Coach & Horses – 26-28 Ray St., Clerkenwell, London. EC1 3DJ www.thecoachandhorses.com
Two foraging carnivores have modestly gentrified Clerkenwell’s ‘Coach & Horses’ into gastropub territory. However rather than tick box diners expectant of Michelin frippery alongside a beer garden / sprog storage pen, it now draws genuinely hungry foodies craving good value, hearty quality.
With a cellar strung with home-cured frankfurters of intimidating proportions, head chef Henry Herbert practically interprets the business of serving up local food. When I met him after my long lunch, the fourth generation baker was popping out to pillage skips for components to make a smoker. My companion, who waitressed here in leaner moments mentioned that Herbert often heads to Oval to pluck crab apples from his ‘favourite tree’, blackberries from Hampstead Heath, or even Epping Forest mushrooms…
With best friend and baking alumni, Anthony Smith, the 22 year-old has put together an enticingly edible and unfussed menu. Dishes are divided into £4, £6 and £8 brackets with a £10 special and modest drinks offers. Our table of three painted the table, tapas style. For fans of Brett Graham’s venison version at southwest London’s ‘Harwood Arms’, I recommend a pilgrimage for Herbert’s supremely rich Scotch egg with mustard. The finely spiced, thickly spun, pink sausage meat cocooned a molten core. Close pressed rabbit rillette with cornichons dissolved on entry. Being in bounty, beetroot salad with marinated shallots and fluffy goat curd left an inky trace on the plate, and a sugary-citric finish on the palate. But the star was the whole mackerel for £10, torpedo shaped and overlapping the dish. It came with nutty new potatoes and a scatter of samphire.
In addition to a good range of beers, owners Giles and Colette Webster have crafted an engaging and amusingly annotated wine list, including pretty reds served from the fridge. La Giaretta’s ‘Volpare’, a largely tannin free Valpolicella, dared to have more strawberry, cherry and vegetal flavours than the normal supermarket swill, ‘going with everything, jarring with nothing’.
Daringly ripe Langres, Tomme Crayeuse, Etivaz and Crosier Blue came from esteemed ‘affineur’, Jon Thrupp who is frequently seen at Borough Market.
From bear bating to baking, predictably all breads were excellent, especially the sweetened rye bread, apparently inspired by chef Richard Corrigan’s recipe, although far lighter.
Despite being amongst some of the capital’s most esteemed gastropubs and so nerve-rackingly close to the buried River Fleet that in parts you can hear it, the Coach & Horses holds its own. I plan to return to sample urgently sautéed duck hearts, pistachio and prune terrine with blackthorn jelly and veal shank pie…