By David Porat
Having spent a good bit of time in London and England (having visited many times over four or so decades), I have seen and tasted some very poor English food. But I have also had some very good meals in rustic pubs in unassuming, unpretentious, settings. These meals can be straightforward and prepared with an earnest attitude, made with local ingredients that are not inexpensive, and the whole delivers and satisfies.
Knowing of the White Horse Tavern and often passing it by with many people enjoying drinks outside, I too have enjoyed a drink there but it is not a place where I would choose to eat. The neighborhood has many good places and the pub with (good) food concept is not one that is prevalent locally.
My experience on a quiet rainy week night, having been asked to write something about this very old, storied place with some recent twists, did very pleasantly surprise me.
The front main room is quite loud and well cast as the local watering hole but we sat in the dark adjoining room where we were very well served by an enthusiastic waitperson who in fact joined the White Horse with the new young chef, Ed Syzmanski. Ed is from England, and previously worked at the Spotted Pig, and more recently at the Beatrice Inn and Cherry Point in Greenpoint.
The simple-seeming and limited menu is somewhat meat-focused, with a British accent. We started with oysters, a Scotch Egg ($9) and Smoked Mackerel Pate ($14), which we paired with a local draft, and all delivered great flavor. The Scotch Egg was a six or so minute egg, runny yolked, with a pork sausage package that was savory, rich and had a pleasantly crunchy exterior. It was very freshly prepared, as was everything we tasted. The pate, spread thickly over a toasted slice of whole grain bread also had a rich and savory flavor that seemed to be well designed as an accompaniment to beer.
Our main course was the Chicken & Morel Pie to Share ($42), a very mushroom rich, nutty and ever so slightly sweet chicken-filled pie. Topped with a just baked pastry which included beef suet to give it a delicate and nuanced flavor, it arrived after the bit of time it took to bake and was picture perfect. It was enough to share but in fact if you were really hungry, do not feel shy about ordering it for yourself. We had perfectly grilled asparagus along with the pie.
I felt I needed to order dessert for the sake of the review, but at this point I suspected they would do a good job with it. My dining partner was thinking more prudently, and seemed to like the idea of the lemon cream with meringue, dusted with some earl grey powder, a take on an Eton Mess. We also got the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Both desserts ($12.95) were very good but their rendition of the popular date sponge with caramel sauce stole the show and my prudent partner shared the generous portion, dusted with whole hazelnuts, and that alone is worth a detour.
For Eytan Sugarman, the new owner, and Ed Syzmanski, White Horse Tavern is a work in progress. It is not expensive but it is proper food that is not inexpensive. I will be back and sitting outside on a summer night, having a cold beer with food, that might make me feel like I was in a very modern British place in the country and yet it is ever so close to home.
White Horse Tavern
567 Hudson Street at 11th Street | 212 989-3956
(website not updated with the new menu)