Review: The White Rabbit, Todmorden

There’s no point in fibbing. My first post-lockdown outing was always going to be emotional.

Roasted lamb rump with samphire, one of the dishes at The White Rabbit. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Roasted lamb rump with samphire, one of the dishes at The White Rabbit. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).

I went to the White Rabbit on February 21, 2020. It was a grand night out, and the last one for 15 months. Not one of us could have imagined how the world was about to change.

I first reviewed Dave and Robyn Gledhill’s restaurant a few weeks after it opened in 2015. Reading back reminds me that I loved it but was slightly anxious that a tiny fine-dining restaurant in a quiet backwater would have the footfall to cut it in a crowded market.

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I needn’t have fretted; they’ve not only made a name for themselves in Yorkshire but they’ve won a loyal customer base, universally positive reviews and a very creditable score in the Waitrose Good Food Guide since their first year.

Inside at The White Rabbit in Todmorden. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).

So, five years down the line (give or take the fallow year they didn’t anticipate) how’s it all going? “Well we’ve had another child so we weren’t just sitting around,” says Robyn, “and David’s taken up trail running”. And there was me thinking they’d just been hosting wine tastings via Zoom. Unlike many restaurateurs, they decided not to offer take-outs but instead enjoy unprecedented time with their four kids “and do quite a lot of menu planning,” says Dave.

Well, we’ve all done quite a lot of eating out planning and I scored a lunchtime cancellation (they’re pretty much booked out for the next few weeks) so find myself five days after lockdown lifting with a chilled glass of Chilean Viognier and a sense of anticipation off the chart. An exemplary white onion velouté triggers my appetite – and we’re off.

What I’ve forgotten about their menu is that it reads so simply that it’s easy to imagine you’re just going to get a plate of cheese and tomatoes – which you do, but it’s cheese and tomatoes resembling nothing like I’ve put together in the last year.

The toms are Isle of Wight Heirloom and there’s some extraordinary whipped goat’s cheese – Gat – from Gillian Clough’s Tenacres herd above Hebden Bridge. Gledhills is fond of popcorn – something I’ve never been a fan of until I necked the savoury variety here, and it adds crunch and raises a smile.

Rump isn’t the most popular cut of lamb but I’d argue it packs the most flavour. It’s from the Ribble Valley and roasted, pink, tender and the samphire accompaniment is a revelation – it works perfectly, but who knew? With new spuds crushed with peas and, of course, gravy, this is Yorkshire – it’s a triumph.

Talking of revelations, there’s a Mexican wine to flag up. La Cetto Petite Sirah, 2016 to be exact. Oh. My. Word. These Gledhills really do know a thing or two about wine. The sirah grape brings a belt of blackcurrant, a sensational marriage with the lamb.

As befits a five-course tasting menu, there are two desserts. Cherry Batter Cake with Blossom Cream & Florals is exactly as it sounds – soft crumbly cake with the loveliest sweet-scented cream and a scattering of pretty, edible flowers. There’s a stunning dessert wine alongside this from Gascony; it’s light and fresh rather than syrupy, with floral notes.

Chocolate, Malt, Rice & Biscuits sounds innocent enough but don’t be fooled, there’s a lot going on here. There’s delice (squidgy) malted biscuit crumb (crunchy) popping candy (explosions in mouth) chocolate shards and, to crown it all, Horlicks panna cotta. It’s the business, and I say that as someone without a sweet tooth.

I’m starting to tear up. It was bound to happen. The combination of being out – or rather in a restaurant, food coming to the table I’ve not had a hand in and a wine flight… we’re all a bit giddy, including Dave, who circulates, beaming and chatting, and the lovely waiting staff who are, let’s face it, glad to back in an actual job.

Five years ago the White Rabbit was channelling Lewis Carroll, with bunny puns galore on the menu, which was kind of cute. It’s less Alice in Wonderland today; they’ve matured and simplified their offer and it’s better for it.

There’s still the odd molecular element but it’s just all the good stuff, done well, with a healthy avoidance of foams and deconstructions. Flavours are big and beautifully balanced, and Gledhill’s lightness of touch is impressive. They’ve never made a song and dance about what they do, and they’ve never repeated a menu.

They wear their skills lightly. Thank you guys for hanging in there. It’s good to be back.

The White Rabbit, 1 White Hart Fold, Todmorden OL14 7BD, 01706 817 828. Five-course tasting menu, £35, wine flight, £18; eight-course tasting menu, £55, wine flight, £40. Wednesday to Friday, 6.30 to 9.30pm, Saturday, 12 to 2pm, 6.30 to 9.30pm.