Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Review: The White Horse, Harpenden, Hertfordshire
I guess it's easy, when you're based in London or a big city, to assume that you walk or get public transport everywhere. But when you live in a smaller town, like I do, sometimes that's not an option. And sometimes, you don't want it to be an option. Sometimes you don't want to get the train into the town centre and walk 20 minutes to get lunch. Sometimes you just want to hop in your car and pull up outside somewhere that will give you nice food.
This is actually a common conversation in our house. Where can we go that's nice, but involves next-to-no walking? Sometimes laziness plays a part in this - okay, often - but almost as much it's about meeting older relatives who aren't as mobile as us whippersnappers, or friends with kids and a boot-full of pushchairs and toys and other baby-related equipment. So as soon as we pulled up outside The White Horse, in Harpenden, I said 'Oooh, we need to remember this one!' It's a lovely pub with good food in Hertfordshire that has lots of parking. I literally googled that last week. Perfect.
The White Horse is on the outskirts of Harpenden, which means if you're coming from St Albans, you can avoid the traffic in Harpenden town centre. It's a good size, but not enormous inside, although it has a large terrace outside and a secluded beer garden with a marquee for special events and plenty of green space for kids to play in. Why yes, I am already thinking of suggesting it the next time my sister and her little 'uns come for lunch, how did you know?
There's a regularly-changing seasonal menu on offer, with everything from gastro pub delicacies to a more straightforward sandwich and chips. There's lots of meat, fish and vegetarian options and plenty of salads, which I was impressed with as I've been a bit of a salad-person lately, and choice is so often rubbish. I especially liked the either/or part of the menu, which gives you the chance to choose a salad (or a as either a starter or a main. There's also an extensive gin and cocktail menu, and a large selection of wines too.
I started with the sesame-crusted halloumi, which came on a bed of crisp lettuce, drizzled in a citrus sauce and sprinkled with sliced almonds and little chunks of orange. The flavours worked together perfectly - the saltiness of the halloumi was beautifully offset by the crunchy lettuce and the sour sweetness of the citrus. I really loved the sesame crust, too, as it gave the cheese a satisfying crunch.
Matt had the chilli and lime sauteed squid with harissa mayo (I know, right, he keeps ordering food I can't try!). He said the squid was perfectly cooked, and the spicy mayo was a really interesting accompaniment - although the heat of it slightly overpowered the delicate flavour of the squid. He's used to having deep-fried squid, so it was a lovely change to have squid cooked in a different way, and he would definitely order it again.
There was a large but not overwhelming selection of mains, but there was only one choice for me - BBQ braised lamb shoulder. This was incredible. The lamb was incredibly tender, and came apart with just a fork - no knife required. It had a BBQ glaze on it, which was subtly sweet, and then a BBQ sauce on the side which was unusual, but really good. I found it hard to place the flavours - I thought there was some citrus in there again, as it was more sharp and sour than sweet, but in a great way - it went perfectly with the meat. The citrus slaw was good, although I didn't get much of a citrus flavour, but as everything else was so flavourful, that was fine with me. I've talked about Menu Wars before, right? The unofficial competition over who can order the best dish? Yeah, I won this one, and poor Matt knew I would before the food even came - if I hadn't insisted on us ordering different mains to ensure a 'well rounded review', he would absolutely have ordered this too.
Not that he did too badly though - his rump steak was gorgeous quality, and came with a generous portion of chips (what's with this whole five stacked chips trend, anyway? I need more!) and a grill garnish side of chargrilled mushrooms, tomatoes and onion rings. It was a tiny bit overdone, but it's a testament to the quality of the meat that he didn't mind at all - it sliced with ease and wasn't remotely tough. There's a choice of peppercorn or blue cheese sauce with the steak, and his peppercorn was really good. Rich and gravy-like, with a little heat but not overpoweringly peppery like so many can be.
After so much good food, we just had to squeeze in dessert, because we're basically heroes and the dessert menu looked so good! Matt chose the Valrhona dark chocolate torte. The torte was super rich, dark and dense, and the raspberry sorbet and coulis that accompanied it was a great choice, as it balanced the flavours really well and stopped the chocolate being overpowering.
I had the pavlova with coconut cream, mango and passion fruit and it was delicious. Pavlova is my go-to dinner party dessert, and I'm definitely going to try this combo next time I make it, as the mango and the coconut cream were amazing together. Doesn't hurt that they're two of my favourite flavours. The meringue was a little on the hard side, which made it a bit tough to cut with a spoon - this might actually work better as an eton mess type pud, with more cream. Definitely more cream. I need more of that cream in my life.
We also sampled the drinks menu and tried a Pimms (good selection of fruit, including raspberries, ooh!) and a generous measure of Pimms, and a Brockmans gin and Fentimans tonic which came in a huge goblet glass, adorned with grapefruit and a scattering of juniper berries. Brockmans has blueberries in it and was quite intriguing, but I still can't learn to like tonic (or grapefruit, actually, perhaps they're linked?) - so it was lucky that Matt ordered it, really! He enjoyed it though, I think he might be trying to make gin his new 'thing'.
Overall it was a really, really lovely meal. We ate at 1pm, and neither of us ate again - we were so full! What we liked about it was that the menu was really varied - not intimidatingly big, but it offered the choice between a light lunch (there's a sandwiches menu) or a big, decadent meal. Starters range between £2.75 - £9.75 (averaging around the £7 mark) and mains range between £8 for a sandwich and chips to £27.50 for a steak and sides, so you can spend as much or as little as you want.
The service was fantastic and the atmosphere was lovely and laid back - I'll definitely be returning with the family.
The White Horse is at Redbourn Lane, Hatching Green, Harpenden AL5 2JP and is part of the Peach Pubs group. The restaurant paid for our food in return for this honest review.
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