White Rabbit, Todmorden
The White Rabbit is aptly named – you leave the real world at the door and enter some kind of Alice in Wonderland. We’re in Michael O’Hare territory; the Michelin-starred wizard is making magic at his Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds, and now, in this tiny corner plot by the station in Todmorden, David and Robyn Gledhill are casting the same kind of culinary spells.
It’s all bare brick walls, scrubbed floorboards and rustic tables; I like the relaxed approach; nothing’s more guaranteed to take the edge off my appetite more than having to sit up straight and keep my voice down.
I’m slightly nervous; we’re in a quiet backwater with a young crew and it’s fine dining. Can they pull it off? And then the food starts to arrive and it’s clear everything’s going to be fine. We start with mushroom and ricotta cheesecake, and confit duck and brioche egg. In heavy hands dishes like these could be clodhoppers, but Gledhill’s lightness of touch is impressive. Wild mushrooms have a tempura “like bleedin’ angel’s wings”, as my Aunty Elsie used to say of good batter, and they’re scattered round a perfect ricotta mound that sits on top of something crunchy and buttery with just a hint of spice.
If you saw chicken breast with “Seen” and “Unseen” ravioli on a menu, you’d have it, wouldn’t you? Turns out there are two (exquisite, paper thin) ravioli and the idea is that you pour the almond milk sauce on one of them and it dissolves. We did and it did. Such fun! The sense of magical realism grows as the evening progresses, with rabbit roulade, salt baked candied beetroot and candied garlic, earthy as a ploughed field in November, working perfectly with the meat. But for me the star of the show is the gravy. Sorry, jus. It arrives in a little white jug and should ideally have a label round the top saying “drink me”. It’s a clear broth made from sweet potato and parsnip, all the bunny bits and some spells stolen from Dumbledore. Poured over the meat, it’s lovely, but I simply neck the rest. It isn’t clever or even seemly, but seemly goes out of the window with nectar like this.
There’s consumate skill and confidence here, and whilst the food is small in that fine dining fashion, the flavours are big and beautifully balanced. Presentation is creative but not too mannered and it’s clear that the Gledhills have a deep understanding of the ingredients. And, importantly, it’s huge fun – not remotely po-faced. We’ve all been to THOSE places.