Is the White Horse a fine dining country pub? Who cares, says Elaine Lemm, when the food is this good.
You’ve got to hand it to chef Peter Higginson. From being lecturer-cum-mentor and latterly enterprise manager at Leeds City College to then opening a country pub in Ledston – a charming village within striking distance of Castleford – and to hang a sign offering fine dining, is audacious to say the least.
Fine dining usually comes starched and tightly buttoned which seems an unusual approach for a country inn. Even more contradictory, the decor of the White Horse, is as delightful and cosy as you could ever wish for in a pub, country or not. There are flagstone floors, thick, sturdy exposed stone walls and the odd dash of artex – which kind of works in this environment. An old Yorkie Range belts out heat and atmosphere, and there’s the occasional ooh and aargh of those (like me) who remember them from their childhood. Modern sweeps through with the bench seating and leather chairs and intriguingly with the menu.
First up is the Mary Carr Menu served from 12 to 3pm and 6 to 9pm every day, with two courses for £16.95, and three for £19.95 – yes, you did read that correctly. There are three starters of soup, fish in broth or a ham hock terrine with fried quail’s egg. Four mains offered rabbit cassoulet, pork fillet with chorizo, sea bream and Moroccan vegetables or for the vegetarian, goat’s cheese and caramelised onion tart with pavlova, panna cotta and a chocolate beetroot tart for puds. Value or what?
The à la carte menu, however, was the more intriguing one. Prices may take a bit of a jump but remain keen from £6 to £8 on starters and there isn’t a main over £20. Again, Peter keeps the number of dishes tight while still ensuring there is a decent choice for everyone; I would expect no less from a consummate pro. There are no classics here, though, if pie and chips are your want.
Arancini-style smoked haddock kedgeree bore little resemblance to the breakfast-brunch dish. The crunchy bread-coated balls of fish and lightly spiced rice were so dry and crisp that it was impossible to tell they had even seen oil. The dish was nicely rounded off with a lightly, poached quail’s egg and a curry mayo.
With a New Year’s resolution to cut down on meat, pumpkin and tofu rosti, just as the kedgeree, did not appear as expected on the plate. This dish too had seen the fryer and the coatings were again crisp and dry, yet the filling soft and sweet. It truly was a lovely moreish dish and how I wish all vegetarian food were this light and flavourful.
The promise to cut down on meat did not mean abstaining, I am glad to say as the duck plate had my name all over it; it is one meat I love. The merging on the plate of two styles of duck came as a seared breast which was, for me, a little overcooked, and a leg confit carefully shredded and tucked into a pancake. A smattering of soy, ginger and spring onion gave the dish a slightly oriental touch.
A similar conglomeration took place across the table, this time around venison. Another flash of culinary adeptness came from the kitchen with a melting piece of loin, a tiny copper pot stuffed with braised cottage pie, and a soft sliver of a pink liver.
Without a doubt, the two mains showed extreme skill in the kitchen, but the star of the show for cuteness came with pudding. One ubiquitous breakfast dish has already made an appearance on this menu as a starter, now another, this time as a dessert. Duck egg and soldiers may not be the first thought for pud, but this quirky confection came as an eggshell filled with silky lemon curd, a swish of crisp Italian meringue, shortbread “fingers”, a tiny macaron, drizzle of lemon and raspberry crumbs.
Equally, as impressive as the variety and quality of food on offer at the White Horse are the wines and beers. The handpicked wine list sweeps the globe across styles and with many tempting varietals.
And so I have to ask the question, fine dining or not? Excellent cooking; sharp, efficient service (with smiles and the time to chat too); good wines and beers and beautifully presented decor which also manages to be comfy; a noisy pub bustling with energy and atmosphere is what I found, and superb value for money. I don’t care what the label on the food is; this is a great place.
• The White Horse, 30 Main St, Ledston, Castleford WF10 2AB. 01977 557825, whitehorseledston.co.uk. Food served Tuesday to Friday: 12-3pm and 6-9pm; Saturday: 12-9pm; Sunday: 12-6pm. Three courses for two, a la carte with a couple of glasses of wine £73.60.
Drinks Selection 4/5