Nine courses for £50? Dave Lee finds Whites in Beverley is the definition of value for money when it comes to fine-dining.
I’m skint. If you’re not, then good for you. What is certainly true is that, for most of us, eating out is more of a luxury today than it was 10 years ago. I fear some people, though, look for value for money in the wrong places. It’s not, for instance, to be found in a £8.99 steak pie, chips and peas at your local chain pub. Yes, you’ll fill your belly, but you won’t experience anything you can’t make perfectly well yourself (for less) at home.
You know what real value for money is? £50 for a nine-course tasting menu at Whites in Beverley. Nine distinct, delicious, imaginative, exciting dishes (not to mention a half dozen amuse-bouches between courses), made mainly from local ingredients, served by friendly, knowledgeable staff and created by a two Michelin star trained chef. A dining experience as unique, enjoyable and wonder-filled as any available anywhere in the UK offers ridiculous value for money.
First, the basics: depending on how the tables are arranged, Whites has around 20 seats. Decor is simple but comfy and the dishes are mainly modern English, but not always. John Robinson, the boy wonder owner/chef trained under Germain Schwab at Winteringham Fields before opening his own place in 2008 and he’s been servicing the foodies-in-the-know of East Yorkshire ever since. The restaurant has a couple of rooms as well and offers the best base possible for visitors to explore Beverley and the surrounding area.
Now, the food: there is no menu, John just designs nine new dishes every week and opens his door. You find out what you’re eating when the dish is presented to you by your waitress. It’s lovely theatre.
He uses local ingredients wherever possible but if he invents a dish that needs something from further afield then he sources the best he can find. There simply isn’t the room on these pages to discuss in detail everything we had to eat, so let me quickly summarise the dishes as they were served and I’ll leave it to you to imagine how extraordinary it all was.
Please understand, I liked everything, but to differing degrees. Not because it wasn’t perfectly made, it’s just that some of it wasn’t to my personal taste. But that’s the beauty of a tasting menu – if you’re not over-keen on one dish, another one will be along in a couple of minutes.
First came bread, made that day and served with rosemary butter and lardo. Then canapés of brown crab croquette, black pudding straws and rice crackers with smoked eel and pork scratchings. You’ll note that we’ve not even reached the first course proper yet.
Next came parsnip “tagliatelle” (strips of parsnip cut and cooked like pasta) with a saffron sauce and dehydrated bacon; pickled Whitby crab with caviar, puffed pearl barley, pickled cucumber and a basil and lemongrass emulsion; 54 hour-cooked pork cheek with miso, spring onion and seaweed.
Then there was a break for more canapés. A brown shrimp crisp with apple, oyster mayo, and caviar; rabbit and morel fried agnolotti and Parmesan and mustard tart. You’ve already had your £50 worth, by the way, and yet we’re nowhere near done. Let’s have another three dishes before dessert.
With just enough time to order another bottle of wine, we were brought deep fried octopus with spiced peanut, oyster and fennel leaf; roast brill with mushroom puree and pickled shitaki; trio of lamb featuring rump, sweetbread and tongue, with artichoke and pickled kohlrabi.
And then three puds – herbal tea foam with baked chocolate, butterscotch and pecan (my favourite dish of the evening); chocolate and lime delice with juniper cream, rhubarb and granola; and, finally, three Yorkshire cheeses and crackers.
You shouldn’t think it sounds like too much food, it wasn’t; it was just right. You may think it sounds like too many flavours, it wasn’t; it was an extraordinary, entertaining and delightful way to spend an evening.
Five years ago you could trace a line across the Wolds – from Artisan in Hessle, through Whites, the Dining Room in Driffield and up to the Green Room in Scarborough – of small, one-chef concerns offering intricate and innovative British dishes. Now, all that remain are the Green Room and Whites.
These labour-of-love restaurants are rare, tough to get right and must be treasured. John doesn’t stay at Whites because he couldn’t move on and open somewhere bigger, he stays because he loves the freedom it gives him to experiment. I like going to Whites to see the effect my enjoyment of his food has on him. Seeing someone working at the top of their game and thoroughly happy with his lot is very satisfying. You really should try it.
Whites, 12a North Bar Without, Beverley HU17 7AB. 01482 866121, whitesrestaurant.co.uk. Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 6.45-8pm; Saturday, 12-1.30pm.