Restaurant review - The White Horse, Harpenden
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 March 2020
Brian Arnopp Images
With a new look and new menus, the popular Harpenden pub-restaurant has successfully combined tradition with the latest trends.
News that The White Horse at Harpenden had just had a major facelift was sufficient excuse for a visit, plus an online menu promising twin favourites of venison and calves' liver. So two of the three reviewer's essentials - tempting food and attractive surroundings. The third is service, which wasn't bad either.
The White Horse is not alone in flourishing a new look, with many Herts pubs over the past few months joining the trend, but it is fortunate in its popular village green location and its success in striking a balance between staying a pub and moving on to adding food. It had help on the food side - it was celebrity chef Jean Christophe Novelli's first stop after an award winning stint at Auberge du Lac in Welwyn and before he set up his Novelli Academy at Tea Green.
Another award-winning presence, the Peach Pub Company, took over The White Horse eight years ago and according to Peach regional director Bevy Berenger, hasn't looked back. This in turn led to the refurb - 'with so many guests beating a path through the doorway, the time had come to give the pub a new lease of life', she says. Peach also has Brookmans at Brookmans Park.
At Harpenden, beer lovers will be encouraged to hear the pub area of the building remains a prominent part of the operation. The front bar has kept its traditional look with wood panelled walls painted in deep burgundy, copperware above the bar and an original brick fireplace with a roaring fire for cold weather. There is even a snug decorated in reds and coral and hand printed nature-inspired wallpapers, with tub chairs in yellow and cream setting off new tall tables and stools for customers to sit with their drinks.
The eating area, complete like the bar with wooden rafters and stripped wooden flooring, now boasts sofa-style seating and newly upholstered chairs in trendy greys with a cheerful bright yellow feature wall and full length curtains at one end. A private dining room seating up to 14 is upstairs.
Matching the interior design team, head chef Dan Kennie, a graduate of Marco Pierre White restaurants, has come up with a choice of new dishes for everything from light lunches to hearty suppers. My visit was for dinner, but there are some interesting items tucked away on the other menus, Cornish lamb scrumpets and potted native crab with toasted sourdough among them.
However, we were in the mood for straightforward food, hence our predetermined choices from the website. But I reckoned without the specials, not because they changed my mind but because I was confronted, unusually, by a second venison dish. The website offered a haunch from nearby Woburn with trimmings (£22), while the special was a Highland venison fillet with braised red cabbage and, another inventive touch, venison cottage pie (£25). Our enthusiastic waiter was keen for me to try it and it was a good choice, the meat at the right temperature, soft in the middle and just the right amount of gaminess. My companion, not one to be diverted from grilled calves' liver when available and therefore something of an authority on the subject, was equally impressed. Her dish, served with smoked bacon, kale and mash, came in at £16.75. A shared dessert of plum and ginger trifle with cream (£6) provided a tangy touch for the finish.
Eating out is not all about the latest trendy dishes. Producing everyday and familiar food to customers' satisfaction can be as much a test of cooking skills as anything involving foams and nitrogen clouds, as anyone who has tried to find a good steak at certain establishments can tell you. The White Horse is a good example of this approach - comfortable, cosy and clearly popular. It has menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts and cheese plus what is described as 'Sunday best'. Fixed price lunches are available Monday-Friday at £15.50 for two courses and £18.50 for three.
It's not without its flourishes - the Woburn venison is accompanied by a port and juniper jus and there is a vegan- friendly Sri Lankan sweet potato and cashew curry with chapati, lime pickle and coconut sambal for more adventurous guests. All in all, a well rounded approach.
The cost of this meal for two was £75.45 including two glasses of wine and service. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
The White Horse, Redbourn Lane, Hatching Green, Harpenden AL5 2JP
01582 469 290