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Dinner review: The Black Horse, Brent Pelham

PUBLISHED: 10:04 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:04 11 September 2017

The Black Horse dates back to the 17th century

The Black Horse dates back to the 17th century

Brian Arnopp Images

Intrigued by the story of a community-saved pub in an east Herts village, food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne visited, to find it flourishing

The furniture has been sourced from all over the country, including church pews from BedfordshireThe furniture has been sourced from all over the country, including church pews from Bedfordshire

With pubs closing at an alarming rate, it’s refreshing to report on one that was about to suffer the same fate and was saved by the community it serves. This is the Black Horse at Brent Pelham, a true village gathering place, which was destined to become a housing development until nearby resident Kristian Lane applied and was granted a community asset order on it via the parish council. Landowner Ted Barclay then stepped in to save the pub, now Grade II listed, and bring into the fold one of the only structures in the area his family has never had in its portfolio.

The Black Horse consists of three buildings, the earliest dating from the 17th century. The first landlord that can be traced is Thomas Tinworth in 1866, but investigations continue. His latest successor is Hugh Cater, with an extensive hotel and restaurant background and now in charge of a major work-in-progress to reinstate the pub in its rightful place, with new menus as part of the plan. Head chef is Tom Parcell, while there is also a special wine list curated by London-based sommelier Ellie McIndoe.

As noted here before, food is not necessarily the only factor in deciding where to go to eat. The Black Horse’s back story was enough to pique my interest and my Friday evening there with a fellow foodie was a friendly and cosy affair with a large attendance and everybody seeming to know everybody else, or at least quick to make the acquaintance. We had checked the menu on the (very new) website beforehand and although some items had changed by the time we visited it was almost exactly what one would expect, plus a couple of extra flourishes. These included a pulled pork spring roll with barbecue sauce and apple slaw among the starters and a halloumi, spinach, chilli and onion jam burger as a vegetarian option in the mains.

My other half, with an eye on dessert, elected to start simply with flatbread and an excellent and chunky hummus (£3), while I spotted another of the flourishes, crispy mozzarella fritters (£5) with tomato and basil sauce, well worth trying. Mains were more straightforward, with a grilled seabass (£18) for my companion and charred chicken breast (£13, right) for me. The fish came with fine beans, crushed new potatoes and herbed tomato salsa, with the potatoes singled out for particular praise, while the chicken had rosemary and garlic cubed potatoes and chunky pesto to lift it out of the ordinary. Other options among the mains included pub-style fish and chips with beer battered haddock, a burger, pearl barley risotto and 32-day aged rump or sirloin steak.

Flatbread and chunky hummusFlatbread and chunky hummus

The star of the show lay in the desserts, again a simple looking dish with a twist in the form of rhubarb and white chocolate bread and butter pudding (£5.50), with the chocolate rendering the texture much smoother and richer than usual. Definitely one to try. More traditional goodies listed included rum brownie, Eton mess (with lemon curd), banoffee pie and ice creams. A cheese board including la bouse and Cashel Blue was also on offer at £7.50.

All in all a satisfying meal from a menu which like the pub itself is in the process of development with a daily specials board promised for the future and the appearance of foodie events like US-style shrimp boils, plus an ‘end-of-harvest’ party for the last weekend of September. As landlord Hugh says, ‘We’re working on finding out what works and what doesn’t and we’ll act accordingly.’

The Barclays have been the local landowners in Brent Pelham since 1865 and among features of the Black Horse is a puddingstone in the middle of the large garden donated by them along with artworks from their house. Helping the atmosphere along is the eclectic interior furniture, which has been sourced mostly on eBay from as far afield as Leeds and Dorset, with one section of church pews coming from a cowshed in Bedfordshire. The pub is also a handy base from which to strike out on a number of country walks and, for those into geography, the headwater for the river Ash starts behind the main building.

And a fun fact with which to finish: A Mr H G Bradford (1926) used to run a taxi service of Model T Fords from the Black Horse. It is said it was cheaper to replace them than to repair them, so the used ones were buried behind the pub.

Charred chicken breast with rosemary and garlic cubed potatoes and chunky pestoCharred chicken breast with rosemary and garlic cubed potatoes and chunky pesto

The cost of this meal for two was £46.50, plus tip.

This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

Book a table

The Black Horse, Brent Pelham SG9 0AP

01279 778925. theblackhorse-brentpelham.co.uk

3 of a kind

Community assets

The Golden Fleece

20 Green End, Braughing SG11 2PG

01920 823555. goldenfleecebraughing.co.uk

More established than the Black Horse but a similar model of village inn with food, the Golden Fleece has just been named Pub of the Year and Best Family Dining in the 2017 Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards.

Great Northern

172 London Road, St Albans AL1 1PQ

01727 730867. greatnorthernpub.co.uk

A finalist in the Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards, the Great Northern is an independent which has been under new ownership since 2015 and was named CAMRA Most Improved Pub last year.

The Boot

The Green, Sarratt WD3 6BL

01923 262247. thebootsarratt.com

Approaching its 280th birthday, the dog-friendly Boot comes with real ales galore and classic menus including beer-battered fish and hand cut chips and a full Sunday lunch at weekends.

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