Imagine, also, how marvellous it is in those conditions to be ushered into a warm, cosy restaurant and be offered a seat next to the radiator to get a warm on while you browse the menu and get fussed over. The intimacy and attention of the staff at Whites ensure that even the coldest night cannot dim the warmth of the welcome.
I say “staff” like there’s a big team, but it’s worth noting early doors that there were actually only two people on duty – one out front and one in the kitchen. A sad sign of the demands of these straitened times or a sensibly appropriate complement for a 24-ish seater place? The latter, I hope, for while Whites don’t offer huge plates of filling, comforting fare, they do offer wonderfully-designed modern British cuisine built around the best local produce, arranged in imaginative and amusing style. I was amazed how intricate the food was when I realised there wasn’t a little army beavering away producing it. I also immediately forgot how cold the night outside was.
Whites, which sits a few feet outside of Beverley’s North Bar, was opened in 2008 by the then 23-year-old John Robinson. Even at that tender age, this local lad had worked in kitchens for 10 years. He had experience gained in New Zealand and Scotland, but it was his two years under the double Michelin starred chef Germain Schwab – when he ruled Winteringham Fields – that provided the most effective schooling. That, though, was just two years in a cooking career that has now run a decade and a half and young master Robinson is no Schwab-a-like, he very much has his own style. And it’s a style that has proven popular enough to keep Whites busy through five austere years that have seen off many restaurants.
As suits a small restaurant that uses mainly locally-sourced ingredients, the menu is small and carefully crafted. There is a distinct Asian influence but not enough to push Whites into fusion territory. There are hints in some dishes, like the pheasant cannelloni, Thai salad and plum puree starter, and others – the pork cheek katsu with red cabbage, apple and spiced peanut potatoes springs to mind – that are pretty much full-on Thai. Both of these were superb.
Elsewhere you’ll find apparently straightforward British dishes that are far more delicate, clever and distinctive than you have any right to expect. The beef terrine is accompanied by carefully designed dollops and smears of bread sauce, tomato jelly, ale reduction and pickled onions which make every forkful a different experience.
There was an appetiser of cheese and butternut velouté with thyme, which was light yet deeply delicious. And John even makes his own bread daily; tonight a board appeared before the starters with warm slices of wild mushroom brioche and Irish soda bread with pumpkin, poppy and sesame seeds. These were made even more delicious by the accompanying hand-churned fennel butter.
My favourite dish was the local duck breast with cigarette of leg, orange miso aubergines and prunes, which was cubes of beautifully pink duck surrounded by plinks and plonks of zingy fruit and veg and a tender sausage (the cigarette) filled with meat as tender as pâté. It was the prunes that proved the masterstroke; they complimented the duck amazingly well and took an already wonderful dish into overdrive. You know you’re enjoying great cooking when you start getting excited about prunes.
One definite Winteringham Fields influence is the cheese board which, while nowhere near as insanely expansive as the one in Winteringham, offers a handsome and varied collection sourced from Yorkshire and Europe. I eschewed it, however, as one of the other desserts brought the chance to sample Seabuckthorne, a berry I’ve encountered many times – as it grows on the thorny bushes you see all over Yorkshire’s secret paradise, Spurn Point – but never had the chance to sample on a plate.
Here it was made into a délice (a sort of posh blancmange) and served with chocolate snow (a sweet powder that rehydrates in the mouth), salted grapes and tarragon. It was a delight and indicative of the kind of adventure that inhabits all of the dishes at Whites.
Go to Whites, folks. Go to Whites soon. It’s not cheap (although two of us had three courses each with wine and paid £97, which isn’t bad) but it will surprise and excite you. The food is remarkable. John Robinson learnt from the best and, I tell you, he will soon enough be boasting his own Michelin star. And then you won’t be able to get a table without booking months in advance. Possibly not until the next time it snows.
Whites Restaurant and Patisserie, 12 & 12a North Bar Without, Beverley HU17 7AB. 01482 866121, www. whitesrestaurant.co.uk. Open Tuesday to Sunday, evenings only.