It was a Friday night and the Coach and Horses was jam-packed with people toasting in the weekend. We'd just been turned away from a new-ish Malaysian/European joint on Farringdon Road and were getting rather worried about our chances of a good un-prebooked dinner. Luckily, a door in the back wall of the pub revealed a separate dining room.... which was entirely empty.
It was an interesting little extension of a room, with swathes of fabric on the ceiling creating a vaguely nautical feel.
We picked a bottle of rich pinot noir (£18.30) and hungrily perused the menu. Despite the busy bar and our isolated location (we remained lone diners throughout), the service was very efficient and friendly.
In the salad, the sweet pear contrasted well with the creamy Cashel Blue cheese, while the rocket leaves helpfully diluted the richness of flavours (£5.60).
The Jerusalem artichoke soup (£6.00) was lusciously creamy, with crispy vegetable crisps on the top and some luscious, half-melted foie gras floating inside -- although I have since discovered that it's very easy to recreate (most of) the experience at home.
To follow, I enjoyed the gamey, generous pile of venison ragu (£13.50), a superior version of the tradition spag bol.
The husband had a heart-warming Morcilla stew (£13.20), with chunks of the Spanish blood sausage and beans, crowned with a poached egg.
Back in 2004, the place won the Time Out Best Gastro Pub award, though Harden's suggests it could have become a touch complacent since then. We certainly didn't see any evidence of that -- it was a very good meal for perfectly reasonable prices and with good service. But with, inexplicably, so few dining customers, I wouldn't be surprised if the kitchen gets discouraged before too long.
The Coach and Horses, 26-28 Ray Street, EC1R 3DJ; Tel. 0207 278 8990' www.thecoachandhorses.com; Tube: Farringdon