Restaurant review: The White Rabbit, Todmorden

Confit duck and brioche egg. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Confit duck and brioche egg. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
  • There’s a touch of Alice in Wonderland magic about The White Rabbit says Amanda Wragg.
Have your say

I don’t pretend to understand how modern gastronomy works; my experience of this kind of cooking is about the same as yours, i.e. watching Heston in his space specs brandishing a blowtorch, vacuum-sealing meat and chucking it into a water bath to cook for four days then doing something tricky with smoke under a glass dome.

The White Rabbit is aptly named – it feels like you’re entering some kind of Alice in Wonderland and the sense of magical realism grows as the evening progresses. We’re in Michael O’Hare territory; the recently Michelin-starred wizard is doing this at his Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds, and now, in this tiny corner plot by the station in Todmorden, David and Robyn Gledhill are casting the same kind of culinary spells.

It’s all bare brick walls, scrubbed floorboards and rustic tables; I like the relaxed approach – or it may just be that they haven’t got round to changing the decor since they’ve only been in a few weeks – either way, keep it as it is guys. Nothing’s more guaranteed to take the edge off my appetite more than having to sit up straight and keep my voice down.

A perfect golf ball of warm bread arrives with a rabbit-shaped beurre noisette followed swiftly by an amuse – a tiny porcelain dish with something simultaneously salty, cheesy, nutty and creamy; turns out it’s smoked Swaledale cheese custard, potato popcorn and chives and it’s completely delicious.

I’m slightly nervous; a new opening in a quiet backwater, a young crew and fine dining. Can they pull it off? And then the food starts to arrive and it’s clear everything’s going to be fine. We start with mushroom and ricotta cheesecake, and confit duck and brioche egg. In heavy hands dishes like this could be clodhoppers, but Gledhill’s lightness of touch is impressive.

The wild mushrooms have a tempura “like bleedin’ angel’s wings”, as my Aunty Elsie used to say of good batter, and they’re scattered round a perfect ricotta mound that sits on top of something crunchy and buttery with just a hint of spice.

My duck dish looks the business and the brioche egg yolk is extraordinary. It’s a soft, warm, crumbed perfect yellow circle. I don’t often do this but I ask how it’s done. Robyn doesn’t miss a beat, so here’s the science bit. A raw egg goes into the water bath for one and a half hours then it’s chilled and peeled and the white removed. The semi-set yolk is rolled in brioche crumbs and deep fried. Ta Da! Finished with a scattering of paper-thin globe artichoke, this really is a stand out plate of food.

If you saw chicken breast with “Seen” and “Unseen” ravioli on a menu, you’d have it, wouldn’t you? Turns out there are two (exquisite, paper thin) ravioli and the idea is that you pour the almond milk sauce on one of them and it dissolves. We did and it did. Such fun!

It gets curiouser and curiouser with rabbit roulade. The rabbit is nicely cooked and makes a good centre to the dish; salt baked candied beetroot and candied garlic, earthy as a ploughed field in November, work perfectly with the meat. But for me the star of the show is the gravy. Sorry, jus. It arrives in a little white jug and should ideally have a label round the top saying “drink me”. It’s a clear broth made from sweet potato and parsnip, all the bunny bits and some spells stolen from Dumbledore. Poured over the meat, it’s lovely, but I simply neck the rest. It isn’t clever or even seemly, but seemly goes out of the window with nectar like this.

How did these two youngsters arrive in a frontier town? David’s put time in at the Design House in Halifax and Robyn was a classically trained armed forces chef, so Tod is a walk in the park. Their eyes glow with enthusiasm and whilst my brain might not understand the alchemy, my stomach does.

There are just three puds; iced lemon is several ways with, er lemon (parfait, sorbet and a perfectly wibbly panna cotta). Jam and coconut volcano is my idea of sponge and custard heaven with the added crunch of a berry sugar shard. There’s Chocolate Emporium too, for the addicts. Bear in mind it’s Saturday night, and David is sending these exquisite dishes out (including a table of eight) on his own. There’s no-one else in the kitchen. And still he’s smiling.

I’ve only one (hoary old) niggle; drop the check-back thing. It’s meaningless. And the room is small enough to spot if someone’s not happy.

There’s considerable skill and confidence here, and whilst the food is small in that fine dining fashion, the flavours are big and beautifully balanced. Presentation is creative but not too mannered and it’s clear that the Gledhills have a deep understanding of the ingredients. And, importantly, it’s huge fun – not remotely po-faced. We’ve all been to THOSE places.

There’s an apposite Lewis Carroll quote on one of the walls. “Have I gone mad? I’m afraid so. You are entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are,” said Alice.

• The White Rabbit, 1 White Hart Fold, Todmorden, OL14 7BD 01706 817828. Dinner for two, three courses each with an excellent bottle of El Colectivo Malbec (£14.95) £69. Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 3pm, 17.30 to 9pm.

FOOD 5/5