Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Pimm's o'clock at two White Horses (Restaurant Reviews)

The end of May bank holiday was so gloriously sunny, it really seemed to herald the coming of summer. We took it suitably easy with a little gardening, a little DIY and a lot of relaxing and good eating!

On Saturday Pete and I drove up to Burnham Green (Hertfordshire) for a country pub lunch in the White Horse pub. It's a fair journey from where we live in North West London, but it's a pub Pete used to visit with colleagues when he worked in nearby Welwyn and it's a lovely place. When we fancy a country pub lunch after a meandering drive, it's one of a handful we pick from.

I suppose most people would describe it as a gastropub - the interior has been modernised and made light and airy and the menu favours modern tastes too, but I hesitate to use the gastropub label as it has come to carry connotations of pretentiousness. The White Horse is altogether too relaxed, warm and welcoming for that. Although there were plenty of tables free outside in the sunshine, we chose one next to one of the big windows - the best of both worlds - and checked out the menu.

Pete ordered a pint of cask ale and I decided to push the boat out by ordering Pimms. Not a single glass of it, oh no! I ordered an entire jug! (I figured I'd easily get through 3 glasses and a jug cost less than 3 glasses so... the rest was a bonus!) The expression on the waitress' face when she delivered the drinks was priceless - she seemed to take in the table, with just the two of us sitting there, and bite down on asking how many were joining us! I didn't quite finish the entire jug but did enjoy several glasses through the meal!

Anti-social it might seem to others, but we sat in companiable silence, reading the Saturday papers (laid out on the bar for customers to borrow).

Instead of two starters we ordered 5 items from the "tasting slates" selection, priced at £1.95 each. We ordered some lovely sliced ham (possibly Iberico, I forget), chorizo salami, balsamic onions, feta-stuffed pepperdews and classic sourdough (served with a generous bowl of thick balsamic and olive oil for dipping. All very good, particularly the bread.

For my main I chose a rib eye steak and chips, both cooked simply and well. The skin-on chips were really nice. Pete had chicken with a honey and mustard marinade, also served with chips. I've used a honey and mustard marinade on meat myself; this one tasted fabulous and the meat was also flavoursome and moist.

At this point, we really didn't need desserts but we both failed tor resist the temptation of the latte mousse on the dessert menu. And to make our fail even bigger, we didn't order one between us but a greedy one each! The mousse was delicious, served in a coffee cup with a moist, cake-like almond biscuit, in the shape of an Italian amaretti biscuits.

You can imagine how full we were by the end of all this feasting!

Our bill came to a very reasonable £48 + tip. Restaurant prices, yes but restaurant quality food too served by warm, friendly and efficient staff in a relaxing environment.

On Sunday we headed out of London to meet friends for dinner, at another pub called the White Horse, this time located in Shenley (Hertfordshire), where our friends live. They joined us there for a lovely dinner. Like it's namesake in Burnham Green, the Shenley White Horse has been modernised inside and offers a modern menu offering mainly restaurant-style dishes with a few pub classics (plus traditional roasts on Sundays). It's a deceptively large space with plenty of tables, inside and out. Some are in the restaurant area and others in the more relaxed pub section, though I believe the same menus are available throughout.

We had booked a table in the restaurant area; inside but not far from doors left open through the evening.

Although it was very quiet throughout our meal, service was lackadaisical. Interactions with the staff were friendly but they were neither efficient (mistakes were made in taking down our order) nor consistent (sometimes it was very hard to get the attention of two waitresses looking after only a handful of tables between them). The kitchen wasn't totally on the ball either, though the food, when we got it, was good. The daily specials menu informed us that the normal head chef was not in today, and the kitchen was being managed by his usual sous.

A and I chose the warm chicken livers + pear + pancetta + frisee + creamy garlic dressing which was a wonderful dish. The flavours and textures worked very well together, contrasting and complementing each other even better than I'd expected.

L really enjoyed her smoked mackerel pate + celeriac remoulade + toast. Even though, when Pete ordered his starter of chicken breast + crisp tortilla crumb + iceberg + guacamole + salsa + chilli + sour cream,(also available as a main), the waitress repeated "chicken salad" back to him and said it was her very favourite thing on the menu, she managed to input duck salad instead, which we discovered when the starters were served. It was another several minutes before the correct dish came out, though this was justified by the very freshly deep-fried breadcrumbed chicken pieces served over the various salad elements. Pete said it was worth the wait!

Pete was unlucky once again. As three of the mains were served, and L detected the smell of what she thought was burnt toast, Pete was told apologetically, that chef had burned his Piccante - pepperoni + chorizo + tomato + jalapeno pizza and was making another one! In the meantime, as the other mains were ready, the other three of us were served.

L ordered from the specials menu and her roast rack of lamb + crushed thyme potatoes + asparagus + wild mushroom + truffle sauce looked wonderful. She said all of it was good but the sauce was especially so. A ordered a classic burger + onion + gherkin + mustard mayo + frites which he'd had before. Served medium, as requested, it looked like a decent burger. My spit roast duck + cherries + cassis jus + frites was a generous portion and tasty too - moist meat with lots of flavour and thin, crispy skin. The cherries were mildly sharp and worked well with the mildly sweet jus. My only disappointment was that the "frites" were regular fat chips - to me, using the word "frites" implies thin french fries, which I was really in the mood for. The chips were OK but not as tasty as the BG White Horse skin-on chips. Pete seemed to enjoy his pizza though, as I'd predicted, it didn't compare to those available from some decent Italian pizzerias near home.

Somehow, all four of us found room for dessert. Between us we had a sticky toffee and date pudding with toffee sauce and cream, a marshmallow cheesecake with turkish delight sauce, a passionfruit pannacotta with , I think, mango sauce and my (excessively large) apple and strawberry crumble with cream. Although A enjoyed it, I wasn't too keen on the texture of the sticky toffee pudding - I found it tough rather than moist and light, like better example I've enjoyed. L's panna cotta looked delicious and she definitely enjoyed it. Pete sang the praises of his choice, explaining that the cheesecake had a great marshmallow taste and fiercely guarding the turkish delight syrup from thieving fingers! My crumble was just OK. The fruit was undersweetened, which I don't mind when balanced by the sweetness of a generous topping, but in this case, there was far too little topping for far too much fruit, made and served as it was in a dish that was too large and too shallow. Custard rather than cream would have helped with sweetness too. As it was, it was a bit blah and I didn't finish even half of it.

Through the meal I enjoyed Pimms once again, this time two (generous, pint-sized) servings. Pete and Ade enjoyed Timothy Taylor's Landlord and both A and L had wine during the meal and we had one coffee and one after-dinner whisky on the list too. Our bill came to 126.75 + tip though we didn't leave a huge one. Service here has never quite matched that in the BG White Horse as it's always hard to catch the attention of staff, though usually that's because it's busy. That said, it's usually not sloppy - the mistakes in ordering and from the kitchen are not the norm. In retrospect it would have been a nice gesture for them to offer Pete a complimentary dessert or drink, given his two delayed courses, though these weren't serious enough lapses for us to ask for a discount ourselves.


Pei said...

This gastro pub sounds fab. We have got some friends in Shenley and shall pop down to have a look!

teanamu - e.a.t.d.r.i.n.k.t.e.a</a

Michelle said...

It just goes to show not that all pubs are bad but good ones are few and far between. Don't worry, silence is golden. :-)

Debs said...

Kavey, you seem to be working your way around all my old haunts!