Let’s start with breakfast, because if you’re making the effort to visit the bucolic White Hart at Lydgate, where Yorkshire meets Lancashire (or vice versa if you’re from The Other Side), you may as well make a proper go of it and enjoy the full rural hospitality on offer by bagging yourself a room.
Ours is a short stagger away in a separate building, and comes with reliable wi-fi, strong shower, and views of the quaint church over the road. Sleep comes swiftly.
After a solid night’s slumber in such a rugged spot it’d be wrong to get elbow-deep in anything other than a full English, really, and The White Hart edition is one worth flagging up. Amongst the good stuff there’s a no-messing pork sausage, a crumbly lump of quality black pudding, and the billowing scrambled eggs are as light and airy as I’ve tasted. No surprises with the line-up, but each element cooked with care.
I don’t check, so there might be the option of overnight oats or something avocado’d, but to order either would be to do pubs a disservice.
It’s only a matter of hours since we were entrenched at a neighbouring table going toe-to-toe with the White Hart’s evening menu; an inviting read and an offering that’s happily in keeping with its sturdy environs. There are soups and pates, sausages and steaks, all elevated here by a kitchen that gets this stuff right.
Take this buff pork chop, for example (£19.50). Crozzled outer, juicy inner, and a curl of proper crackling balanced on top. No need to over-complicate the good stuff, is there? A Pommery mustard sauce adds punchy decadence, and wedges of caramelised apple some acidic bite. Belting.
There are oysters, too, and good ones at that. Half a dozen top-notch creamy Colchesters may not require too much effort from the kitchen cooking-wise but would suggest that this is a place that knows how to source the good stuff, which always bodes well.
Being at the arse-end of summer, we savour a pile of asparagus in vivid greens and whites with one eye on the brooding skies outside (£9). Autumn is coming. The spears are full of that distinctive vegetal hum, and shavings of dark summer truffle add a smoky oomph. There’s great dredging to be had with the accompanying supercharged parmesan custard; first with asparagus and then with fingers.
Fish and seafood are well-repped. A bulbous orb of lobster ravioli (£12), whose pasta certainly appears to be homemade, is generously loaded with good things, but it’s the big-bodied bisque it comes sitting in that really sings and has us spooning up the lot. And there’s a slab of seabass, crisp-skinned, firm-fleshed, and served simply with zesty roast fennel (£21).
This is the kind of fodder that’ll see you right after a windswept yomp over the surrounding moors, or in our case after a light pootle around the graveyard opposite. We don’t want to over-do it.
We eat in a bustling and homely room off the main bar, at which a couple of propped-up locals debate the Champions League draw, a fella enjoys a solitary pint with dog and book, and a civilised group gets civilly sozzled before tomorrow’s wedding. As good as the food is here – and it is – I could happily come back just for a beery session.
Not everyone’s bothered about awards, I know, but this visit brings to mind the list of the Top 50 Gastropubs and, more pertinently, The White Hart’s absence from it. I can’t claim to have been to them all (I’d be happy to make this my life’s work, donations welcome), but with its polished-up pub staples executed with finesse and ambition, and its desire to feed you well while making sure you have a smashing time in the process, I’m not sure how it’s previously been omitted.
Next year, perhaps?
Bed and breakfast from £175