Coach & Horses, 26-28 Ray Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 3DJ www.thecoachandhorses.com
Along with Decanter magazine’s editor and the ‘Wine Chap’ (whose face is currently eclipsed beard) I recently hauled my heavily boned frame to the Coach and Horses, Clerkenwell. Stylishly, this striking space melds 1850’s Victoriana with something of the 1950’s. However, reflecting the trend for simplicity via produce with provenance, the food is contemporary hip Brit.
Despite a heritage of hard drinking hacks from The Grauniad, lately decanted seemingly against their will to a shimmering, dry greenhouse beside King’s Cross, ‘Pumpkin and Mice’ (as its owners affectionately identify it) won Harpers Wine and Spirit magazines ‘UK wine pub of the year’ award. Intrigued to evaluate the title for myself, and keen to sample the food of BBC’s Great British Menu contender, Henry Herbert before he departs for an Indian summer, it took no fewer than 15 seconds to respond affirmatively to the invite for an eight course lunch.
Held in the homemade dining room, which in the nicest possible way resembles a gentrified scout hut, this was matched with bottles from supplier, ‘Marc Fine Wines’. Owned by Marlon Abela, whose empire incorporates venues, Greenhouse, Umu, Morton’s and, coming soon, Cassis brasserie, Marc mainly vends vintages to the frou-frou, well-to-do.
Rather than regurgitate the whole meal, which might not only come across as a slideshow of holiday photos, but would also assume my relentless sobriety, here are my four favoured courses.
Looking like a radish after a date with a steamroller, octopus carpaccio, seemingly flecked with aniseed scented grass strands proved a perfect match with Casamatta Toscana ’08 from from Italo-Norwegian artist, Bibi Graetz. Beyond the luminous, leafy label, from the brush of Graetz himself, was a limpid liquid locking in something saline like pearl dust, followed by a clench of citrus and slatey minerals. Alongside the delicately flavoured carpaccio, this incisive 90% Vermentino/10% Moscato proved a refreshing combo.
A first for me because of their rarity, plump skate cheeks (imagine a cross between scallops, sweetbreads and gnocchi) were offered with sweetcorn and celery. Although only working with the brightly flavoured corn teeth, which Decanter’s editor favoured, Beaumont de Crayères Champagne Comte Stanislas offered an affordable, opulent journey. Initially buttery, then almond centred, the weighty wine culminated with a slightly raisined quality. Being unable to say it provided plenty of fizz for your Franc, I’ll resort to great effervescence for your Euro…
The Henry Herbert signature snack, a sweet, gooey, peppered Scotch duck egg partly rolled in panko crumbs sung with Grüner Veltliner from the 550 years-old Weingut Stadt Krems cooperative. Like me, this dustily spicy Austrian has gained weight and gravitas with age (’06). Alas, adding even a dab of the potent English mustard provided to the egg proved too rude an intrusion. But otherwise… eggstatic.
Now several wines in, I was shocked and saddened when The Coach and Horse’s co-owner, Collette announced that her husband, Giles has chosen ‘a new wife called Richard’. Fortunately it transpired that this new bond exists only in a professional context, to allow her to study saving the planet at Birkbeck.
Finally, a meringue running parallel to four breathtakingly bulging raspberries, stiff shortbread the size of a Roman brick and bittersweet buttermilk sorbet acted in sweet dalliance with direct, apricot and limeflower scented Monbazillac. Best known for their ‘Cuvée Madame’, Chateau Tirecil La Graveiere’s ‘Les Pins’ ’07 proved a lighter, only slightly less pretty, semi-sweetie with quenching acidity.
When others left for dates with spreadsheets, Collette was kind enough to share a few other choice picks from her cellar with Marc’s representative, Simon Stuart and I.
Not only does The Coach and Horses master dishes, decor and delivery, but also, under the motto of ‘Non vendimus quod non bibimus – We do not sell what we do not drink’, an inquisitive assemblage of intoxicating delights, fermented, brewed and distilled. I can easily understand why The Grauniad’s team used to attempt to twist arms for lock-ins and heartily agree with Harper’s award.