Review: Dinner for two at The White Horse, Easton
PUBLISHED: 12:26 31 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:26 31 August 2016
Frances Hopewell-Smith stumbles through a night out in her high heels, but Easton White Horse can’t put a foot wrong
Without dwelling on it too much, there was an element of ‘told you so’ to our evening at The White Horse. Difficult shoes, i.e. anything other than flats, are usually not advisable in the country and so it proved. My delightful platform sling-backs, so comfy and lovely at home, turned into treacherous nightmares once I left the house. Gravel, uneven grass, rocky bits and worn stone steps all conspired to make me stagger and stumble – and that was just getting to the car. Not a good start, but my husband enjoys a bit of schadenfreude.
Arriving at the all new White Horse you can’t help but smile. Easton is a ridiculously picturesque and pretty village, straight out of the brochure, and the pub is right there in front of the church and handy for the cricket ground. I say pub, because it still is, in spite of the glamorous makeover by the clever Chestnut Group, and the reassuring bubble of conversation from the bar when we went in confirmed that it’s not lost its local appeal.
It’s worth a word or two about the Chestnut Group. They describe themselves as ‘a Suffolk-based company that is fast establishing itself as one the country’s leading innovators in creating quality hospitality experiences, with a footprint in East Anglia’. The White Horse is their second venture in Suffolk (they’re also behind The Rupert Brooke in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire), soon to be joined by another in Bury St Edmunds and they their aim is to provide ‘fantastic food, quality service and stylish interiors – a premium experience in a relaxed atmosphere’. Well that’s quite an ambition.
The first thing you notice is the string of young people dressed immaculately in coffee-coloured polo shorts, black trousers and neat black half aprons. The redecorated interior is calm, restful and what my husband calls non-confrontational. Never heard that adjective on a design programme. The menu demands attention and the reputation of chef Dominic Clarke deserves it. He is Michelin-trained and, with his four-strong team, has put together an understated menu that is tempting and intriguing.
A jug of water appears and a plate of amuse bouches, and they certainly amuse my bouche. A parmesan ‘quaver’ and a petite chicken liver parfait eclair. Oh my, how tasty they are. Next an olive-wood board with two mini loaves and a whorl of butter and rosemary spread, all home made of course. I know some people say no to bread on principle, but I’m not one of those so can tell you they were good. My husband chose a glass of wine from the ‘interesting’ list (the first of three, but who’s counting?). I have a nicely fruity soft drink, not only because I’m the DD but need all my faculties to cope with the shoes.
Our starters need a sentence each. Mine: twice baked gruyere soufflé, a ‘floating island’ in a fluff of light sauce also made from gruyere and the now popular micro herbs, the soufflé concealing a neat pad of spinach. His: chicken, bacon pea and girolle mushrooms with hazelnuts in a glorious medley on the plate. I just love my comforting and fabulously light combination. He’s not unhappy either and praises the intricate balance of flavours and ingredients. There’s just the right amount of time for us to embark on a discussion about our own inadequate vegetable growing before our next courses arrive. He has a vegetarian plate of mushrooms, barley and tiny white onions. I have coq au vin. Mine is a million miles away from the usual chicken dish. Yes it’s ‘deconstructed’ but that allows each component to deliver its unique flavour – the chicken breast and thigh cooked in separate ways – and arranged like a picture. Husband asks for salt and pepper but only, he explains, for the broccoli side order and not his mushroom magic. It’s hard to explain how good this food is without wandering into descriptive silly-land, so put simply, it’s a triumph.
The puddings sound equally splendid and quite irresistible. The chocolate cherry combination (three different chocolate interpretations with cherry sorbet) comes highly recommended, so, yes please for me, and I persuade him to have a coconut bavarois with passion fruit, pineapple, peanut and mango. When they come they look like something off the telly. An assortment of intensely delicious scrumptiousness, which we share without wanting to swap, again arranged beautifully with flamboyant twiddly bits of chocolate and spun sugar to make you gasp.
The general manager, Stuart Hansord goes from table to table, checking that everything is as it should be. As far as we’re concerned everything is very good indeed, thank you, and they have certainly achieved their ambition. Mr Picky (husband) says he is 100% happy and rates The White Horse ‘up there’, and aren’t we just so lucky in Suffolk to have places like this on our doorstep. When we leave I manage to make it home without breaking my neck, so all in all, a mighty fine night out.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Salad of beetroot, horseradish, cocoa nib, compressed pear, ginger ale
Crispy chicken, pea, bacon, girolle mushrooms, hazelnut
Rare breed pork belly, braised sticky pigs cheek, BBQ hispi cabbage, cider onions, sage quaver
King oyster mushrooms, soft herb barley, ‘hen of the woods’, Champagne, kale crisps
Lemon tart, raspberry, Chantilly, G&T sorbet
Vanilla panna cotta, roast peach, honeycomb, pistachio
Best selling wine: Sauvignon Blanc “Camilla”, Cascionone 2014. £23.50 a bottle
Other reasons to visit
• The village of Easton is picturesque with a pretty cricket ground
• The White Horse is a great place to start or end a walk
• It’s right near Easton Farm Park with all its family attractions
• It’s still a pub serving top class food and good ales and snacks at the bar
• They serve a wide range of cocktails too
• Open for food seven days a week