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Since welcoming customers back in August, the team at the Black Horse have perfected the art of serving up a fabulous dining experience in the face of a challenging year. They kindly invited us to experience for ourselves how they’ve adapted to the new regulations, proving it is possible to thrive under these constraints.
Having previously dined at Brasserie Blanc, the pub’s sister venue in Jericho, I was anticipating great food and a delightful setting. I was thrilled at the chance to try some of the menu items that had caught my eye but I hadn’t been able to fit in to my earlier dinner, but also a little apprehensive that, operating under the same brand, the experiences might be difficult to distinguish from one another. How wrong I was. The look and feel of the place was totally unique, with a vast choice of spaces to explore (in my mask, of course). We nestled into a cosy corner, safely distanced from others yet simultaneously feeling in the middle of things, able to enjoy something approaching a pre-covid Friday night buzz, bathed in a warm yellow light.
Alongside the great atmosphere, the service was excellent - attentive and authentically friendly - and the drinks were delicious (delightfully complex cocktails, including a comprehensive alcohol-free menu, and highly drinkable wine). But the main event was of course the food.
I was told that there are seven highly trained chefs working simultaneously in the kitchen, and this was evident in the quality of the food - the symphony of flavours, fragrances, colours and textures meticulously executed with each course. Even the bread and homemade dips which we nibbled as an appetiser while deciding what to order were worthy of mention: fresh, fluffy baguette with a gorgeously buttery truffle mayo, a spicy citrusy tapenade and a mushroom and aubergine dip that my friend felt was the best thing she’d ever tasted (setting the bar rather high for the rest of the meal!).
I went for the special starter, a salad of morteau sausage, poached egg, lardons and new potatoes. This could almost have been a meal in itself - the sprinkling of crunchy leaves just about qualified the dish as a salad, but not as health food! Every element was lovely, and together they balanced out well: the smooth egg yolk tempering the saltiness of the bacon and sausage. My friend had the cheese souffle to start and we were both wowed. Having previously tried a sweet souffle, I was a bit sceptical as to how the unique texture would work with savoury flavours. But I have to say, now I’m a believer. The strong, satisfying cheesiness married with the crusty outside and melt-in-the-mouth middle was absolutely heavenly.
The portion sizes were so generous that we could have left after the starters and felt full. But we bravely and altruistically soldiered on in order to assess properly the rest of the culinary offering. For mains, I again chose the special, while my friend had the crab salad. I am not a fish fan, but she reported that it was delicious, and as far as I was concerned it was very prettily presented. My confit duck was nothing short of sensational. An inventive twist on the French classic, the leg was served on a Thai red curry with cashew nuts and spiced potatoes. The meat was perfectly cooked, infused with the flavours of the sauce and the subtle tang of the accompanying mango chutney. The entire ensemble was spicy yet delicate, another example of the team’s attention to detail - every single element was justified, nothing felt superfluous, and the result was as near flawless as you could imagine.
We tried to choose desserts that would wake us up a bit for the journey home, as we were both starting to succumb to the mellow contentment that so often follows hearty indulgence. We were recommended the pistacchio souffle - I had tried it before but my friend was intrigued, and I had another try (so dedicated am I to thorough research…), concluding it’s like something Willy Wonka might have created. My palate was cleansed with a light and zingy citrus parfait and a sweet, juicy berry compote.
It probably doesn’t need me to say, but I would return in a heartbeat, and am hoping I can persuade loved ones to join me there for all special occasions for the foreseeable (however distant those might have to be). The Black Horse is now taking bookings for Christmas, with a mouthwatering menu available for Christmas parties and on Christmas Day, and if their standard menu is anything to go by, this will be a fittingly extravagant way to celebrate.