It’s not often I visit Kingston-upon-Thames, being based as I am in the wilds of North London. But an invitation to enjoy Ribstock-winning barbeque in a pub not too far from my sister’s house in South London was too tempting to pass up, and on a gloriously sunny day in late March, we made our way down. We drove and parked in the public pay and display just opposite but if you want to take advantage of an impressive beer list and whisky collection, I’d recommend you travel by train to Kingston station, just a couple of minutes walk.
On our arrival, pub licensee Leigh White filled us in. The Grey Horse is now run by the team behind The White Hart Witley, where Sam Duffin installed BBQ Whisky Beer after moving it out of it’s original Marylebone home. The White Hart became well known for its extensive whisky bar, strong craft beer selection, live music and excellent barbeque. And when I say excellent barbeque, I’m not exaggerating – BBQ Whisky Beer won Ribstock 2013, beating the likes of barbeque stars Blue Boar Smokehouse, Carl Clarke of Rotary, Cattle Grid, Neil Rankin, Prairie Fire BBQ, Red Dog Saloon, Roti Chai Street Kitchen, The Rib Man and Tim Anderson of Nanban!
The same team have now taken over The Grey Horse, which closed in 2014 and has since been extensively refurbished. When it reopened in November last year, the space had been reorganised to provide a traditional pub area to the front, a dining room with open kitchen behind and a live music venue called RamJam Club at the rear. RamJam has its own small kitchen too, so either the pub or guest chefs can cater separately for the club and small outside space.
The new dining room opened this January and it’s a lovely space. A huge skylight lets in plenty of light, giving an upwards view out to blue sky, grey clouds or perhaps a starry night. Along one side of the room is an open kitchen and along the other a row of tables in a long alcove. At the back, exposed brickwork with a mural of Jimi Hendrix – he played here in the venue’s previous heyday, so it’s said. I’m not a fan of the high tables with stools that take up the central space; a killer for anyone with back or hip probblems – always smacks of style over substance, but that’s the only minus amongst the pluses for me.
The pub area is more traditional albeit with whisky-laden shelves (and board list) that make Pete determined to return without the car before too long!
As I mentioned, the beer list is appealing. Pete has a half pint of Twickenham Tusk, on draft which he describes as dry with a pleasant floral hoppiness.
We dither so much over which starters to order that we eventually decide on three!
First choice is crab cocktail, charred gem, fried avocado, nduja aioli (£7) and it’s plated in the deconstructed style that’s become so prevalent. Plenty of sweet fresh crabmeat, deliciously charred baby gem lettuces, odd but good-odd crumbed and fried slices of avocado and a generous smear or spicy nduja aioli. Can’t go wrong ordering this one!
Next is the only meh dish of the meal – fried Ogleshield, pickled wild mushrooms and spinach puree (£6). Inside the deep-fried balls we expect to find gooey melted Ogleshield, a delicious sticky-soft washed-rind cheese by Neals Yard Dairy, but instead the filling is super dry, way too crumbly and lacking in much flavour. The spinach puree is more of a decoration than a key element – a shame as it tastes great. The big redeeming factor is the heap of pickled wild mushrooms which are redolent with red wine vinegariness and sweet shallots.
Our third and final starter is chicken wings, hot sauce, blue cheese, sesame and celery (£6). Six plump chicken wings are covered in a fiery hot sauce – tingling-on-the-edge-of-burning rather than blow-your-head-off painful. The blue cheese dip is properly cheesy and thick enough to cling generously to dipped wings. The celery I leave for Pete, who praises it’s braised nature – gentle crunch and gentle flavour, nice with the blue cheese dip.
For my main, how can I not choose Sam’s Ribstock winner, the Jacob’s Ladder beef rib? Available in small, medium or large (£10, £13, £16) I’m surprised at how hefty my £10 rib is and can’t help but laugh at a nearby diner’s look of shock when his large portion is served! Mesquite-smoked and rubbed with Sam’s own spices before being smothered in homemade barbeque sauce the meat is melty-soft inside with perfect char and texture on the surface; the flavour is smoky and beefy, intense and fantastic!
It’s true, Ribstock totally called it, this barbeque is fantastic and absolutely worth the trek across town! Next time I come, I’m skipping the starters, good as two of them were, and going all in on the smoked ribs three ways (£20) featuring beef rib, pork rib and iberico rib!
Pete is a sucker for a burger, so he chooses the classic burger (£9) which comes with smoked bacon and American cheese plus lettuce, onion, tomato, dill pickle, burger mayo and ghetto sauce (whatever that may be!) Skinny fries (£3) are extra, or you could order a coal roast sweet potato, dill aioli, black garlic (£4) or house pickles (£3) amongst other sides.
Just three days earlier, Pete and I tasted nine different beef patties (plus burgers made with each of those nine) to help our local pub decide on which to serve in their soon-to-be-upgraded burgers. Three stood out above the other six, of which one was a clear winner – on taste, juiciness and texture.
To Pete’s delight, the patty in this burger is the match of that winner; it has an intense beefiness to the flavour, excellent juiciness and a texture that gives just the right amount of chew without leaving one chewing and chewing like a cow eating cudd! The bun is well chosen, both for flavour and texture, and there is good balance of all the secondary ingredients and condiments.
All in all, this is a top burger!
By this point, you’d be right in thinking we are quite full. But I always try to order one dessert just to assess a restaurant’s sweet offerings – too many restaurants treat desserts as an afterthought and they don’t always match up to the savoury menu.
I cannot look past the dark chocolate and peanut butter tart, salt caramel ice cream £6), which Pete won’t enjoy because of the peanut. So Pete goes for the cornflake ice cream sundae, dulce du leche and hot fudge sauce (£6).
The sundae first; a classic bowl of ice cream, cream and sauces with the extra crunch and flavour of cornflakes! It’s good and Pete somehow finishes the entire bowl!
The tart is delicious too; peanut butter chocolate topping over crunchy base and with crushed caramel sprinkle, it’s super rich and fairly sweet – perfectly partnered with a properly salty salted caramel ice cream, which makes a pleasant and surprising change. I only manage half of this but I enjoy every mouthful!
After all that we’re full to bursting but it’s definitely been worth the bloat – the food has been delicious, and the barbeque rib just phenomenal.
This isn’t our neck of the woods but we’ll definitely be back, as this is way more than just a decent local pub – for barbeque lovers it’s a destination restaurant, well worth the visit wherever you live.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Grey Horse.