Packed to the rafters as always, there is already a festive feel at The White Hart in Fyfield, and while doom and gloom might be lurking around every corner, here it’s business as usual.
And in this post-Covid, recession looming era, that’s like gold dust, as husband and wife team Mark and Kay Chandler’s wonderful hospitality and food ensures their customers return time and time again.
And with chef Cesar Sousa read about him here working in the kitchens alongside Mark and his excellent team, the signs were good.
But before we’d even finished our drinks at the bar (nice new seats Kay!) the hungry teenagers had surreptitiously ordered some salt and pepper squid with lemon mayonnaise (£7) from the impossible to ignore ‘nibbles’ menu, alongside the bread and butter (a wonderful array of home-made varieties) and the Kelmscott pork croquette with mustard mayonnaise (£6), because hell why wouldn’t you?
The starters proved even more problematic; from the ingenious Japanese cured fillet of venison (marinaded in soya sauce, ginger, chilli and garlic) with an Asian radish salad and wasabi (£12), which was delicate, densely flavoured and lifted by its Oriental nod, to the mackerel paté with cider jelly, creme fraiche, salty fingers (like sea asparagus) and croutons (although the croutons were so filigree thin it was hard to manoeuvre the paté on).
But it was the innocuous sounding soup – spiced parsnip and apple (£8) – that won hands down, its depth of autumnal, silky smooth flavour offset by the crunch of the crisp parsnip strands balancing on top. Oh so good!
As for the Black Bomber custard with onion textures, leek emulsion and cheese sable which I’d had my eye on since glimpsing it on Instagram, I had it for mains instead, and yes it was custardy in its gloopiness, the richness of the cheese offset by the crumbly biscuit and sharp pickles, like a squidgy ploughman’s in a biscuit. Glorious!
The juicy slow-roasted belly of Kelmscott pork with carrots, apple, celeriac puree, crackling and cider jus (£23) was an immediate tick and delivered on every front although sadly the recipient refused steadfastly to share any of it, which she justified with: “Sorry but it’s too awesome. The meat just drops off the bone, and as for the crackling, it’s the BEST EVER…..”
The char-grilled 9oz ribeye steak (28 day aged) with chips, sautéed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, rocket and watercress with a choice of peppercorn butter, Bearnaise or blue cheese butter £32 (which melted onto the steak) was top quality, well seasoned, with big crispy chips that were lovely and soft inside, a juicy tomato, clean plates, job done.
Saving room for pudding, but hopelessly unable to choose, we solved the problem by ordering the sharing dessert platter which offered a taste of everything for £30. And what a selection!
The sticky toffee pudding with warm toffee sauce, praline tulle and vanilla ice cream was again professed the best we’d ever tried, but fellow favourites included the carrot cake with vanilla mascarpone, carrot and orange gel and candied walnuts which had us duelling with our spoons for the last taste, the tropical Yuzu posset with white chocolate crunch and mango salsa was also as delicious as it was unusual.
The creme fraiche pannacotta was almost an accruement to the vanilla beignet (like mini doughnuts) with its port and fig gel, and for all the chocoholics out there the baked chocolate custard with caramel popcorn and marmalade ice cream was dense, rich and offset by the piquant orange.
We couldn’t leave without trying the chocolate mint espresso martinis either, which didn’t disappoint either – what heaven! The perfect nightcap!
And sitting back to soak up the professional but relaxed atmosphere, as the remaining customers chatted, ate, laughed and continued enjoying themselves, I marvelled at what the Chandlers have achieved since taking over the 15th century pub back in 2005.
Because it’s one thing making a big noise when you open, but maintaining it at this level of excellence is another thing entirely. No wonder people return over and over again.
For more details on The White Hart Fyfield or to book go to https://www.whitehart-fyfield.com