Review: The Black Horse, Norbiton

in Restaurants

Restaurant quality is pretty concentrated in a few places. If someone asks me where they ought to eat tonight in Soho or Shoreditch I have to ask them if they have any further restrictions to make it easier for me. If someone asks me where to eat in Kingston I’ve had a harder time, despite growing up there.

Part of this is my theory about expensive areas vs cheap areas: expensive areas tend to have nicer shops and pubs; cheaper areas tend to have better restaurants and bars. Perhaps well-heeled denizens of Hampstead or Greenwich prefer to entertain.

In any case, given that I harbour a fondness for the area I grew up in, and that I often find myself in the neighbourhood, I am always on the lookout for good new restaurants. If someone asked me where they ought to eat in Norbiton I would tell them the pub kitchen of The Black Horse – and if they don’t like pub food, then perhaps the Pizza Pilgrims van outside.

The menu is in line with what you might expect from the smart modern facade and light, airy interiors. It’s a modern gastropub with a broad modern British pub menu offering its take on the Scotch egg for a reasonable price.

My companion started with duck liver parfait, served in a jar with toast and red onion jam. He said it was good but I didn’t try it – as much as I try I can’t get myself to like liver, however it’s served.

I had the fishcake, which was technically a main. It was a hefty breaded and deep fried chunk of shredded white fish, dry, crisp and grease-free on the outside, and soft and delicate internally. It came with a runny-yolked poached egg, a tartar-esque sauce, and well-wilted greens. In a sense it’s simple food, but very difficult to do well – here it was comforting and homely.

I didn’t taste the steak and Guinness pie either, but my friend seemed happy: it was hearty and once again, pulling off something apparently simple and straightforward is no mean feat.

My main was a bavette steak with ‘house butter’. Texturally, the butter worked perfectly with bavette, an extremely lean and beefy steak, which was satisfyingly charred on the outside, and a touch on the rare side of medium rare. I have never found a decently-cooked bavette steak I didn’t enjoy, especially because it’s cheap. This was reflected in the menu price (£15, as compared to £21.50 for the regular steak – presumably a sirloin or ribeye).

Flavour-wise, we were told it was centred around capers, tarragon and Worcestershire sauce, but neither of us could shake the idea it was curry-flavoured. The chips were regular chips: reasonably well done but nothing that will blow your mind. I understand why it’s impractical for all restaurants to fry their chips in dripping (a huge fraction of parties will include vegetarians), but now that I’ve gotten used to it everything else is a bit disappointing.

So we left happy. Had we paid, we would have paid something like £35 a head including wine, and we left full. As I say, in future if you ask me where to eat in Norbiton I’ll tell you that you could do a lot worse than The Black Horse.

(No medals.)

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