27 July 2011

Upturn and downgrade

The Three Tuns in Henley re-emerges as the foodie pub the town needs, while the Mountain View fails to see the writing on the wall.

Henley diners have been given a few more options of late with La Barca opening down by the riverside, The Three Tuns emerging from a period in the doldrums and the rebranding of Henley institution The Himalaya.  
This last shouldn’t occupy us for long. If anything the newly named Mountain View has downgraded. While it may have a new sign, carpet and whitewashed walls the budget, of which there wasn’t much in the first place, obviously didn’t extend to spice. Quite possibly the blandest Tandoori mixed grill and Sag Aloo I’ve ever had. Best I think to let the place die a quick death. Henley has too many Indian restaurants, this is by far the worst in so many ways, it’s never busy, apart from Henley week, and would do us all a favour if it disappeared.
I’ll review La Barca properly in a few weeks. I’ve been a few times since it opened and apart from a decent glass of white Rioja haven’t been very impressed. I hear the quality of everything has improved so will visit again shortly.
The Three Tuns in Henley’s market place, next to the region’s best butcher, Gabriel Machin, has had a varied history over the last 10 years. From drug filled student dive to profit guzzling landlord it was transformed around five years ago to a respectable gastro pub with an excellent menu. That venture was disappointingly short lived though, as was the most recent option which had very passable rustic French food but was rarely open. It must be a difficult space to make a living, there aren’t quite enough covers, the bar is in the middle of the room, separating the space in two; three if you consider there is a huge fireplace in the small dining room concealing a few more tables. Then there are the virtually outside ancient loo’s and a barn like space, well hidden in the back garden, plus a tiny kitchen.
So hats off to chef Mark Duggan and his wife Sandra who are working their butts off to make the place work, ably assisted by the their son who must be the politest barman in the business. There are different menus for bar and dining room, though that shouldn’t stop you ordering whatever you fancy in either room. On the bar menu it’s the homemade bread and pies that really impress. Foccacia with Cherry Tomatoes was beautifully salty and oily, while both the Chicken & Mushroom and Steak & Ale pies are meaty with rich sauces that perfectly complement a lovely mash, rich in olive oil. My only criticism of the pies is a lack of accompanying vegetables even as a garnish.
In the dining area I have only tried the Rib-Eye Steak with CafĂ© de Paris butter and this was pretty late in the evening so top marks for accommodating us with a charred yet still tender hunk of cow. The chunky chips were not the best. Sandra explained there was a problem obtaining the right quality of potatoes at this time of year. It’s a problem that needs fixing but I can’t imagine it won’t be.
The wine list has had a bit more thought than most pub’s and its pleasing to see both affordable and interesting options available by the glass as well as the bottle. The Rare Vineyards Pinot Noir, Vin de France is a good example of a regional French Pinot, with elegance, cherries and spice while the Argentine Etchart Privado Malbec, Valle de Cafayate is exactly what you want from a deep, plumy Malbec at a great price point.
A great deal of hard work is going into making this difficult space a success. It’s not flashy gastro food, but it is exactly what you want from a good local pub.
The Three Tuns, 5 The Market Place, Henley on Thames RG9 2AA 01491 410138

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