You’ve got to hand it to chef Peter Higginson. From being lecturer-cum-mentor and latterly enterprise manager at Leeds City College to then opening a country pub in Ledston – a charming village within striking distance of Castleford – and to hang a sign offering fine dining, is audacious to say the least.
Fine dining usually comes starched and tightly buttoned which seems an unusual approach for a country inn. Even more contradictory, the décor of the White Horse, is as delightful and cosy as you could ever wish for in a pub, country or not. There are flagstone floors, thick, sturdy exposed stone walls and the odd dash of artex – which kind of works in this environment. An old Yorkie Range belts out heat and atmosphere, and there’s occasional ooh and aargh from those (like me) who remember them from their childhood.
Modern touches sweep through with the bench seating, leather chairs and intriguingly with the menu.
First up is The Mary Carr Menu served 12 - 3 pm, and 6-9 pm, every day, with two courses for £16.95, three for £19.95 – yes, you did read that correctly. There are three starters of soup, fish in broth or a ham hock terrine with fried quails egg. Four mains are offered Rabbit Cassoulet, Pork fillet with Chorizo, Sea Bream and Moroccan vegetables or for the vegetarian, Goats cheese and caramelised onion tart with Pavlova, Panna Cotta and a chocolate beetroot tart for puds. Value or what?
The a la carte menu, however, was the most intriguing one. Prices may take a bit of a jump but remain keen from £ 6 - 8 on starters and there isn’t a main over £20. Again, Peter keeps the number of dishes tight while still ensuring there is a decent choice for everyone; I would expect no less from a consummate pro. There are no classics here, though, if pie and chips are your want.
Arancini-style smoked haddock kedgeree bore little resemblance to the breakfast-brunch dish. Crunchy, coated balls of smoked fish and lightly spiced rice came devoid of any evidence they had seen the fryer. And a lightly boiled quails egg and a curry mayo rounded it off nicely.
With a New Year resolution to cut down on meat, pumpkin and tofu rosti, just as the kedgeree, did not appear as expected on the plate. This dish too had seen the fryer and again was crisp, dry, and the filling soft and sweet. It truly was a lovely moreish dish and how I wish all vegetarian food were this light and flavourful.
The promise to cut down on meat did not mean abstaining I am glad to say as the duck plate had my name all over it; it is one meat I love. The merge on the plate of two styles of duck came as a seared breast which was, for me, a little overcooked, and a leg confit carefully shredded and tucked into a pancake. A smattering of soy, ginger and spring onion gave the dish a slightly oriental touch.
A similar conglomeration took place across the table, this time around venison. Another flash of culinary adeptness came from the kitchen with a melting piece of loin, a tiny copper pot stuffed with braised cottage pie, and a soft, sliver of a pink liver.
Without a doubt, the two mains showed extreme skill in the kitchen, but the star of the show for cuteness came with pudding. One ubiquitous breakfast dish has already made an appearance on this menu as a starter, now another, this time as a dessert. Duck Egg and Soldiers may not be the first thought for pud, but this quirky confection came as an egg shell filled with silky lemon curd, a swish of crisp Italian meringue, shortbread ‘fingers’ a tiny macaron, drizzle of lemon and a raspberry crumbs.
Equally, as impressive as the variety and quality of food on offer at the White Horse, are the wines and beers. The carefully handpicked wine list sweeps the globe across styles and with many tempting varietals.
The menu is designed daily with seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers.
And so I have to ask the question, fine dining or not? Excellent cooking; sharp, efficient service (with smiles and the time to chat too); good wines and beers and beautifully presented decor which also manages to be comfy and approachable; a noisy pub bustling with energy and atmosphere is what I found. and superb value for money. I don’t care what the label on the food is; this is a great place.
Three courses for two, a la carte with a couple of glasses of wine came to £73.60.
There is a more relaxed lunchtime menu with sandwiches and burgers. The White Horse is family friendly, and that includes well behaved four-legged members, as well as roaring fires in winter. Good weather can be enjoyed in the outdoor seating area.
The White Horse
Address: 30 Main Street, Ledston, Castleford WF10 2AB.
Tel: 01977 557825.
Food opening times: Tues - Fri 12-3pm and 6-9pm; Sat 12-9pm; Sun 12-6pm.