Food 2019 – The White Hart, Preston Bissett

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Saturday, 23rd March 2019 – The White Hart, Preston Bissett

This was a bit of an unexpected one. The White Hart had popped up on my social media radar with a friend request, and while I didn’t know exactly who they were (or for that matter precisely where Preston Bissett was, though the postcode suggested somewhere close by). A series of posts showing pictures of nicely plated food, and detailing the renovations going on to restore the building to a good state, followed. After some shilly-shallying we finally hit on a date to go and try the place out, and so found ourselves roaming the country lanes around Buckingham, swearing at the satnav and wondering where precisely the White Hart was. Eventually, the satnav having failed us completely, we broke out the iPhone, checked Google maps and discovered that we’d missed it completely by failing to take the turn off in the middle of the village. We turned round, drove back and noted that if we’d been coming from the “wrong” direction, there was actually a sign! We were only five minutes late in the end!

The outside is still a bit messy as the work to restore it is ongoing. However, inside is very nice now, cosy, low-ceilinged and every inch the country pub you always hope to find but rarely do. The staff are delightful, friendly and enthusiastic, and I doubt you could ask for better. We started with a glass of prosecco and a study of the menu.

We were then moved to the dining room, which is quite a tight space at present. Some crunchy bread and plenty of butter was forthcoming, along with a massive glass of white wine.

The wine list is not quite there yet, it seems. There was a choice of 5 white wines, four of them Sauvignons, and one Pinot Grigio, which seemed somewhat unbalanced. Hopefully they will address this in future. The red wines were equally sparse, with apparently just 4, which I suppose at least simplified the choice. The starters were with us almost before we could draw breath, and we’d opted to share two of the starters.

I chose the chestnut mushroom espuma with duck egg and truffle, which looked lovely when it arrived, though the espuma was rather less than foamy. If it ever had been, it wasn’t now, and had settled into a slightly chilled mushroom soup for want of a better description. The result was tasty, but I don’t think it was necessarily quite what the chef was aiming for, and I think I would have preferred it to be less fridge cold. The egg was nicely judged, and the yolk was golden and soft and oozed beautifully into the mushrooms and brought the truffle into play as well. It just wasn’t quite there, though for a pub it was mightily ambitious.

The other starter was spider crab with cucumber and crispy capers, which again would perhaps have benefitted from being served slightly warmer. They’d been generous with the crab, and it was also thoroughly cleaned, with not a trace of shell. The capers gave it some punch, and the whole thing came together well. Again, a very ambitious plate for a pub kitchen, to say nothing of such a young chef (he’s only been out of catering college since 2012 it seems).

For mains there was a beef fillet and ox cheek ravioli with Paris mushroom, game chips and sauce gribiche. This was cooked to perfection, the beef incredibly tender, and the mushroom buttery and gorgeous. The sauce was so dense it was more like a puree, and the ravioli had lovely thin pasta, with a glorious filling that was a tangle of meaty fibres. I would say it was triumph, and it went very well with the bottle of Malbec we ordered.

The other main was spectacularly good too, a crusted lamb loin with wild garlic (one of my favourite things at this time of year), asparagus and smoked fondant potato. Everything was properly done, including the fondant potato, and the peas, and the wild garlic again helped bring things together almost effortlessly. The meat was just right, pink in the middle with a great crust. It’s no place for vegetarians, I’d say, but for a pair of unrepentant carnivores it was perfect.

The mains had won us over, with the exception of the truffle cauliflower cheese. I’m not sure what the problem was with it, but there was an unpleasant bitterness which may or may not have come from the truffle. The portion served with the duck egg and mushrooms had been fine, so perhaps this was not so fresh or perhaps they’d overdone it and put too much on. Whatever the reason, it really didn’t work, which was a shame, because I love a good cauliflower cheese. I just didn’t love this one.

Knackered by now, and almost falling asleep where we sat, we declined dessert though the green apple with toffee and granola looked like a work of art when one was delivered to a neighbouring table, a bright green globe the colour of a really crisp Granny Smith apple, so we may well have to go back another day to try that. Perhaps if we started earlier we’d be able to take a long, slow run up to a pudding.

In brief, there’s an ambitious chef in there, supported by a manager pair who seem to be doing all the right things. The cooking either needs to just add the final touches of refinement or alternatively step it down slightly and I think all will be well. It’s just slightly schizophrenic at present, but none the worse for it.

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