The Fruit Market in Hull is enjoying a new lease of life and it’s thanks to the likes of Butler Whites that it may have a long-term future, says Dave Lee.
It’s all happening in the Fruit Market. As soon as Hull was named City of Culture 2017 the developers leapt on the long-moribund warehouse area near the Pierhead and marina and started gentrifying it till its pavements squeaked. No bad thing. It’s a part of Hull that has never really found its place since the regeneration projects of the past couple of decades.
Now the streets have been relaid, new buildings chucked up (on the rubble of some unjustly demolished heritage ones) and old warehouses titivated into blank canvasses suitable for any purpose. The plan is to make it the epicentre of the year of culture and that it will then continue to prosper from 2018 onwards. A handful of restaurants and bars are opening soon in an effort to bring cafe culture back into the city centre from the Avenues area, where it has found root since the turn of the century. The plan will no doubt work for the next year or so at least, and it will definitely do so as long as restaurants the calibre of Butler Whites continue to arrive.
Butler Whites inhabits a warehouse where previously fruit and veg merchants Dennis Butler and White & Son used to ply their trade – hence the name – and offers classic British and Mediterranean cuisine made with great ingredients, imagination, care and skill. It’s also nicely laid-back and distinctly unfussy. Just what you’d expect from the three Hull restaurateurs behind the equally marvellous Henry Yeast. Jason Gittins, Dan Robinson and Chris Eastaugh have taken the vibe of their previous restaurant and simply moved it to bigger premises, with the same great results.
I’ve eaten at Butler Whites three times now and I’m amazed how quickly they’ve found both their feet and their audience. It’s a big space (120 covers) but it seems busy every night and all weekend with happy, bubbling punters and the food displays the relaxed confidence of somewhere that’s been open years rather than weeks. Service is attentive but unhurried and recommendations for food and drinks come supported by knowledge and the twinkling eye of people who get a kick from impressing diners.
My favourite starter is pork and black pudding rissoles, served on pear chutney and crisp pancetta with a Shropshire blue cheese dressing. They’re crunchy and juicy and nicely savoury. To be fair, any dish with pork, black pudding, pancetta and blue cheese is never going to be short of flavour but this is also wonderfully balanced. Same goes for the quail’s scotch egg with pickled beets and prune jam. Something you see in a lot of places but, here, done to perfection.
The offerings on the main menu are reliable meat and fish classics, with the addition of chargrilled fresh tender octopus for the more adventurous. It’s tender, as promised, and comes with a marinated black bean salad and delicious avocado salsa.
If you’re not up to cephalopod there is plenty else on offer – pan seared halibut, steaks, locally sourced belly pork with apple, celeriac pomme puree, or, even better, a Barnsley chop. The chop comes with a couple of gorgeous little goat’s cheese bon bons and – something they’ll hate me for saying – my absolute favourite thing, fried gnocchi. With all the work and thought that’s gone into the menu and the cooking, for me to pick a handful of gnocchi as the best thing Butler Whites does seems like sacrilege, but I can’t help it. They’re fried in garlic and rosemary and they are absolutely amazing. (Even better with some gravy, but pretend I didn’t say that, I don’t want to appear a complete heathen.)
The puds all come on big plates, decorated with all manner of lovely dollops and drops and smears. And all are completely lovely. In fact, everything is lovely. The food, the service, the surroundings, the ambience – all of it. Even the bill. Starters are £6-£14, mains £15-£20, so it’s all a very fair price for what you get. You can have a long lunch or a lazy evening without worrying about remortgaging.
There are a couple of tiny things I’d like to see improved about Butler Whites, but they’re nothing that won’t get ironed out over coming weeks. The owner/ operators are too savvy to not run a steady ship and constantly improve their offering.
With more new restaurants opening in units around Butler Whites very soon, the Fruit Market looks set to become the hot place in Hull to spend your cultural quid, and Butler Whites have effectively set themselves up as the smartest new kid on the block. They’ll take some knocking off that perch.
Butler Whites, 2-3 Humber Street, Hull HU1 1TG; 01482 493557, butlerwhites.com; open Wednesday to Friday, 5-11pm: Saturday & Sunday, 12pm-12am.