You realise just how sad your life is when the chance of an unexpected day off can result in hand clapping air punching and juvenile euphoria.Having been granted just that yesterday (due to new electricity supply being laid under the road outside the pub) we took the opportunity for an unscheduled MIDWEEK kitchen escape.
Our destination-The Bay Horse, Hurworth on Tees nr Darlington.
The pub was refurbished by new owners recently and has had some good reviews and a Bib Gourmand in the latest Michelin Guide.
We were seated at a large table in one of the bay windows at the front of the pub.We ordered drinks at the bar; a glass of fizz for me,Chef requested a bottle of Pernod,our friends asked for some wine.Noticing the barman's blank look,slightly agape mouth and the accompanying stunned silence I put him out of his misery with a raised eyebrow and a knowing 'he means Peroni..'
Well he was forty last week, doesn't bode well does it?
Despite booking a table we weren't offered a wine menu at any stage.When our friends asked for wine at the bar they were offered 'red or white'.In this day and age I'm amazed that varietal options weren't presented as a matter of course.Other than this absolute clonker of a missed opportunity the service was pleasant.Hopefully it was a one off,maybe Chef's Pernod request blew the barman's concentration.
Whilst we browsed the menu a welcome basket of home made bread arrived,two varieties,onion and fig and walnut.It smelt delicious.Chef commenced the obligatory: 'ooh look how crusty it is, oh its still warm, mm-mm'.
He makes a meal of this routine due to my Coeliac's not allowing me to participate of the treat.I pretend not to notice but he always performs obligingly.
I reciprocate with the expected:Ha ha.
Its well rehearsed.
To start Chef chose:
'French Black Pudding with Onion Confit, Mushroom Ketchup, Apricot Chutney & Devilled Sauce'
The black pudding was soft,unctuous and tasty.Chef's only complaint was he would have preferred more of the main event and less of the peripheral bits and pieces.It was a challenge to effect myself a small sample.I succeeded of course.
I chose 'Ham hock terrine with Woodland egg,pineapple pickle and home made HP sauce'.
The terrine interestingly contained pine nuts,I haven't come across this before,it wasn't unpleasant but I don't think it added anything to the flavour,in fact on the first mouthful I thought I'd encountered a foreign object.
Both were very prettily presented,decorated as they were with the latest gastronomic accessory for the fashion conscious Chef, micro herbs.For some reason the presentation of my dish evoked memories of the Twin Towers, not good.
For the main event Chef chose 'Normandy braised pork with suet dumpling'
Served in a Le Crueset pot ,this was quite a substantial portion the decision to serve in these pots leaves one with no choice but to be heavy handed.The pot sizes available(we've been down this route and ended up sending them back,neither size is really suitable) dictates either a very small portion, an over generous helping or a half empty pot. They'd erred on the side of caution,the large pot was packed to the rafters.Chef couldn't fault this dish.
Vegetable accompaniments had to be ordered separately at additional cost,buttered new potatoes for Chef.The potatoes had a GREEN TINGE.Chef wasn't deterred,they tasted fine.Optimistically pointing out you'd need to eat a hefty portion to suffer any ill effects.
I fancied a steak,Char Grilled 8oz Fillet Steak, Hand Cut Chips & Salad
with Poivre Sauce (£2.00 supplement)Bringing the total price to £25.
Presented with watercress salad,red onions and peppers atop the steak,sauce in copper pan and chips in a little metal bucket.
This is a bad picture, the steak was tasy but it was nowhere near the medium rare I had ordered.More medium/well done.The salad was heavily laden with French dressing which I felt unnecessary when served with the sauce.Being a woman of simple taste,I would have served this with a simple bunch of unadorned peppery watercress,but that's only personal preference of course.The chips were a high point,the flavour of a chip cooked in animal fat is unmistakeably good.
Puddings:For me a Chocolate Mousse with dark chocolate glaze,blackberry purée and peanut butter ice cream.
I ordered this because of the peanut butter ice cream,it tasted exactly of that.The mousse was more of a ganache very rich and buttery.Individually the components were good but together for me a bridge too far.The dish needed something creamy rather than sweet to balance the richness of the mousse.More towering presentation,methinks the Chef may have height issues.
Chef chose a berry trifle with fruit sorbet.
Served in a miniature kilner jar.The spoon you can see sticking out of the jar is a teaspoon. I'm not embracing the idea of a trifle in one of these, two spoonfuls is simply just not enough.
We sometimes use these jars to serve pickles with Charcuterie,people often lift them.Hopefully diners might follow suit at the Bay Horse.
I couldn't help but spot some anomalies on the menu which irked me somewhat:
This caused a heated debate.If there's anything I'm ever not sure of Chef unfailingly knows what it is.Woodland egg had him.Possible suggestions were:
1.An egg from a woodland bird-but if this were the case why not name the bird?
2.A description of a method of serving which we hadn't come across before-unlikely.
An internet search solved the mystery-Sainsbury's Woodland Eggs.Eggs from laying hens enjoying the shelter and protection trees provide and allow them to display the characteristics of their jungle fowl ancestors.
It was in fact a hen egg.
'Home made HP sauce'
HP sauce is a brand. By its very nature the phrase 'home made HP sauce' is a complete non starter.
Like homemade Heinz tomato ketchup or homemade Hellmans Mayonnaise.
'Hand cut chips'
These chips were fresh,not frozen,and cooked in dripping.They were good,but 'hand cut' they w'aint,they were obviously cut on a chipper.This phrase has become so over used people have forgotten what it actually means,its now synonymous with any freshly cooked chip regardless of method of cutting process.
Initially I thought this was another item on the lines of the 'country ham' ilk.However after much discussion Chef came to the conclusion that the definition had been lost from kitchen to printer.The item in question was in fact 'Provencal potatoes'
Note to Chef:never let your menu be given out before proof reading it first.
I know I'm getting a bit manic but I just wish more Chefs would employ the Ronseal school of menu writing technique.It would save so much time and confusion.Maybe I shall start a campaign to do just that.
Being in the business its very easy to dissect other peoples menus and find fault,overall the meal at the Bay Horse was very good,in fact the best pub meal we've had for some time,we will definitely go again.
The Bay Horse
45 The Green
PS Have you noticed that there's a disturbing trend for Michelin to favour venues which serve a considerable proportion of their menu in numerous small receptacles such as copper pans,buckets,jars etc rather than an actual plate.Its the quality of the food which really matters.Isn't it?