Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved looking at maps. In those days it was maps in encyclopaedias and atlases. Then, in my days as a Rally Navigator, it was Ordnance Survey maps with all their incredible detail. These days, of course, anyone interested in maps or cartography is living in the golden age of Google. Google Earth, Google Sky, Google Maps and Google Streetview bring information and detail that was unimaginable only a few years ago.
So there I am happily scrolling around in Google Earth, when up pops a little champagne glass shaped push pin for The White Hart Village Inn. Two clicks later I'm on their website, where I find they are billing themselves as a Gastro Pub and Restaurant. A few more clicks and I've checked out the sample menus, read the Chefs' profiles and decided that this one is worth a try.
The web link is sent to my social secretary, a.k.a. MrsA, for approval and a table duly booked for the following Saturday.
The White Hart Village Inn is in the village of Llangybi, near Usk a short drive from Caerleon and hence Newport. A family run business, their stated aim is "to position the White Hart as one of the best eating venues in Wales, offering a unique, tasteful, quality product where like minded people will wish to frequent". Well let's see how they are doing.
As you can see from the photo above The White Hart is a pretty traditional looking country pub, but appears to be be very well kept. Inside we find ourselves in a comfy lounge, with a few local characters, where we enjoy a drink and peruse the menu. I'm very interested to see what's on the menu as I want to see how this really fits into the ‘Gastropub’ label. For me a gastropub should be cooking top quality local ingredients, in a way that shows off those ingredients and not how clever the chef thinks he is. Too many places I visit, that want to be gastropubs, end up producing a pale imitation of the kind of fare I expect to find in somewhere with a star or two hanging on the wall. I say pale imitation because invariably they fail to replicate these complex, multi-layered dishes and you are just left with a plate full of disappointment.
Tonight's menu scans well, a nice chilled courgette soup, a chicken liver parfait, bits & bobs from the garden with the obvious (V) after it, a confit chicken with scallop, sardines and a slow cooked trout make up the starters. The mains are well catered for by steak & chips, veal, hake, chicken breast, sea bass, Glamorgan sausages and an artichoke royale. So far so good!
MrsA chose the "Confit chicken, scallop, sweet corn & hazelnut", whilst I opted for the "Chicken liver parfait, apple & plum, toasted bread." The parfait was really smooth with a great depth of flavour, really rich and creamy. The apple and plum chutney, which I originally thought might be too sweet a combination, wasn't and provided just enough bite to take the edge off the rich parfait without overpowering it. Nicely done! MrsA felt her dish was really two dishes in one, the chicken, sweet corn & hazelnut worked well together as did the scallop, sweet corn & hazelnut. The chicken and scallop however, didn’t really do anything to enhance each other and so she thought the dish would have been enough with just one but not both. MrsA would have preferred it to be the scallop but that’s just personal preference.
For mains I opted for the signature "White Hart steak & chips" on the principle that if they are prepared to put their name on it then it should be a damn good steak and chips. For me this is the perfect dish for a gastropub, it's simple and straightforward with nowhere to hide. It's either going to be good or bad there's no middle ground. I glad to say that the White Hart has managed to take the perfect dish for a gastropub and turned it into the perfect gastropub dish! You can see from the pictures that it was nicely presented with its 'Tower of Hanoi' onion rings, separate bowl of chips and little bottle of jus. The steak itself was an excellent quality piece of meat, tender, juicy and cooked exactly to order. No wonder they are confident enough to put their name on it.
MrsA ordered "Roast veal loin, potato terrine, spring greens, asparagus and roasted garlic". She was very pleased to see veal on the menu as it's such a rarity. Veal has never really recovered from the bad rap it received in the nineties that turned it into the ultimate ethical no-no. The public hasn't really grasped that with support from the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming amongst others that eating high welfare or "rose" veal is the best way to stop hundreds of thousands of unwanted calves being slaughtered at birth or exported to veal farms in mainland Europe. It's good to see a restaurant putting veal back on the menu and in doing so to help educate the public that veal consumption no longer need be guilt ridden.
The veal, like the steak, was a quality piece of meat, well prepared, again simply cooked and as ordered. Perfectly complemented by the seasonal asparagus and spring greens it delivered what it promised.
Dessert for me took the form of a "White hart lemon meringue" whilst MrsA had the "Chocolate terrine, strawberry and parma violet". The lemon meringue was served as an individual portion as opposed to the traditional slice from a larger pie. If I had any criticisms of the food so far then I would level them at this dish. For me there were two things that could be improved here. The lemon just needed to be a bit more tart to stand up to the sweetness of the meringue and the meringue itself need a bit more than a whizz over with a blow torch to finish it off as it had taken colour but no crispness from the process. However these really are minor issues and I'm fully aware that someone else would probably think it perfect.
All in all I was very impressed with The White Hart Village Inn. It really has captured exactly what I think a gastropub should be all about; seasonal, locally sourced, high quality ingredients cooked and served with care and appreciation. Highly recommended!
The White Hart Village Inn
Llangybi, Near Usk,
Monmouthshire, NP15 1NP.
Telephone: 01633 450258