Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Coach & Horses

It hurts me to pen a review that’s less than positive especially when a meal is anticipated to deliver the goods. The Coach & Horses is a 'gastropub' (like 'foodie', 'nibbles', ‘nom nom’, 'sourced', 'delish', etc- they’re all unnecessary and projectile vomiting inducing words). The C&H has harnessed more than its fair share of tributes from the press like the Evening Standard and Observer Food Monthly to establish itself as worthy of respect and not an ounce less! But I didn’t come here because of dem lot reviews!

I first took note of Henry (Harry) Herbert the C&H’s head kitchen flake on BBC’s Great British Menu 2010. Although creatively outshone and pummelled by both Nathan Outlaw and John Hooker the much younger and quintessentially nice Herbert showed promise with great aplomb. His determination throughout the competition, and tolerance from the barrage of mockeries by the other two chefs were at best meritorious. So game, set and match, the C&H can do no wrong!

Came here one eve with my nursery school pal, Sue (FYI we’re in our ancient forties and why the fudge did remove the age identity from my profile page!). Sue, being from and residing in hotter climates was on a well-deserved holiday from being mum to three kids and wanted to relive her days when she was at a public boarding Tory school in Blighty. She wanted pub grub like pork scratchings, steak and kidney pud, chicken kiev, Ploughman’s or bangers and mash. As ever I intervened and exhilarated- ‘I’m but a food knowall, and my dear Sue you’re so out of touch with the scene here, we don’t do that kind of thing anymore in London. Look hon, we’ve moved on and so have our tastebuds, the majority of Londoners are now savvy eaters!’ I dragged her to the C&H but ended up eating my hat instead!

The C&H is located in a quiet corner of Clerkenwell and possibly too teasingly close to the original gastropub. It’s a posh pub and therefore no championing of live Champions League matches. Service was efficient but a tad dour with no small talk encouraged.

What rattled and pleased us (in a very small way) -

Franschhoek Cellar 'The Old Museum'.

Quaffworthy red, I’m not trying to be Andy Hayler but this 19 quid bottle can be bought from the shops for 7.

The supposedly signature dish at this place- the charcuterie plate.

It consisted of home-cured salami, rabbit rillettes and Lop pork & spiced fruit terrine served with pickles, shallot chutney and home-baked breads. I thought the starter was enough for two, three slices of well-baked bread and the small amount of meat on the wood platter was miserly and ill judged. But that was beside the point- the rillettes was too cold and bland but for those who are contrary to rabbity flavours then this right up your street. The salami was too ‘waxy’and porkless tasting however the estimable terrine salved (sic) the entire starter somewhat. Sue asked thereafter- how come they don’t have prawn cocktail here? Me heart sank. (Oh the half pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord real ale on the left tasted crap- it was either badly kept or end of a cask!).

Roast Cornish gurnard with clams, Alsace bacon, new potatoes and chicory.

A beautiful piece of the freshest fish imaginable, perfectly cooked but hopelessly over salted and the inclusion of the bacon made it a double whammy. I was convinced this dish was conceived in a salt mine. Although I’m no carb fan I had to concede that the potatoes were very good and were also the only palatable food on the plate. Overall fail.

Roast mallard with sautéed potatoes, squash, red cabbage and chanterelles.

An altogether more satisfying dish than the fish. The duck was strong flavoured and tasty but a little tough to chew, serving a bit pinker would suffice. But as you can see from the photo this mains was tainted by the presence of burnt potatoes. Aghast aside, I just didn’t think it was possible to serve an accompaniment like that in establishments like the C&H! Poor oversight!

Puddings consisted of sea buckthorn doughnut, plum crumble with crème fraiche ice cream and for curiosity’s sake, a token sea salt caramel truffle.

Having tried the esoteric sounding sea buckthorn for the first time I can confidently declare it as the most astringent and unpleasant thing I’ve ever tasted. It was simply superfluous! I mean why not use stuff with loads more flavours instead like lime, lemons or perhaps even sorrel (to upkeep the British only ingredients stance). The doughnut on the other hand was very good.

Of all the dishes Sue loved the plum crumble best. I sampled a bit and acknowledged that it was at least a hit. I thought the oats sprinkled on top of the crumble were a rather enticing touch. For yours truly the only redeeming thing of the evening was small and I paid a quid for it. The salted caramel truffle was outstanding, at least someone in the kitchen is deft at making world class chocolate morsels.

My dining companion and I were disappointed with the meal and more so when we saw the bill. Being the able gent that I’m, I footed the bill because of my misguided misdemeanour in recommending the C&H. I still believe that Chef Herbert has age on his side to realise his full potential and until that happens I can’t see myself going back to the Coach & Horses in a hurry.

26-28 Ray Street
London EC1R 3DJ


Kavey said...

Can't comment on the rest but I looooooved the sea buckthorn doughnut which I had recently. Just loved it!

bellaphon said...

Hey K, at the very least the Goddess is on my side when it comes to sea buckthorn!

Krista from Passport Delicious said...

I've eaten here more times than I can count and each time I wondered why I bothered. (Um, because it was close to my flat. And my American boss for some strange reason LOVED it and always asked to be brought there.)

One of these days, you must tell me your photography secrets. Your white balance is excellent. I never have the time to set it properly. Do you saturate as well? Your photos are always excellently colorful.

bellaphon said...

K-licious, am humbled and pleased that you haven't abandoned this blog. I use an antiquated DSLR that manipulates colour like there's no tomorrow, it was known as a wedding photographer's camera. Please do give me nudge when you're next back in London.

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