The Black Horse, a fairly nondescript pub on the main street of Thame, reopened last November as part of Raymond Blanc’s The White Brasserie Company, a group of traditional pubs that serve food with a French brasserie twist. Raymond, who sits on the board is a pub devotee, having helped to save his local and can often be spotted in various Oxfordshire hostelries. He has previously described pubs as a British institution and wants to bring fresh, good cooked food back into them.
We visited their most recent acquisition a little while ago and flipping loved it! An entry foyer leads into a relatively small bar area but a closer look around reveals nooks, crannies and snugs aplenty for you to sit and nurse your pint (with some local brews on draught), G&T from their descriptive gin menu, cocktail or mocktail, with five decent and flavourful drinks to choose from at a fairly reasonable £4 each.
The interlocking rooms continue into the restaurant area, a long narrow room with a private area further down leads into a barn style room partitioned to break down the space and finally an outside terraced area. All furnished in the de rigeur Cotswold style, Farrow and Ball muted colours, checked throw cushions and blankets but it works here because it’s been done with care and a good eye.
Whilst perusing the menu, we decided to start things off with a basket of artisan stone baked baguette and a choice of dips – a choice of spiced aubergine and mushroom relish, basil pesto, tomato pesto or anchovy butter. Given that its us, we selected all of them! The anchovy butter was my favourite, creamy French butter with that savoury, umami-like sensation and on warm bread, utterly heavenly. The basil pesto came a very close second; bright, vibrant green, cold, fragrant and with a real salty kick of good Parmesan. Aubergine and mushroom was earthy and tangy and the tomato pesto was good but didn’t hit my taste buds as much as the others.
By now, we’d decided on our starters and these arrived quickly – a break here to mention the staff who were absolutely lovely and nailed that fine line between being attentive and chatty but without interrupting or being annoying. Happy to chat to us but also good at walking away to leave us to it – a skill which is often lacking! I’d chosen the Cheddar cheese souffle, £6.95, which came with a little pouring jug of warm Ford Farm coastal Cheddar sauce. Just writing this makes me salivate. A delicate, golden souffle with a slight crust and a perfect amount of wibble, I made a small hole and slowly poured in that warm, slightly salty cheese sauce. This was an absolutely perfect souffle and I’m not actually capable of putting into words just how perfect it was.
Scottish Hebridean rope grown mussels with a creamy saffron mouclade arrived on the other side of the table with more baguette, handy for mopping up that creamy, golden, mildly curry sauce. A generous portion of fresh mussels, these were deemed to be fresh and well balanced.
A short break before our mains arrived, duck leg confit with black cherry sauce, Dauphinoise potato, carrots and green beans, £16.95. The duck had a good mix of crispy skin and succulent meat that fell off the bone into that cherry sauce. The sauce was a little weaker in flavour than hoped, on its own it had a rich cherry flavour but that was muted when on the tongue with other foods. Potatoes were creamy and filling with a cracking crispiness on top, and the carrots and parsnips had an al dente crunch that nicely counteracted the creamy butteriness in so much of the dish. We shared the green beans which had a scattering of salt and that lovely squeaky mouth feel.
My boeuf bourguignon was unlike any other bourguignon I’ve had before. A single piece of a mouth melting beef slow cooked in red wine rested on a cushion of smooth creamy mash, surrounded by earthy, firm pan-fried mushrooms, smoky cubes of pancetta and baby onions. My toes curled with happiness.
I could have happily gone home at this point but the dessert menu offered something different from the norm and so we managed to find room for a little sweet sustenance. Sadly, I didn’t make such a good choice by selecting the coffee cup, £6.90. A glass bowl layered with coffee mousse, coffee saturated sponge, thick cream and garnished with caramelised nuts and pistachios, a meringue finger and an unnecessary scoop of vanilla speckled ice-cream just wasn’t coffee enough for me. Having said that, I’m a double espresso, chew on coffee beans kinda gal so had it been described on the menu as a cappuccino cup I would have been more prepared. Plus I had REALLY bad plate envy because just across the table from me was the most heavenly, pale green pistachio souffle.
Wibbly, fluffy, chocolate dusted with decadently rich dark chocolate ice cream £6.90. I have no idea how it tasted as every time my spoon even ventured past the midway point, it got batted away. Judging from the facial expressions and the mumbling, it was every bit as damn good as I suspected.
I absolutely loved it there and it’s highly deserving of a Bitten 9. Perfect for a special occasion, great out to impress date venue and yet, still comfortable enough for a Sunday roast or a weeknight dinner for no other reason than that you deserve to eat well.