackboards. But you need have little fear about dining at The White Swan. It’s a little Yorkshire foodie haven that does exactly as it says on the Yorkshire tin.