The White Horse, Hertingfordbury, restaurant review
- Credit: Brian Arnopp
An example of local businesses pulling together in tough times, this historic Hertingfordbury pub-restaurant adapted its offering in lockdown and laid the foundations for a rebound built on comfort food.
Normal restaurant reviews were impossible during lockdown for obvious reasons but the lifting of restrictions in April to allow outside gatherings opened the door to a boom in eating al fresco. Herts pubs and restaurants lucky enough to have outside space and confident enough of their customer base to invest in facilities were back in business, albeit in a restricted form. Customers weary of being stuck indoors rediscovered the joys of eating out, chilly weather or not, with their hosts providing heaters and blankets as needed. And with summer on the doorstep, chances are the trend will continue.
We chose The White Horse at Hertingfordbury as a typical example of the way Herts businesses responded to the changes, including adapting the food offer. In the days up to the April easing, a special ‘Lockdown Team’ finished painting the inside of the restaurant ready for full reopening in May, alongside preparing takeaway meals for customers.
The focus then switched to transforming the terrace into a space for outdoor socialising. Two Herts events companies joined in - WA Carr & Son to provide a marquee and Dress It Yourself for the décor. An al fresco menu was then posted on the website, served from Wednesdays to Sundays. The business also opened from 10am on Saturdays and Sundays in partnership with three other Herts companies, Dolce Forno Bakery for fresh pastries, Hessian for fresh coffee and Twist for teas.
So how did the White Horse emerge from all this as a place for a meal? With the evenings still chilly, we chose a lunchtime to try the al fresco menu, most of whose dishes will be included with the indoor food offer with the further lifting of lockdown.
As expected given the White Horse’s background as an historic village inn, the emphasis is on standard pub fare with burgers and chicken prominent. The building has been adapted over the years to include seven hotel rooms but the basic menu adheres to the tried and tested formula.
Nothing wrong with that and there is much to be said just now for an injection of comfort food. Thus for starters our party of four chose a mix of dry rub spicy chicken wings (£7.50) with sriracha and blue cheese sauce, house red cabbage and fennel slaw, and the new favourite of halloumi chips (£6) with smoked tomato relish and sweet chilli sauce. Other options included whole box baked Camembert with garlic and rosemary (£14) and a rather more exotic pink pepper crispy squid (£7.50) with siracha, garlic and lime mayonnaise.
For mains, katsu curry (£14.50) won approval from two of the group and was served with basmati rice and Asian salad, while the fisherman’s basket (£16.50) was a generous mix of half a fillet of beer battered haddock, Keralan tiger prawns, crispy squid and fries, served with garlic and habanero mayo and tartare sauce.
Our fourth guest was happy with a hefty jerk burger (£15.50) with beef patty, sweet and sticky barbecue sauce, smoked cheese, onion rings, habanero mayo, gherkin, baby gem lettuce and jerk fries and well suited to the weather. For lesser appetites, and possibly for warmer times, mains also include a summer salad bowl (£14.50) including avocado, white quinoa, roasted sweet potato, baby spinach, pomegranate and other delights. Indoor dining is likely to see the return of a full range of Josper grilled steaks plus a selection of pizzas.
Desserts were declined this time but choices included date and candied pecan sticky toffee pudding (£7) with honey butterscotch and vanilla pod ice cream; Belgian chocolate brownie (£7), also with vanilla pod ice cream plus chocolate fudge sauce and burnt white chocolate, or Amaretto affogato (£6.50).
Al fresco eating is a risky gamble given unpredictable British weather and, even worse, unreliable weather forecasts, but it kept many Herts businesses going in trying times. The White Horse, supported by a clearly enthusiastic and efficient waiting staff, is one of many that rose to the challenge to lay the foundation for a hoped-for return to normal conditions.
As May 17 and reopening of the pub and inside restaurant approached, Hertingfordbury’s little gem reported: ‘loads of party bookings, family get-togethers and wedding requests', adding, ‘It seems we are not the only ones who are desperate to fill the White Horse with good food, wine, beer, and laughter.’
Lunch for four at the White Horse with drinks and coffee cost £107.96, including service. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
The White Horse
234 Hertingfordbury Road
Hertford SG14 2LB