“For me food is about nostalgia,” Black Horse head chef Dan Smith tells me after the lunch sitting in the recently opened Black Horse in Salford, near Chipping Norton, has died down.
Having just eaten his home-made sausage roll with piccalilli, his cottage pie, and a splendid spotted dick and custard for lunch (more of which later), I can heartily concur, comfort food being the common denominator.
Which matches Dan’s brief, to keep the pub very much a community hub, whilst attracting a crowd from further afield.
I’d happily sidle in, order a coffee and get stuck into the dessert menu in a private corner of the pub any day of the week
And, having been open for two weeks, word is quickly spreading that there’s some good food to be had there since the Lionhearth Group, which also owns The Swan at Ascott-Under-Wychwood and The Chequers at Churchill, took over.
The Salford inn was empty for a year before it was bought by Lionhearth and the conversion has been intensive. And 37 year-old Dan, formerly head chef at The Swan for four years, is loving every moment of the new challenge there.
So what did we eat from the lunch menu? The sausage roll (£7), thick with meat and herbs in a soft pastry, the seasonal piccalilli proving the mustardy hit required.
The chicken wings with hot sauce and blue cheese (£8), already popular in pubs like Woodstock’s Back Lane, also packed a hefty punch, and although more spicy than expected, were finished proudly.
The ample cottage pie (£20) was generous with braised shin, oxtail and gravy, the piped mashed potato creamy and succulent, although ungrilled (personal preference perhaps?).
‘we hope The Black Horse will become the centre of the community again’
The veggie offering of roasted cauliflower, beetroot, hazelnut and tenderstem (£17), roasted in butter had a lovely autumnal feel to it, although the only herbivorous offering on the entire lunch menu.
And the puddings, oh the puddings! I’d happily sidle in, order a coffee and get stuck into the dessert menu in a private corner of the pub any day of the week.
Take the spotted dick and custard (£9) for example. When was the last time I saw one of those on a menu? Unashamedly old school, (the custard was Birds Eye by choice), the steamed pudding absolutely hit the spot.
Neither could we resist trying the already infamous doughnuts served with an orange curd and a churro style chocolate sauce (£8). Small round crispy, perfect for dipping, every last one was fought over.
Throw in the rotisserie pineapple cobbler (£8) oozing charred juice and toffee, and we were in heaven.
So you see, Dan (whose CV boasts the likes of Gidleigh Park and Lower Slaughter Manor) has already got his chefs shoes under the table at The Black Swan and the customers are lapping it up.
it’s really flattering to be given the opportunity to open a new pub, So I’m very excited and proud to be here
And yet, it’s a much smaller enterprise than The Swan so was he happy with the shift? “Absolutely. I get to be creative and it’s really flattering to be given that opportunity to open a new pub – that they have faith in me,” Dan explains. “So I am very excited and proud to be here and love going out and meeting the customers.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” he continues, “especially as we hope The Black Horse will become the centre of the community again.”
And with chip butties, an appealing sandwich menu, passing walkers at the bar, and locals enjoying a pint, while the dining area hums and a more extensive evening menu, it looks set to meet the brief.
Further plans for Lionhearth include opening The Cock at Combe next summer, so watch this space.
But in the meantime, if you fancy a tasty, gentle, and yes nostalgic, meal, then make The Black Horse in Salford your next port of call.
The Black Horse in Salford. https://lionhearth.co.uk/the-black-horse/