October 17 2018

Review: new season, new menus, new chef at the Huntsman

We’ve waxed lyrical about the indisputable charms of the Huntsman’s handsome upper-level dining room the Elder Rooms on many occasions: cheerfully characterful, elegant in an easygoing way and cleverly combining historic charm with contemporary grandeur, it really is rather lovely. And it really comes into its own when the nights started to draw in, too; if you’re looking for the perfect combination of chic but cosy, you’ve come to the right place… and we know this for sure, because the Huntsman is where we chose to visit for our most recent Friday Feast.

Menus at the Huntsman are reassuringly accessible – there are upper crust pub classics such as Scotch eggs, sausage rolls and pork pies on the nibbles selection, fish and chips or sausages and mash amongst the main courses, and Brit-trad puds such as Jam Roly Poly – yay! – and exceedingly good British cheese boards vying for attention at the finishing line. As has always been the case with the Fuller’s Kitchen philosophy, provenance and impeccable sourcing policies are writ large throughout the menus, while the wet selection includes some fascinating gins and an intelligent wine list alongside the kind of superior ales and beers that Fuller’s are famous for… oh, and the staff are lovely, too. But a recent refresh in the kitchen has proved that old adage about not making a good thing even better totally redundant.

Head chef Johnny Joseph – already familiar to many from his time at the hob at fellow Fuller’s merrymaking zone the Crystal Palace – has recently flitted across to the Huntsman kitchen, where he’s added a little sprinkle of foodie flamboyance to proceedings confidently demonstrated from the off in erstwhile classic starter combinations such as wild mushrooms on toast (a deeply umami melange involving a tasty posse of ‘shrooms bathed in a gently tingly tarragon cream sauce) and velvety, sweetly pink seared pigeon teamed with pearl barley, earthy black pudding and a watercress and parsley salad dressed in a fruity raspberry vinaigrette.

Our ‘welcome to the British autumn season’ (and ‘hello, Johnny’) theme continued throughout our main courses: soft, moist, super-tasty chicken breast stuffed with more of that moreish black pudding (it’s Fuller’s own, don’cha know) served with a lavish array of seasonal greens, crushed new potatoes and a gentle tide of Stilton sauce – an exceedingly satisfying combination indeed. If you’re feeling courageously carnivorous, though, you really, really need to follow Mr Pig’s lead and head straight for the deeply flavoursome, sumptuously silky braised ox cheeks served on a bed of parsnip mash and supported by a chorus of sweet heritage carrots – if you, like many people these days, only choose to eat red meat as a high day or holiday treat, this dish is your ultimate reward, well worth holding out for. And seeing as we were, by this stage, clearly on blow-out territory, both Johnny’s utterly divine fig & almond crème brûlée served with delicate almond biscuits and his properly treacley treacle tart accompanied by Fuller’s buffalo milk vanilla ice cream made the prospect of starving ourselves for the rest of the weekend worthwhile.

But even if you choose to blow-out, you won’t blow the budget as prices are reassuringly down-to-earth; even if you scale the dish-price heights, you’ll only fluctuate circa £28 for three courses, which really is remarkable given the quality, service, surroundings and overall vibe of the experience as a whole; on multiple levels, the Huntsman is positively hunky dory.

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