Money changes further away from the city. It gets older.
In the city centre and near suburbs people spending £15 plus on main courses are age-ranged from twenty-five upwards. Six miles further out and it starts at thirty-five, at least.
Working that one out is a different article for another time, but it was certainly the rule at perennial Good Food Guide favourite, the White Hart in Lydgate.
The pigeon breast was wonderful, yielding, all gamey flavours juiced up and satisfying. The accompaniments were expert as tight as a top jazz act at Band on the Wall. The seared foie gras bursting with excess, the beans crisp and unmistakeably truffled, the leeks providing a tasteful bassline.
Lydgate, standing 700ft above sea level, is where Saddleworth starts. For people who don’t know the area Saddleworth is a series of well-to-do townships in the Pennines. Money flowed in as it flowed out of once genteel suburbs closer to Oldham, Ashton and Rochdale.
On our visit the impressive former coaching house, was full of men in slacks and polo shirts. In the dining room there was a table of comfortably sized women around fifty years old with expensive, generously cut dresses draped in wraps and scarves. They looked like they had successful marketing or event management companies.
The White Hart is a mini-village for these types with restaurant, brasserie, pub, function areas and a boutique hotel. On a midweek night the restaurant was dead so we shared company in the brasserie. Given there was a funeral going on in the function room maybe the above phrasing is indiscreet, but given the churchyard opposite you suspect that there’s been a lot of wakes in the venue down the years.
The restaurant is modern in appearance, the brasserie and the pub areas are, to use that cliché of lazy writers, ‘cosy’: low ceilings, beams, exposed stone walls and big fireplaces.
My restaurant menu choice was an amuse of chilled tomato consommé with ‘air-dried’ tomato, peas and a horseradish straw, a starter of butter roast pigeon breast with truffled fine beans, seared foie gras and crispy leeks, and a main of veal sirloin with butternut squash puree, wild mushrooms, herb gnocchi and wilted rocket.
The pigeon breast was wonderful, yielding, all gamey flavours juiced up and satisfying. The accompaniments were expert as tight as a top jazz act at Band on the Wall: the seared foie gras bursting with excess, the beans crisp and unmistakeably truffled, the leeks providing a tasteful bassline. Chef Paul Cookson should be given an extra tenner a week for coming up with this.
The sirloin was slacker, the sharp contrast of flavours conspicuous in the starter lacking in the main, and replaced by bulk – still good though, still well-presented and enjoyable. The consommé looked weedy, like some weird childhood game, in which kids learn their numbers by counting peas. Yet it was delightful, an ‘amuse’ just as described. The horseradish straw I can’t recall but the bite in the flavour of the consommé took talent to create. There was a sorbet palate cleanser in there as well, but it lacked any distinguishing character.
The brasserie menu on first glance looks more interesting than the restaurant’s. More choice and all that, but given the similar skills shown in both, it’s hard to tell them apart. The White Hart should take care to clearly distinguish them.
My dining partner had seared beef strips (£6.50) with Caesar salad and fresh anchovy followed by slow roasted belly pork (£15.75), peppered pork fillet with pressed potato and blackpudding with Lancashire cheese.
The latter was a feast of pig meat, packaged, pressed and manipulated into a handsome towering trio. The belly pork was a joy to my friend, who nodded approval, with mouth full. The pork fillet which could have been dry was moist as required, whilst the spud, pud and cheese apartment block was just dandy. The latter would make a really good lunch just on its own, a lunch which, with its balance of hard and soft, rich and gentle flavours, would set up the afternoon perfectly. The seared beef strips were good, the anchovy and salad fine, but wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as the main.
We shared my restaurant menu dessert of blackcurrant soufflé with blackcurrant sorbet. This was arranged on a long plate like two people in a kayak who don’t quite get on, but worked a sweet treat. The soufflé was particularly good - very seasonal too.
All in all an eminently satisfying experience. It’s nice to be in a place that exudes confidence. The White Hart knows what it’s doing, who its market it is and how to please them.
It’s consistent from the welcome through to the bill. The food is gently creative with subtle flair – yet hearty where it needs to be for the unreconstructed locals who might complain about not being full. The menu delivers what it promises, which is unusual in itself.
There’s an interesting comparison to be made here with a place, seven or so miles north again in another old pub, the Ram’s Head in Denshaw. On my visit there earlier this year, the ambition had become confused, the kitchen trying it on but not succeeding.
The Ram’s Head was like a recently promoted Premier League club trying to mix it with the big boys but not making it. The White Hart’s cleverer, it knows it’s not Big Four calibre but is happy enough to maintain a season in, season out mid-Premier League standard that keeps its fans more than happy. As such it’s definitely worth the tootle out of the city, whatever your age-bracket.
PS: There’s an omission here. The White Hart Inn has one of the most celebrated winelists around provided by Winos in Oldham (click here for review of Winos). But as one of our number was driving I drank by the glass and lightly. Confidential’s going to hire a charabanc and put Gordo, Ray King, Philip Hamer and, perhaps, Neil Sowerby from the MEN in it, and let them go to town on the moors, should be fun. Are you up for it lads?
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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