Come and eat at the top o’ hill, they said. There’ll be roaring fires, they promised. It’ll be stotting down outside and you’ll be glad to be in a building with a roof, they insisted. OK, I made that last one up but the first two are true.
I suspect that, no matter the weather, The White Hart at Lydgate is a welcome sight. On the day I motored through Oldham to this 18th century former prison and schoolhouse, it was tipping down and proper cold. You’d think that living in the North would acclimatise you to the inclement conditions but I still ran faster than a speeding bullet from the car park to the Brasserie.
And there, like a warm blanket without the cat hairs that cling to fabrics in my house, was a room that shouted ‘come in you nesh jessie, warm yer bum by our fire and let someone else take care of you’. I yielded like a blancmange waiting to be set.
With views across the Pennines and the whisper of rural goodness just a stone’s throw away, The White Hart is a happy marriage of two restaurants and a petite slew of boutique hotel rooms. On the day I visited with a Northern Soul colleague, the Brasserie filled up quickly. An entirely unscientific Facebook straw poll suggested this was a venue that, if I’m honest, I could lord over my friends. And (cackling witch laugh), who doesn’t enjoy that?
They had me at rosemary and potato bread. What’s that you say? Bread and potato? More carbs than you can shake a bread stick at? Oh my, now you’re spoiling us. Hot on its heels was the amuse bouche: those tiny teacups. Is there anything that screams ‘posh’ more then teeny, tiny cups that aren’t on the menu? Frothing away inside the teensy porcelain was broccoli soup with stilton and almond. And, unlike other concoctions of this kind, it was hot. Tetley Tea hot. Poshness aside, I could have downed a pint of this delectable stuff.
As we blew the froth away, the starters arrived: Dorset crab cocktail, mango, black bean and chilli for the pair of us, and thank god we chose the same thing. If Cathy had enjoyed this on her own, I may have been forced to create a diversion while I swapped plates. The dish was all zingy, fresh as a rock pool after the the tide has turned, and pretty as a picture. As Cathy said, “it’s really fit”.
Then, as the flames of the real fire licked our comfortable clothes (we are freelancers eating in the middle of the day, elasticated waists are our friend), the mains made their entrance. Slow-cooked ox cheek, burnt onion and kale for me pal, and chicken with tortellini on my side of the table. Winking seductively without a care in the world was the creamy mash. Oh, what naughtiness was this? Eat me and savour me, it coaxed. As did the melt-in-the mouth ox cheek and I-don’t-know-how-the-chef-made-tortellini-a-must-have-dish. No chewy, indistinguishable weirdy pasta parcels in Saddleworth.
We were exhausted; teased and toyed by our food. Before we knew what was happening, we were ambushed by amalfi lemon posset, poached blueberries, blueberry sorbet. Oh frailty, thy name is posset. With n’er an inch of space in our respective stomachs, we tipped our teaspoons and, in the best possible way, we were replete.