The starter alone was enough to have me returning to The Black Horse in Thame on a weekly basis. The seemingly innocuous sounding Morteau sausage and potato salad set the scene for a really delicious meal.
Making the most of this stunning burst of weather, we drove there with the top down, eking out the last rays of this Indian summer for a lunch in the sunshine.
And why not! After the holidays we’ve had, I wanted to prolong every last second, and lunch in a stunning historic pub with a beautiful garden ticked all the boxes.
Tucked under the auspices of Raymond Blanc’s White Brasserie chain, his touch is evident on the menu, although his gallic twist diverges into Middle Eastern and Asian flavours as well which offers surprises and novelty as well as comforting French classics.
I went classic – the Alsace-Lorraine inspired pan-fried smoked morteau sausage, white wine potato salad, poached free range egg, curly endive and Dijon mustard dressing (£8.95) which was absolutely delicious; the potatoes waxy, the sausage slightly crispy on the outside and soft and smoky within, the strong dressing, the bitter salad and the soft egg all working together beautifully. I could have eaten it twice.
An interesting choice for my friend in the jackfruit fritters with green papaya salad, just to prove the menu’s unconventional slant which was served with Thai dressing, toasted cashew nuts and crispy noodles (£6,50 or £12.95 as a main).
What did it taste like? Fresh, zingy, novel, a real combination of textures and flavours, the noodles crunchy, the jackfruit rich, the dressing sharp, a brilliant surprise which in this day and age is increasingly difficult.
Then the Malabar fish curry with toasted coconut, roast line-caught cod with coconut and aromatic spices, grilled king prawns, shallot crisps and coconut rice (£16.95) another exotic addition, and wonderfully creamy and hot all at the same time.
The pea and broad bean salad with deep-fried goat’s cheese, piquillo peppers, crispy broad beans and shallots, and a tomato and chilli dressing (£6.75 as a starter, £13.95 as a main) was more of a mystery; an overabundance of peas it would seem, despite its aesthetic sensibilities. The components were seasonal and well matched, the hot crispy cheesy nuggets and the spicy dressing the perfect accruements, but even John Major would struggle with that many petite pois.
Not that I really noticed so intent was I on dessert. Having desisted from my usual cheese souffle starter as also served in Brasserie Blanc, I pounced on the pistachio soufflé with a rich chocolate ice cream like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, knowing nothing could trump it.
But the golden chocolate feuilletine – a layered chocolate sponge and mousse, a gilded dark chocolate glaze, hazelnut cream, chocolate sauce and sweet black cherries came pretty damn close.
Yes, the pistachio soufflé was light as air so that the icing sugar rose in a little cloud with each spoonful. And yes, it was piping hot and green and wonderful, but the golden chocolate feuilletine was a vision to behold, and as intricate inside as out.
It’s all too easy isn’t it to pass some top notch places off as chains, forgetting that the staff and chefs care deeply about both their reputations and the dishes they deliver, not always given, but in this case certainly. This is certainly true at The Black Horse as reflected in the service, but also in the complexity of the dishes and that refusal to compromise.
And as we wound our way back through the garden into the light atrium and then the more traditional interior, I placated myself that whatever the season, The Black Horse always comes up trumps.
Besides, with a new autumn menu launching on September 30, there’s more to come!
The Black Horse in Thame is at 11 Cornmarket, Thame, Oxfordshire. OX9 2BL
For more information or to book go to https://blackhorsethame.com