LAST month we concluded the Bedale Spice Wars with a clear-cut victor. This month it has to be a return to the Northallerton Cod Wars.

We referenced this contest last August with the arrival on the High Street of Katch in what used to be the Black Bull. A new fish restaurant, it set out its stall and opened hostilities by offering a better-value deal than its unnamed local competitor.

It didn’t take much work to identify that competitor as the White Horse Café, also in the High Street on the other side of the town hall.

So, having been very impressed by Katch, it prompted a visit to the rival it is trying to topple from the perch it has occupied as purveyors of the poshest fish and chips in town for many a year.

Yes, I know that Barkers restaurant can do a mean fish and chips, and the Golden Lion, Sammie’s Café and, of course, Bettys too. But they’re not specialist fish restaurants so they don’t count.

The White Horse, and its sister establishment of the same name in Thirsk Market Place have been trading since 1982 under the guidance of the Almond family. They consider themselves fried fish specialists, having been awarded Seafish Frier Quality Assurance Award every year, for both branches, since 2002. Impressive, eh?

Oh, and I’d better clarify what I meant earlier by the phrase Cod Wars because the White Horse Café doesn’t actually sell cod. All the fish sold here is haddock – “line-caught Norwegian haddock sourced from sustainable stock” to be precise – and I’m guessing the absence of cod from the menu is probably to do with ongoing concerns about the sustainability of Atlantic cod fisheries, particularly in UK waters.

Anyway, that’s enough of the responsible eating stuff. Let’s just say the White Horse Café is well and truly “on message” - and generally I prefer haddock to cod anyway.

While most of the White Horse trade will be channelled through the downstairs takeaway, the upstairs restaurant was our destination on this occasion when we were looking for sit-down sustenance.

The dining room is very nicely turned out. Comfortable bench seating, downlighters, geometric design upholstery, tartan carpet, bare brick walls, it’s a cut above your average chippie seating area.

On one wall it also has a fascinating blow-up map of Northallerton dating from the 19th century (not exactly sure when but it was after the railway’s arrival, before County Hall was built and when the original Friarage Hospital buildings were the town’s workhouse).

I could happily have a spent long time perusing the town’s old landmarks (the courthouse on the old prison site, the mill near Low Gates) but it would have been a tad anti-social – and very boring, Sylvia said.

We didn’t have long to wait for our order of fish and chips (£9.45 each) which were served with lemon, tartare sauce (other sauces were available) and brown bread and “spread”.

The spread was the only disappointing thing really and I freely admitting obsessing about something like that might seem a little indulgent. First World problems and all that.

But regular readers of this column will know the Warne household is obsessed by butter. We buy loads of it at home and when eating out we like it in decent-sized chunks and not served straight out of the fridge so we can spread it evenly and thickly.

But spread aside, the rest was faultless. Gleaming fillets of haddock that flaked easily on the fork were encased in a golden, crisp (beer?) batter. The chips were double fried we thought and peerless. The absence of any greasiness was notable and welcome.

They don’t just sell haddock. There’s scampi, fish cakes, burgers and a few non-fish alternatives (steak pie, chicken breast, sausage plus corned beef or spam fritters).

The size of people’s appetites are catered for too, from a children’s menu to the jumbo fish and chips (two fillets of haddock - £14.95).

We were looked after perfectly well by the sole waitress on duty. With only one other table to look after she wasn’t rushed off her feet as it neared closing time. The bill, with a pot a tea for two and a serving of mushy (proper steeped) peas was £24.

Now, who wins the Northallerton Cod (or haddock) Wars you ask?

Well, call me chicken if you like, but I’m going to duck out and declare it a draw. Without sitting down with the Katch and White Horse offerings side by side in a blind tasting, we couldn’t really, hand-on-heart, say who would edge it.

Suffice to say they are both very good.


White Horse Café, 227 High Street, Northallerton, DL7 8LU

Tel: 01609 780272


Open: Tues 11am-1.30pm, 4-7.30pm; Wed 11am-7.30pm; Thurs 10am-7.15; Fri and Sat 11am-7pm. Closed Mon and Sun.

Disabled access: dining room up stairs. No lift.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10, Service 8, Surroundings 8, Value 9