THE COACH AND HORSES (REDUX)
I am not a totally heartless bastard despite what an ex-wife and any number of former girlfriends may tell you. I understand that everybody needs a day off, particularly chefs who seem to work harder than just about anybody. Well, the good ones that is. The bad ones are obviously feckless layabouts.
However, just as those taking a day off from any office should be expected to make sure all is in order and that their colleagues can cope, so too should a chef taking a well deserved night off make sure that his plenipotentiaries can manage without him. Perhaps even more so given that people will be paying a good chunk of their hard earned for what comes out of the kitchen.
Which brings us to Wednesday night’s meal at The Coach & Horses in Farringdon, a gastro pub whose stock has risen considerably recently with the arrival of one Henry Herbert, and a place where people whose judgements I trust had told me I really ought to give a try.
Well, as HP says, menu construction is a large part of the art of attracting paying guests and that displayed outside The Coach & Horses pushed just about every DH button going. There is some deep fried stuff, a bit of offal, a pie or two and enough use of the word “home made” to make anyone teary eyed.
The good work is carried through on the inside too with a blackboard proclaiming the provenance of the ingredients and cheery staff who, although not hampered by excess custom, were still friendly and on the ball.
More is the pity then that what came out of the kitchen was all just a little bit shoddy. Not inedible, but suffering, in parts, from execution so slapdash that it made us want to shake our fists at God and curse him for giving man fire.
The three-starter trick is usually a great indication of the intentions and competency of the kitchen and deep Fried Pig’s Head with sauce gribiche, herring roes on toast and a scotch egg sounded like the perfect beginning.
The Scotch egg was delicious, slightly overcooked and lacking the runny yolk of the best examples (I cite DH Vs The Bull & Last, M’lud) but not bad at all. The pig’s head, despite coming with an excellent sauce, was dry and, much as we love offal, the two thick white chunks of ear cartilage we excavated added little.
Good to see herring roe on a menu again, but these little nuggets of fish eggs managed to be flavourless and cried out for the ignition key of a squeeze of lemon to wake them up.
Main courses were even more dispiriting. I am beginning to hate the sight of lidded pies, which have gone from being rich, unctuous stews topped with crisp, yielding pastry of the puff or short variety, to being well, er this, a waterlogged bowl of gunk with a cement topping. The presence of rather good chips did little to raise our spirits and after two attempts by HP to dive for meat, he gave up, shrugged his shoulders and went back to his own dish.
This was a little better. Well prepared lentils, crisp cabbage and a tasty pork chop. But, what a miserly chop and, while I am all for medium cooked pork, if the quality is there, this was bloody close to the bone, rarely a good sign as HP pointed out to the waitress.
If a meal is even a quarter decent, HP can’t be moved from his seat until he has had a bowl of ice cream, a frightening clear spirit and a coffee, at The Coach & Horses he waved any such notion away, zipped up his fleece and made for the door about three seconds after we had handed over a whacking £76 for the meal, a bottle of delicious gamay and a well deserved tip.
By now, the dining room and bar were empty apart from one other couple. A sign, I am sure both of the current cash crunch and the Guardian’s move to leafier climes, er King’s Cross. I expected to hear the sound of tumbleweed as we opened the door and stepped out towards Farringdon.
I was told today that Wednesday is the chef’s night off. Good for him, as I said, we all need and deserve our rest, but one day when he is off skateboarding, rollerblading or dancing to rave music as I believe young folk do nowadays, he should try eating in his restaurant, it may come as an unwelcome surprise.