BEING judged Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub of the Year for 2017 is a really big thing. Isn’t it?

I don’t know how many pubs there are in God’s Own County but it is the biggest county so there must an awful lot.

So, being the most popular in the biggest county is a tremendous accolade - and a tremendous responsibility also.

The White Swan at Ampleforth is this year’s winner of the annual competition run by the tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire. The result is determined by a public vote so it could be seen as genuinely democratic as opposed to determination by mysterious inspectors working for food guides. Or if you were a bit cynical you could also say it is simply evidence of an effective social media campaign persuading punters who may or may not know it to vote online.

It is, however, the ideal cue for the column to check it out and to see if it really merits being the standard bearer for Yorkshire’s many fine hostelries.

Firstly, when pulling up outside the White Swan in Ampleforth village’s main thoroughfare the most striking aspect is the huge white rose flag billowing proudly from the front elevation. If prizes were awarded for displaying pride in Yorkshire then this would be a strong contender.

Inside, the White Swan is a very big pub indeed with a traditional bar to the right, a very attractive formal dining room to the left and then to the rear the main eating area which looks and feels cosy-inn comfortable with deep-pile carpet, substantial tables and chairs and views to the rear terrace, car park and Howardian Hills beyond.

It was Sunday lunchtime, 2.30pm to be exact and the place was fearsomely busy with diners although there were a few folk in the bar too. Shown to a table to the rear of the rear dining area we were swiftly in possession of pre-prandial drinks. Menus arrived eventually.

As befits a proud Yorkshire pub, the Sunday offering is ultra traditional: three roasts (all with Yorkshire pudding, of course) plus a chicken dish, a fish dish (salmon) and a token veggie option (lasagne).

Starters were a little more adventurous and included a goats cheese and roast fig tart (£6.95) and smoked salmon with a caper salad (£6.50) which I enjoyed in so far as the smoked was delicately and mildly cured and the caper salad was a refreshingly sharp contrast.

It was rather too sharp in truth, the fat capers being astringent rather than piquant – and there were too many of them so that they threatened to overwhelm the fish. A little pile of them accumulated on the plate.

Sylvia’s vegetable soup was deemed good and considerably enlived with something slightly spicy (cumin, perhaps). It was served with a rather dinky loaf-shaped bread roll and plenty of butter.

We had ordered the roast lamb (£12.95) and roast pork (£12.50) for our mains and when they arrived we decided that I would have the lamb and Sylvia the pork.

The lamb was shoulder (which Sylvia finds tends be on the fatty side) which suited me fine. There were four thick, beautifully tender and well flavoured slices served with a good meat juices gravy.

The pork was similarly well cooked and in addition came with some excellent crackling. The only problem was it was not served with the billed sage and onion stuffing. Enquiries revealed the kitchen had run out. Sylvia was not best pleased. Roast pork without stuffing was like fried fish without chips, she declared.

Both dishes came with modestly-sized but light and crisp Yorkshire puddings plus first-rate vegetables including a lovely cauliflower cheese, broccoli, really flavoursome carrots and cabbage. The roast potatoes were top drawer and there was smooth and creamy mash too.

Everything had been served in generous portions and so dessert was always going to be a big ask. And frankly the dessert list’s familiar litany of STP/brulee/brownie (all £5.95) was not exactly inspirational although I confess to being sorely tempted by the pear, almond and amaretto tart with steam ginger mascarpone cream.

Service was a bit patchy. At times it was swift and charming at others a bit abrupt, a bit rough and ready, and slow. Our table was some distance from the central bar and at times we felt just a little bit forgotten. There was a sense that they had sufficient staff to cope with the numbers they were looking after but only just

The bill was £53.75 which include the pre-lunch snifters and two small glasses of house wine with the meal. There is a good selection of wines by the glass but the choice took a bit of teasing out of the barman who initially just offered “red or white”.

We can see why the White Swan might well be many people’s favourite pub. It does many things really well. It just doesn’t get our vote.


The White Swan, East End, Ampleforth, YO62 4DA

Tel: 01439788239


Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten-free options

Open for Sunday lunch noon-3pm.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 7, Surroundings 8, Value 7