The Ostlers is the sister restaurant to The Bell Inn (a ‘Great Inn of Britain’), and the two sit side-by-side in Horndon-on-the-Hill, a quaint village deep in the Essex countryside. Whereas one is an old coaching inn, the other is a new conservatory-like building, with pleasant views of pastures green.
Head chef Stuart Fay cooks for them both, and thanks to a recently rejuvenated menu The Ostlers has become our favourite place to eat in that county. Start delicately with crispy mackerel ravioli (pictured above) – a crunchy, golden pocket of pasta, filled with smoked mackerel and served on a Jersulam artichoke cream.
For mains, roast sirloin of English beef and braised cornfed chicken leg are both good bets, but the vegetarian option – tempura of cauliflower on caramelised cauliflower puree with kale crisps and celeriac chips – is even better. A clever showcase of that vegetable, and one of the lightest tempura batters we’ve tried. Desserts are good (if you’ve room, pick the devillish dark chocolate bread and butter pudding), but fall short of standards set by the savoury dishes. No matter, though; you’ll be more than satisfied with mackerel and cauliflower.
The chef – Q&A with Stuart Fay
Stuart Fay has been head chef at The Ostlers and The Bell Inn (the 15th century coaching inn next door) for over a decade.
‘This winter I’ll mostly be eating venison – the stuff we source from a local supplier. It’s an excellent product and low in fat for a red meat.’
‘When I’m home alone I love eating humble pie, because I’m not there very often! I also love homemade soup like lamb broth, which my wife makes the best.’
‘My most used cookbook is Jason Atherton’s Maze – the way his flavours work are great. He’s passionate about what he does and puts great twists on classic dishes.’
‘I love eating out at The Hand and Flowers. I love the simplicity of the menu and the ingredients are faultless, as is the execution.’
‘I’m most inspired by the food of Britain. We have brilliant produce here and we need to blow our own trumpets more often.’
‘If you gave me a tenner I’d get ingredients to make cakes with the kids. It’s the best way to chill out after work.’
‘My favourite piece of kitchen kit is a pacojet – it makes the best ice creams and purees I have ever tasted. It’s fool-proof.’
‘Every kitchen needs good staff. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have them with me.’