Friday, 4 November 2011
The White Hart, Michelin Rated Pub
The White Hart at Llangybi (Usk to non-locals) had been recommended to me by a number of friends as a good place to eat but I had yet to get around to it.
This morning, however, as news of its inclusion in the 2012 Michelin Pub Guide took over the Twittersphere, I determined to get there and beat the rush!
A quick Tweet ensured that there was a lunch vacancy so off we set on the 10 mile or so journey.
On arrival we were asked if we would like a drink whilst we surveyed the menu. I chose the Watkin Cwrw Braf which I would have had in Zennor had the barrel not run out and Janet being the driver opted for an orange juice.
Sitting by the open fireplace we read the menu and decided that a single course light lunch was not an option, there was too much that needed trying. For starters Janet fancied the Black Olive, Quinoa and Pant ys Gawn goat cheese salad, whilst the stand-out starter for me was the Beef Tongue, a great dish but not often on menus as tongue has largely, and incorrectly, gone out of favour.
Seated at a nice table for two in the dining room we were offered iced water and two mini loaves soon appeared “Careful they’re still pretty warm inside, there might be steam when you cut them”. Nice to get obviously freshly baked bread as opposed to the microwaved, frozen, yeast related product sometimes on offer at certain chain restaurants.
I was still enjoying the sight of butter slowly melting into the bread when the starters arrived.
The presentation was great. the Quinoa providing a bed for chunks of cheese, olives, seasonal vegetables and baby leaves whilst the thinly sliced tongue supported a light horseradish whip and piquant salad leaves and tiny capers studded the dish.
The taste did not let the presentation down. Quinoa is a fairly neutral grain which absorbs flavour so, as well as being a gluten free “superfood” it is well suited to salads where it takes on the flavours of any dressings whilst allowing the main ingredients to shine through. The sharpness of the cheese contrasted with the earthiness of the olives and a well-balanced dish ensued.
Tongue that literally melted in the mouth would have been good enough on its own but a pickled carrot and the horseradish cream again counter balanced the main ingredient and, if a starter is meant to sharpen the appetite and palate for the main course, this filled the brief admirably.
Mains arrived promptly but not hurriedly, important for a lunch menu when many diners will have afternoon appointments.
We had argued over main courses. Both of us fancied the fish offerings so in the end we compromised on one of each provided each could taste the others.
Janet got to order the whole baked Plaice with Potted Prawns and Potatoes and I ordered the White Hart Fish and Chips.
The baked Plaice came with a veloute that featured just enough mixed spice and cayenne to add an interesting “je ne sais quoi” and potted prawns mounted on top. A small dish of boiled new potatoes sat to one side and fresh, crisp broccoli completed the dish.. Janet demonstrated her forensic skills reducing the fish to a bare skeleton and tasty fillets of fish. These worked well with the sauce and the vegetables set the whole dish off.
The Fish and Chips came with a crispy beer batter which contained pure white Cod, the chips achieved crispness and fluffiness and both Mushy Peas and home-made Tartare sauce with gherkin that had been in a sweet pickle added to the balance of the tastes. As good a fish and chips as I have ever had.
Neither of us could declare a “best fish dish”, both dishes were winners.
It seemed churlish not to try the desserts after two outstanding courses so a long perusal of the menu narrowed the choice to two. A Blackberry and Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Mousse, Popcorn, Salted Caramel and Honey Ice Cream.
If dessert is the most memorable part of the meal, it is sweet and comes last, these would live long in the mind.
An intensely chocolaty mousse balanced by a sweet/salt caramel sauce, crunchy popcorn and a creamy smooth ice cream managed to achieve dessert umami, whilst an almost toffee-like crumble perfectly matched the deep fruit sat on a light sponge base.
Dessert completed the meal.
Coffee came with small biscuits which managed a biscotti taste without the hardness of the Italian treat, perfect for Espresso.
A good lunch and one which demonstrated why a Michelin entry is fully justified.
So, how has the White Hart achieved this success?
Firstly through a team of really good chefs, Michael Bates leads the team, formerly Executive Head Chef at the Celtic Manor Michael is a member of the Gold Award winning Welsh Culinary Team. Brothers Adam and Liam Whittle complete the brigade and both have very strong backgrounds, winning awards and cooking in high profile kitchens.
But, no matter how strong the team in the kitchen, they need a good Front of House crew. Certainly based on the welcome which we received, and the friendliness and knowledge of the team this important balance has been achieved.
AA Rosettes, Pub of the Year awards and now listing in the Michelin “Eating Out in Pubs” guide, a strong beginning and one that can be built on with the strengths displayed on our visit.
Truly The White Hart is Local and Great
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