Henry & Joe's
Hilary Scott tells all about a new restaurant in Newbury....even though she doesn't really want to. Pictures: Dijana Capan
You know you are somewhere good when other diners in a restaurant recognise you as press and beg you not to let too many people know about it. Which is just what happened to us when we visited Henry & Joe’s in Newbury town centre.
Known for their pop-up restaurants, these two young blades have moved into a small but lovely space in Cheap Street.
Pass by and the large windows show off the restaurant, all stripped pine tables and aubergine and lilac accents. It is a very cool dining room and the food echoes it perfectly.
Both Henry and Joe are local boys who did stints at the Woodspeen. Cheery Joe is front of house, looking after diners with a big smile, lots of knowledge and most often to be found kneeling by their tables to explain the menu or the plates that have just arrived.
Henry is in the kitchen, meanwhile, making sumptuous plates look simple to prepare.
The à la carte menu is concise – around four starters, five mains and four desserts on offer and at a great price. There’s also a set menu for lunch and early supper (6pm-6.45pm) for two courses at £16 and three £19. I think you can see why diners want to keep this a secret.
And when the food arrives you are mightily tempted to do the same. But let me share with you…
We guzzle the home-made sourdough and wheatmeal bread at £1.50 per head and love it. Our starters are quick to arrive and we are very encouraged. A glossy black plate shows off my multi-coloured ash-baked beetroot with two generous mounds of whipped goat’s cheese topped with crunchy nigella seeds (£8). Nestled on the plate are also burnt apple cubes, a beetroot gel and, for texture, whole hazelnuts. It’s superb – the beetroot explodes with flavour and the cheese is mellow, the apple slightly toasty.
A quick snap on Facebook and followers go a bit daft at how lovely it looks.
Meanwhile my companion has the pigeon breast, confit leg and foie gras fritter, choucroute and orange glazed chicory (£10). The breast is draped in a sticky and rich pigeon sauce and the orange glaze on the chicory mellows its bitterness. The foie gras fritter is perfectly crispy and melting inside and the choucroute is sharp and crunchy.
On the menu also are rabbit ravioli with an artichoke velouté or cured salmon with tonka bean.
Mains are hard to decide – the veggie option of Jerusalem artichoke, smoked cauliflower, red kale, brown butter and apple or a handsome beef fillet with Roscoffe onions and black garlic?
Venison pavé and shank with smoked potato?
We opt for the pork loin, black pudding, chard, fennel, parsley root and crackling (£19). The crackling was a stick of golden and loud-enough-to-hear-you-eat-it perfect and the two loins were blushing pink in the middle. The dish gave me a first and a best. It was my first try at parsley root, which people often mistake for parsnip. I think parsley root has a fresher smell and taste, but it is similar.
But the stand-out was Henry’s home-made black pudding – sweet and savoury at the same time, it had a hint of apple and, unusually, raisins steeped in jasmine tea. Being Scottish I’ve eaten a fair amount of black pudding, but this was the best I’ve tasted.
The other main was the cod, red pepper bisque, charred leek, clams, sea vegetables and caper purée (£22). Joe poured the bisque on to the dish at the table and it was well worth the theatre – roasted crab bones added amazing depth and the pepper simply gave sweetness. The charred leek was declared amazing.
The desserts all tempted us (and at £7.50 each we were even more encouraged), but we settled on a pineapple tarte tatin with salted cashews and vanilla ice cream and a white chocolate parfait with textures of rhubarb and a ginger crumb.
Rarely is dessert ever my stand-out dish on a menu, but the crispy pastry topped with sticky pineapple, pineapple gel and the most vanilla of vanilla ice creams sounds simple, but was absolutely fantastic.
Meanwhile, the parfait had just hints of white chocolate, the rhubarb was not too sweet and there were gels and meringue, with punchy ginger crumb for crunch.
Unfortunately, our delicious bottle of Willy Willy, an Australian shiraz, will not give you a chance for smutty jokes, as it is being replaced on the wine list soon (and by the way a willy willy is a whirlwind in Aussie).
As we waited for a sharing cheese plate (Jersey Sharpen brie, Beauville Bleu and Wookey Hole Cheddar with a lavash cracker, pear chutney and scorched apple slices) some of the customers, including one table of three local chefs and a hotel manager, begged us jokingly to keep shtum about Henry&Joe’s.
We got it.
Henry & Joe’s is just the kind of place Newbury needs and will appreciate – a great atmosphere, even better food and wallet-friendly. And you are supporting two young men whose enthusiasm and expertise is way beyond their years.
So that’s why you are getting to hear about it.
And you know what? Pass it on.