Can Somerset’s latest culinary star, Margot Henderson, find her place among the local restaurant firmament? Sandy Carr reviews The Three Horseshoes in Batcombe.
Restaurant Review: The Three Horseshoes, Batcombe
The stream of chefs heading to the West Country continues. The curtilage of uber-fashionable Bruton is still the most powerful magnet in these parts, and Batcombe, its green and pleasant dormitory village a little north of the town, has bagged the latest star. New Zealand-born Margot Henderson has glittering credentials. Early experience at London’s Quality Chop House and The Eagle, one of the city’s first gastropubs, led to a joint enterprise with her husband Fergus (of nose-to-tail cookery fame) at Soho’s French House Dining Room and subsequently her own outfit at the Rochelle Canteen in Bethnal Green. The clientele of all these establishments tended towards arty intelligentsia, more gourmand than gourmet, and the philosophy to one of good unpretentious food using quality and where possible local ingredients served simply and without fuss.
This should go down well at The Three Horseshoes, where locals may be tiring of the food-as-theatre antics of the likes of Osip, looking instead for an honest, well-cooked meal that satisfies those healthy country appetites – and isn’t eye-wateringly expensive to boot.
But whereas the menu may not win any Michelin stars, unpretentious does not mean boring. There’s an interesting and perhaps long overdue inclination towards traditional British food with a touch of classic French and a nod to her husband’s penchant for offal and the bits often rejected with a queasy shrug. How often do you see the likes of brawn, ox tongue and heart, brains, dripping, pig’s skin, rissoles and rabbit pie on a modern menu? Meat dishes appear robust, hearty, almost Dickensian – chops, mutton and T-bone steaks. And the desserts have a faint whiff of school dinners about them: treacle tart and rice pudding, for example, but not as you knew them.
The preference for locally sourced ingredients means that menus often have to be improvised from what is available on the day, but in this area that is rarely a problem. The abundance of marvellous local produce is what attracted Henderson to Somerset – though she may have to go ‘off-piste’ in the winter months. Though the sea is a way off, even fish can be delivered daily from Brixham, and it is good. Our meal was a perfect illustration of how that can work.
We started with a smooth dill-flavoured beetroot soup – perhaps a little sweet – and pork rillettes, followed with a perfectly grilled chunk of turbot with runner beans, and fried plaice with braised fennel. We finished with an apricot pavlova generous enough almost to feed a family, and the most scrumptious strawberry ice cream I have ever tasted. This is proper food and plenty of it. If I had any reservations it would be that the presentation is somewhat slapdash – a little more elegance wouldn’t hurt. And isn’t it bit stingy to charge for bread?
The wine list is almost exclusively French, and at first sight looks expensive. On closer inspection, however, it’s clear that the wines are very carefully chosen with an eye to interesting innovative producers. And, faithful to the pub ambience that they are keen to maintain, good local ales and superior ciders are also available.
THE FINAL WORD
I can see The Three Horseshoes attracting a devoted following. It’s the kind of place where you would be happy to come two or three times a month – or more often for a very acceptable snack at the bar. The restaurant space is maybe a little spartan and its noisy acoustics unfortunate. (And for such an artsy community the pictures on the walls are surprisingly dull.) On the plus side, there is lots of outside space in the pretty leafy garden. On a hot sunny Somerset day there’s hardly a better place for lunch.
The Three Horseshoes, Batcombe, BA4 6HE. 01749 326 147. thethreehorseshoesbatcombe.co.uk