Sunday Lunch at The White Swan, Wighill
Sunday lunch is the great British Food tradition for friends and family, regularly voted as one of the things that most define Britishness. We went to The White Swan at Wighill in North Yorkshire recently to see whether they could serve a Sunday lunch that could rival the essence of home-made cookery.
The centrepiece of any Sunday Lunch is a huge roast meal with all the trimmings. Some say this tradition arose when Church goers returned home to a celebratory dinner left to cook during their absence. As with many British traditions, its origins probably extend back to feudal times. Meanwhile, its popularity has spread around the English-speaking world. Indeed, Sunday lunch is arguably still the essence of British family cookery; with the Roast meat of choice, Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes, Gravy and a selection of veggies.
Sunday lunch is at the heart of the perfect lazy Sunday. Maybe start with breakfast in bed, then a read of more newspapers than you can shake a stick at, before sitting down to a huge roast meal. Afterwards, a well-earned calorie-induced snooze on the sofa is in order.
However, lengthy preparation at home can be stressful, nevermind the washing-up afterwards. Increasingly in our busy fragmented lives, we’ve turned instead to the Great British Pub to provide it for us. Less than half of us now make our own.
Getting a Sunday Lunch in a pub that’s worthy of the tradition isn’t always easy. Who hasn’t experienced their fair share of joyless carveries, with their overdone meats, pre-prepared puddings and watery frozen vegetables? Such crimes against taste remain all-too-frequent.
Thankfully, The White Swan turned out to be a splendid example of where Sunday Lunch combines excellent value cooking and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s a charming old pub in the centre of the North Yorkshire village of Wighill, readily accessible from Leeds, Harrogate and York. Ainsty Inns, a local small pub group, bought it in September 2016.
Tom Thorup and his team have moved in, including Chef John Griffiths. Tom was previously in charge of one of The White Swan’s sister pubs, the national-award-winning Chequers at nearby Bilton-on-Ainsty. They are now bringing The White Swan up to similar standards while keeping it distinctive. And it shows; in the décor, atmosphere, customer service and food.
In fact, one of their recipes, Monkfish with wilted spinach, hollandaise and poached egg, features in the newly published The Leeds and West Yorkshire Cookery Book. Their philosophy is to use local produce wherever possible. Hence meat and poultry are from Sykes House Farm, fruit and vegetables from Hebden & Poole and the fish comes from Hodgson’s of Hartlepool. Yorkshire beers from Ilkley Brewery, Tim Taylor’s and Black Sheep, are on tap.
With a warm welcome, we took a window table in the newly refurbished dining room, tastefully decorated in relaxing teal blue and grey tones. The Sunday lunch menu is refreshingly simple, with a choice of four starters, five mains and four desserts available from 12 noon through to 8 pm, complete with table service. While roast meats are of course the centre point, there are fish and vegetarian options too. One course is £11.95, two for £15.95 or all three for £18.95, so it’s good value as well.
For starters, we ordered salt and pepper squid and chicken liver paté. The squid was tender, the batter light and the aïoli punchy. A large wedge of paté came with toast and a side salad. Both dishes proved delicious.
For mains, the roast choices were between beef, belly pork or chicken breast. We both chose the slow roast pork. Roast pork needs to be moist and evenly cooked, with a crisp, flavoursome crackling. So it was, cooked to perfection. It came with a large, pillowy Yorkshire Pudding and hot roast potatoes that were crisp on the outside and fluffy within. Correctly, there was plenty of tasty gravy.
A special mention for the delightful side vegetables too. Cauliflower, broad beans and sugar snaps were colourful, textured and flavoursome; the baby whole carrots were scrubbed, not peeled. Apple sauce and English mustard rounded things off. A Beaujolais Cru Fleurie, chosen from the surprisingly varied wine list, helped us wash it down with gusto.
Meanwhile, other diners were relishing pink roast beef, while the vegetarian aubergine parmigiana looked and, I was told, tasted just as good.
Given the generous portions of starters and mains, we could have stopped there. However, this being Sunday, we didn’t want to miss out on the desserts and, after a short break we were very glad we didn’t.
The vanilla pannacotta came with home-made ginger shortbread and raspberry coulis. It was clean and light with just the right amount of jiggle. Even better was that English classic, Sticky Toffee Pudding. The sponge was light and moist, and a jug of hot caramel sauce soon drenched it, melting the vanilla ice cream. Delectable stuff. Finally, we took coffee with some more ginger shortbread and fudge. It was a while before we could move, but there was no rush. Indeed, this is a place to come hungry, wear loose clothing and don’t be shy in asking for a doggy-bag.
Booking is advisable as the dining area was full, with couples, family generations and groups of friends clearly enjoying themselves. The White Swan is child and dog-friendly, so this is a place for all the family.
In short, The White Swan Sunday lunch exceeded our expectations and is highly recommended. Next time I’m looking forward to exploring their seasonal menu, which is available Monday through Saturday.
Oh, once back home I indulged in that afternoon snooze.