Restaurant Review: The Coach

The pub formerly known as The Coach & Horses has been taken over by Henry Harris and James McCulloch, an excellent chef and excellent publican. 

They describe it, rather bluntly, as ‘Good European Food in Clerkenwell’, so Louise Stapley went down to find out whether it is.

The Coach and Horses pub – now The Coach – played a leading role in Clerkenwell’s history. The original 18th Century ale house was home to the famous ‘bear garden’, where the landlord kept and fought bears for his patrons’ amusement. Thankfully, at some point society swapped bear gardens for beer gardens and it later became the drinking-hole-of-choice for the Guardian staff from the offices over the road, who blamed it for many merry hours and missed deadlines.

I arrive early on a sunny Tuesday evening, and the pavement outside is lined with drinkers spilling into the street. Smart and inviting, the pub section at the front is also bustling. I eye the blackboard of bar snacks hungrily. I want all the croquettes and a sausage roll. And a pint of prawns. 

But I’m here for dinner, and moving into the more formal dining room, I start to get excited. The space is beautiful, with a vaulted ceiling and a floor-to-ceiling glass wall opening onto the walled garden (which is saved for diners).

The menu is quite long, but clearly designed to cater for a range of diners – there are heaps of tantalising veggie options and dishes of all sizes. 

Henry Harris is described on the Great British Chefs website as ‘a master of classic French bourgeois cookery’, and that influence is clear here. A classic beef tartare is light and balanced with a pleasingly loose texture (it might be one of the best I’ve had), and an ever-so-French smoked duck magret salad with duck-fat croutons, blue cheese dressing and almonds is equally magnifique.

For our mains, we order the gurnard, and I dread it being overcooked, for no reason other than that I’m a miserable cynic. Of course, it’s perfect. Flaky flesh and crisp, buttery skin, sitting
on a little pile of delicately earthy girolles, sweet tomatoes and tiny potatoes. It’s almost obligatory to order the grilled rabbit leg with mustard sauce and bacon, a dish the critics have been raving about. It’s unctuous. I’m tempted to pick the leg up and gnaw on it like Henry VIII, but I resist and settle for mopping up the sauce with a fat, fluffy chip. I gladly agree to make room for pudding, and love the firm and creamy flan pâtissier – like an understated pastéis de nata – which is swimming in a chocolate custard that’s nothing like the sickly gunge I remember from school dinners. We also inhale a silky-smooth crème caramel sauced in a delicious burnt sugar tang.

It feels like they’ve got everything right at The Coach, striking the balance between a sophisticated restaurant and a laid-back boozer. It’s perfect for group meals, intimate dates, beers and bar snacks, and everything in between. An inviting new chapter in this institution’s rich history and a real crowd-pleaser — just as a good pub should be.