Taste: A touch of Novelli

Super-chef Jean-Christophe Novelli is not afraid of getting his name around. A nudge of Floyd, a sprinkling of stars & rosettes and a central London "empire" leave a calendar full of Hell's Kitchen, The Apprentice, Richard & Judy, Hello Magazine, MTV Cribs and so on. Fortunately for those amongst us who like a chef to stir soup he's opening a chain of Gastropubs around the country starting with The French Horn in Steppingly and here, attached to the The White Horse Pub in Harpenden.

Branded A Touch of Novelli this converted barn is about as subtle in presentation as it is in name.You're hardly going to eat here without knowing who owns the place, the super-chef continuum has permeated through. There he is, pondering back at you from the restaurant's card, his lead-cast hand print hanging from the wall.

The rest of this barn-conversion has been done in good taste, modern, clean, elegant with a matching open kitchen along one side. Perhaps it's a little too IKEA - but even Prouvé would struggle to divert one's eye from the frosted glass scrawled with, yes, "Novelli" at one end of the 60 covers space.

30 miles north of London and prices are slightly more affordable at £8 starters and £15 mains. Of course we've been slapped with some off-plan bread before the menus have been opened, at least it has been quaintly baked and presented in a terracotta pot, still warm.

Starters include Soft boiled duck egg, Bayonne ham, marinated globe artichokes, tapenade toast and Bressola of Aylesbury duck breast with horseradish panna cotta, beetroot and macadamia nut dressing to start. Both refreshingly not shy of their respective headliners and realised in the unique way so expected of Michelin star caliber. The horseradish, beet and nut medley working enchantingly well together.

Pan fried breasts of pigeon with foie gras tortellini and minestrone broth showed the bird in a new light. Impossible to replicate ticking one box, fois gras the other and a perfect balance of succulence the third. For minimum surprise, Sirloin steak with hand cut chips was prepared only one way, medium-rare - and that's absolutely super. Surprisingly the beef source isn't mentioned - oh it's 'locally sourced' - organic too? must be fine.

Desserts, well, bad options maybe. Pizzazz lacking sorbet (were we expecting anything else?) and a way belowzero peach-melba lacking the kiss of life. Lesson learned - if only the Jack in the Box award winner was on the menu.

More of a daub than a touch, Novelli's is far from subtle. Definitely not a gastropub and hardly somewhere you'll be staying long past the last mouthful. Each mouthful, however, means none of this matters. This is super-chef Novelli delivering the goods.

A Touch of Novelli
The White Horse
AL5 2JP (map)
+44 (0) 1582 469290

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