When you leave the south of England and crossover into Yorkshire, prepare to be miraculously transported to a bygone-era. Pickering, home of White Swan Inn, is a quaint Yorkshire market town - the kind where the pretty, stone-flagged high street has the full English complement of butcher, baker, greengrocers, tea rooms and pubs, and where much of the local pub chat is not that far removed from an episode of the Archers. Welcome to the British countryside – proper.
In contrast to Pickering’s old-world feel and the wilderness of the nearby North York Moors, the White Swan is a sophisticated establishment. Positioned half way up the hilly main street, the former 16th Century coaching Inn has most likely seen its fair share of the town’s history. And the interiors of the hotel’s cosy snugs; its gastronomic delight of a restaurant; and its rooms are appointed sensitively with antique styling, but to Mayfair standards – think deep hues, vintage furniture, gilt mirrors and log fires.
The almost-medieval banqueting hall, complete with grand fireplace, flagstone floors and beautiful upholstery in regal paisley, is very much the centre of this modern day hunting lodge. The top local estates host many of their post-shoot dinners here, so that the London guns can get a taste for fantastic local produce in a luxurious setting, after a bracing day on the Moors. And it is here in the restaurant, that you start to get an inkling as to the owner’s French connection. Victor Buchanan is a Prud’homme de St Emilion and Bourgeois de St Emilion, a title bestowed upon restaurateurs and other professionals affiliated to the wine trade – so, as you can imagine, the wine list is top notch. The walls are papered with wine labels from prominent French châteaux, and bottles of Mouton Rothschild and Dom Pérignon are dotted around the place.
The restaurant’s chef, Darren Clemmit, has been at the White Swan for thirty years, and his motto is simple. ‘We don’t try to be fashionable,’ he says, ‘we just work with the changing seasons and try to get our hands on as much great produce as possible’. And, given the area’s lively faming culture, this is a strong ethos. The lamb is from the nearby village of Levisham, the fish from Hodgsons, in nearby Whitby, and Darren is particularly pleased with the provenance of his scallops. Buchanan met the restaurant’s supplier when he was just 13 – they are old school friends, and this very selective scallop purveyor only supplies the White Swan and one other restaurant in France. ‘You only need two for a main, they’re so big,’ he explains, whilst outlining the size of these delectable shellfish on the palm of his hand. ‘And we have a lot of people who grow stuff for us,’ says the Pickering local, ‘there’s a lady in the town who sells us boxes of Jerusalem artichokes’. Next year, the White Swan team are planning to get very River Cottage, as they begin growing-their-own on site.
The fare is simple, but fantastic. On the night we visit, a few menu highlights include Home Cured Gravalax and Smoked Yorkshire Duck, to start; locally sourced Sirloin or Rib of Beef and Pork Belly (all from just up the road), and Whitby Hake with Brown Shrimp. And the Sunday roast the following day (following a hike around the famous Hole of Horcum to drum up a bit of appetite) was the best I’ve tasted (bar my grandmothers), but you wouldn’t expect any less from the home of the Yorkshire pudding.
Rolling back to one’s room after dinner is also a pleasure. The dual-level Hideaway Suite comes with its own cosy, but lavishly furnished, sitting room – complete with roll-top-bath; a spa-like bathroom with an indulgent double headed shower; and, upstairs, a vintage styled mezzanine bedroom adorned with striking modern artwork. Other rooms, many of which are in the original coaching lodge, boast Louis XVI or French Caribbean four poster beds and the White Swan’s famous homemade biscuits by the kettle.
And Pickering is perfectly positioned to explore Yorkshire’s many attractions: the town has it’s own 11th Century castle – fittingly a former hunting lodge – and enjoys a working station on the famous North Yorkshire Moors Steam Railway. The White Swan and is also well positioned for hiking the county’s rugged moorland, and for trips to Castle Howard and Whitby.
A long weekend at the White Swan is a perfect British experience: you can travel back to England’s golden era (by steam train if you wish) and get out into the great British Countryside, all before returning to your very own regal hunting-lodge for some excellent local food and superb French wine by the fire. Just don’t forget your Ettinger Hurlingham Overnight Bag.