Every town needs variety in its restaurants and the disappearance of Carletto’s left a gap in the Ashbourne market. We have the magnificent Dining Room at the top end and excellent takeaways at the other. Lamplight is positioned for providing a good dinner at reasonable prices to small groups going out for an evening to chat but it tends to cater for the grey end of the market.
When the building now occupied by White’s was Bramall’s we had Da Carlo in the town centre as a specialist alternative. All this movement suggests that the more expensive a meal becomes in Ashbourne, the harder it is to make a living out of it. I don’t know how we would rate in terms of propensity to eat out but, when we do, we seem to prefer the ethnic food route. This may be why we have one new Indian restaurant in production and a second one planned to add to Bengal Cottage and Red Chilli.
Step forward White’s. The interior is similar to the style of Bramall’s contemporary with clean lines and simple decor. It creates a pleasant set of dining areas. When we went the place had been open for seven weeks and it had few empty tables on a Friday evening which augurs well. We had a table by the windows in the large dining room. This is an improvement on previous iterations in that this area was often used as either an echo-prone overflow or just left for Sunday lunches.
First impressions when we sat down were of a really cheery and friendly place. Our waitress was magnificent. I don’t like stuffy places where the atmosphere is almost church-like and everyone feels they have to talk in hushed tones. She was lovely and friendly and happy to explain what was in each dish and which the popular choices were. The menu is broadly Mediterranean bistro but with quite a loose theme. There is something for everyone as there are around seven options in each course as well as daily specials. Talking to the owner it is clear that the menu will keep shifting until the balance is just right. Produce is sourced locally and the meat comes from Nigel’s in the main.
The menu is clear and I really like that everything is rounded to either the pound or fifty pence.
This is a cocktail bar as well as a restaurant and there was a good selection of cocktails available at very reasonable prices. This is a good idea because we sometimes like a cocktail to kick off an evening before going on somewhere else and Ashbourne has lacked somewhere suitable.
I started with ham hock but others on the table had a generous sharing platter for two with salami with a whole baked Camembert, and a mushroom dish on a brioche base. Both looked very good. The ham hock was a little surprising in that it offered a hash with a poached egg on top and served with hollandaise. The balance of potato and ham hock was good (if I had one criticism it would be that I would prefer a tad more ham), the poached egg was cooked well and who doesn’t like hollandaise? All in all a good and slightly unusual starter. The waitress said that one customer always has the ham hock as a main course whenever they visit. I do think this indicates the type of place White’s wants to be… customer focused and spilling to adapt to meet the demand which I think will serve them well through the changing seasons.
The mains were similarly varied. The pork belly must be good because the last portion went just as we ordered. My dining companions had chicken and chorizo cassoulet and a lamb tagine. The cassoulet is presumably a nod to the owner’s long stay near Toulouse prior to coming to Ashbourne. It looked delicious and the use of chicken and chorizo made a winter dish translate well to the English summer. The tagine with couscous was also pronounced tasty. I had seared tuna with spicy Asian noodles. The tuna was nicely cooked – still pink in the middle and you could taste the seasoning in the crust. The noodles had a good bite of red chilli and fish sauce through them.
We did sample the wine list while we dined and there was a good selection to choose from at typical restaurant prices. We had a look at the dessert menu and, although tempted by the raspberry semi-fredo, and the crumble we were too full to partake which is a good sign.
All in, with two courses, a couple of drinks each and tea to finish, the bill for four came to just over £100 which I thought was very reasonable. The owner is considering opening on Sundays with something a little different from a traditional roast dinner so we will watch this space with interest – wouldn’t a late morning brunch with the newspapers be great?