Friday, 28 October 2016

THE COACH AND HORSES - The Square, Compton





We are currently exploring a hot bed of foodie pubs on the outskirts of Chichester, and today's target on our hotlist was The Coach and Horses. As its name suggests, it was originally a coach house in the 17th century, so it has that priceless character that can only be found in an old English pub.

Neither of us had been to Compton before, so we were looking forward to a new landscape, and hopefully some good food. I must admit that some of that excitement swiftly drained away upon entering the pub. Not to say there is anything fundamentally wrong with the pub, it was more that dreaded feel of a ghost pub. It was a little bit too cold inside, we were the only people there, and it was deathly silent,, one of my pet hates. We were however greeted warmly enough, and to be fare, they did stoke up the fire once we had taken a seat., although a bit of background music wasn't so forthcoming. Quick note to any landlords out there. It's not good for the atmosphere when every word you say can be overheard by the staff, it makes people slightly uncomfortable.

The menu wasn't bad at all though, and we quickly found something that tickled our interest buds. I was already contemplating the fish pie when we were informed that the fish had come in fresh that morning. With that in mind, I stuck with the pie, while Dad went for fish and chips. This is where I usually talk about prices, but I think I'll come back to that later. The main bulk of food on offer is advertised on the specials board, but there is also a bar menu if you fancy something a bit lighter.

As we waited for our food, with my coat still on I might add, a few other people joined us in the bar. It helped the atmosphere along and made it easier to talk amongst ourselves. I was quite impressed with the look of my pie when it arrived, clearly homemade and in its own little dish, topped with a crown of mash and cheese. At a second glance though, I felt it looked a bit lonely, crying out for a chunk of crusty bread. The pie itself was delicious, I couldn't really fault it. A very tasty and creamy sauce, possibly laced with tarragon, carried the cod, salmon, smoked haddock and prawns beautifully. Dad's fish was also beautiful, all the better for its freshness. It was encased in a lovely crisp batter and accompanied by homemade tartar sauce. The chips, although not homemade, were cooked well and were also of the crispy persuasion.

Now we come to the cost of described meal. My fish pie was over £14. Baring in mind it was literally just a fish pie, no salad or bread, I think that's pushing it. Yes it contained fresh fish, but in truth, you don't actually get that much fish in a fish pie. Dad's fish and chips was about £12.50, which you can just about get away with, although for that price we'd like to see homemade chips.

In essence this is a nice pub serving nice food, but as with so many pubs it is a case of nearly. Just a few simple adjustments could turn this nearly pub in to a special one. It would be the work of a moment to get the fire on before the lunchtime trade begins and unleash a relaxing playlist. What might not be quite so easily addressed is the price of the food. I don't pretend to know what individual pubs pay for their produce, but I do know what I pay for it, and I know how to cook it, and we don't think those things balance out in some of the pricier pubs we've visited.

This may just be one of those pubs which is best visited in the evening, or in the Summer months, maybe we were unlucky in visiting the one day when the stereo had broken. Regardless of these minor imperfections, we wouldn't put you off a visit to The Coach and Horses, just dress warm and maybe take your own i-pod speaker.

Atmosphere          5
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   6
Verdict                 3.5*

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

THE FOX GOES FREE - Charlton, near Goodwood





I came across this pub some time ago whilst doing some research online. It was added to our new pubs to visit list, and it just so happened that today was the day. Dad entered the details in to his sat-nav, (recommended), and we were on our way.

When we pulled up outside, it looked like a proper pub. When we stepped out the car, it smelt like a proper pub. When we entered, we knew it was indeed a proper pub. The 17th century flint building, with its oak beams, brick floors and open fireplace, is the very essence of what all pubs should aspire to. The pub is a good size, but is broken in to many separate parts, giving you the chance to grab your very own space in this pub paradise, it also helps to generate that most precious of public house commodities, atmosphere. Just as we thought things couldn't get any better, it just so happened that one of the few free tables was the one right beside the fireplace. We sat and examined the menus, having been told that our order would be taken at the table. There are numerous sharing platters on offer, as well as sandwiches and the obligatory specials board. After our experiences of other pubs, which are basically trying to emulate what is happening here, I half expected the prices to be rather on the high side. As was befitting of our pub style fairytale, I was wrong, the prices were just right, averaging between £11 and £12. This gives vast weightage to our argument that a good pub can serve high quality food without absurd pricing.

Everything on the menu sounded amazing, with evident care and imagination on show. There are several daily, changeable options, including fish, pie and risotto. As an example of something a bit different, we have witnessed several pubs selling standard sausage and mash for up to £14, yet here, you are offered sausages with bubble and squeak mash with a blue cheese sauce, that's what I had. After learning that the pie was turkey and mushroom, Dad's choice was also made.

The staff here are friendly, slick and efficient, a skill set which was obvious and important in a well run, busy pub such as this. When they delivered our food, I think I may have actually gone to heaven. Sitting by the fire in a wonderful pub, eating stunning food. What could be better? My sausages were perfect, the bubble and squeak was spot on, and the blue cheese sauce was a true thing of beauty. Dad's pie was what we call a true pie, fully surrounded by pastry and full to the brim with turkey and mushrooms. He also had some chips which I was very interested in. They were advertised as homemade, so I was keen to try them. Regular readers will be familia with my homemade chip obsession. In a true act of kindness, he put aside some of them just for me, unsurprisingly, they were amazing.

We were literally enchanted from start to finish, transported to a magical fantasy by the pub fairies. We can't say enough good things about The Fox Goes Free, it may even be the best pub we've ever found. We even joked about inventing a sixth star for it, but that could get silly. As you've probably realised, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend this pub, in fact we insist.

Atmosphere          10
Service                 9
Food                    9
Value                   9
Verdict                 5*

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

THE WHITE HORSE - 16 Keyhaven Road, Milford on Sea





Over the weekend, we headed in to Milford on sea, in search of some good food. We ended up in The White Horse. I ate here once before with friends, and had a wonderful time ploughing my way through a very tasty roast dinner. We would now take a wider look at the food on offer, and as always, deliver our findings directly to you.

At first glance, it is probably fair to say that the decoration inside is a little tired. However, this ceases to be an issue once you have immersed yourself in to the warm and friendly atmosphere. The pub is split in to two halves. One side is very much for eating, with a relaxed feel and appropriate music, in our case an stream of reworked classics. The other bar is very much for other things, and being a Saturday night, we could hear the exuberance filtering through. After enquiring about a table, we were welcomed in and told our drinks would be brought over. Our liquid refreshment arrived in short order, fortifying us as we took on the task of meal selection. It was refreshing to find that a pub in the foodie hub of Milford on sea, hadn't let the phenomenon push their prices in to silly town. Average meals are available at £10 - £12. After much deliberation, I picked a trio of vegetarian sausages with mash, vegetables, parsnip crisps and vegetarian gravy. Dad went for the pork belly with mash, veg and an apple gravy.

As we waited for our order, we had a chance to get to grips with our surroundings. The pub has a good feel to it, making it easy to relax. We did however feel that the pub as a whole is teetering somewhere between the new breed of gastro pub and the old school locals boozer, and I suppose in essence that's what it is. Two pubs at once offering a relaxed eating experience on one side, and a traditional drinking environment on the other. Our ruminations were cut short by the welcome arrival of our food. As it was set down before us, we were accosted by a delicious and comforting smell of real and honest cooking. I forgot to mention, I also ordered a side of onion rings. Our vegetables were delivered in their own dish, more than enough for the two of us. We had carrots, leeks and cauliflower, all of which were cooked perfectly. It took me a while to notice, but all three of my sausages were different, a true trio of individual sausages, a rare treat indeed. But what really warmed my cockles was the mash and the gravy. Let's start with the mash as me and Dad both had it. At first it struck me as having an unusual texture. Not unpleasant at all, just different, slightly elastic as though it may have been finished off with a blender of some kind. Regardless of texture, the mash was delicious. It was buttery, well seasoned and smothered in my case with the most wonderful vegetarian gravy. On past occasions when I've had vegetarian gravy, it can be a bit limp, a bit lacking in intensity, but not this one, quite the opposite in fact. It was thick and full of deep gravy goodness, crying out to be shovelled down with a fork full of mash. Dad's pork was also delicious, capped off beautifully by the apple gravy. He agreed with me on the mash front, but whatever they do to it,we approve. I would also like to point out the high quality of the humble onion rings. They were chunky, and obviously homemade. They were crisp and tasty without the greasy finish that so many homemade onion rings suffer from.

We exited The White Horse stuffed and satisfied, content with our evenings work. The interior could do with a simple facelift, but there's nothing wrong with the food here. You are without doubt spoilt for choice when it comes to eating in the Milford area, but you could certainly do a lot worse than giving The White Horse a try. Where else can you get three types of vegetarian sausage?

Atmosphere          8
Service                 8
Food                    9
Value                   8
Verdict                 4*

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Monday, 10 October 2016

THE ROYAL OAK - Christchurch Road, Limington





On Friday evening, me and Dad ploughed our way through The New Forest and found ourselves in need of sustenance. I've been to The Royal Oak for a drink before, but never food, but after friends had recently recommended that I eat there, we decided to take the plunge.
The pub can be found in a place called Downton, and to the best of my knowledge there is no abbey. It's near Limington, New Milton and Milford on sea. Unlike many old pubs, parking here will never be a problem, with a vast expanse set aside for your four wheeled friend. It is clear that a lot of effort has been made in the outdoor department, with plenty of seats and a children's play area. Upon entering you are left in no doubt that this is a traditional old pub, it's also quite winding. By this I mean that this is not an open plan pub, and you certainly couldn't walk in a straight line from one end to the other. This is by no means a bad thing, the various nooks and crannies lending character and an element of privacy if so desired.

We sat ourselves down with a pint and explored our options. We were pleased to see that the prices were just where they should be, around the £10 mark. I had no choice but to go for their signature beer can chicken. I'd heard of this before, the beer and indeed the can used in the cooking process, keeping the chicken moist. I chose to have this with mash and vegetables. Dad opted for the beef casserole which was served with new potatoes. After getting our order in, we chatted and absorbed the atmosphere. The pub was fairly busy, many of the customers seeming to be locals. This surprised me slightly, I had expected it to be full of holiday makers, given the pubs proximity to the holiday park.

The food arrived in good time and was indeed a welcome sight for two hungry travellers. I had chosen the mash, as it stated on the menu that it was homemade, leading me to assume that the chips weren't. The mash was indeed homemade, and more than that, was very tasty. The chicken was also very nice, with a rare crispy skin, although it was a little dry in places, minus one to the beer can. It is also important to note that the vegetables were cooked very well, no soft overcooked vegetables here. I was also blessed with my own little jug of gravy to pour as I saw fit. I think it's fair to say that Dad's meal didn't quite hit the heights. Although the casserole itself was nice enough, there wasn't much in the way of beef, and the portion size as a whole wasn't much to write home about. I know we always say that an average pub meal should be about £10, and this was, but even that felt a bit like pushing the boundaries. I'm sure intelligent readers such as yourselves can work out roughly what a handful of casseroled vegetables, a minimal scattering of beef and a few new potatoes would cost.

Overall we enjoyed our time at The Royal Oak. It's clear that they are trying to do real food here, and they aren't doing a bad job, maybe just a little work on portion control required. As always, the big question is...Would we go back?  It depends. If we were staying in the nearby holiday park and wanted to eat at a pub in walking distance? Yes, without doubt. If someone had booked a table there and invited me to go with them? Yes, no problem. I am also quite interested in their Sunday carvery. The only thing is, competition for foodie pubs around The New Forest is fierce, and if I had my choice of any pub in the area, probably not.That's the issue, as it will be for most pubs in such places. If you end up in Downton, in need of sustenance, visit The Royal Oak, we're sure you won't be disappointed.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 6
Food                    8
Value                   7.5
Verdict                 3.5*

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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

THE SQUARE BREWERY - The Square, Petersfield





This week we thought we'd try somewhere new, somewhere that in our mind, didn't have a reputation for good food. Not to say it had a reputation for bad food, more that we hadn't really heard much about the pub in foodie terms. I I was alerted to its potential a few months back when on a night out in Petersfield. The pub has been refurbished since I'd last been there and felt almost unrecognisable from its previous incarnation. There was also a convenient blackboard advertising a glimpse in to the food on offer, and it sounded pretty good. Through our years of experience, you can get a good idea of what the food will be like from how the menu is written, and this one caught my interest. So we set off for pub territories uncharted, hoping to uncover a hidden treasure.

We remembered the pub as more of a locals watering hole, that's not meant in a derogatory fashion. Now a days, The Square Brewery strikes you more as a contemporary, well run foodie pub, whilst still maintaining the rustic edge of the classic British pub. The first thing we noticed, was the ticking of all the basic pub essentials boxes. The welcome was warm, the pub was a good temperature, the menu read well and the right sort of music was playing at the right sort of level, a good start indeed.

As we examined the menus, it became refreshingly clear that the prices were bang on the money. The average meal setting you back around £10, a perfect antidote to the numerous gastro pubs pushing the boundaries of reason. Dad went for the ham, egg and chips, that's one of his favourites, it's also one of those classic dishes that gives you a solid gage of the quality on offer. I ended up choosing the spinach falafel burger. Our order was taken at the table, always a nice touch. As we talked and drank, our appreciation of the pub grew. It is a good place to be, locking you in a bubble of warmth, safety and security, as should be the want of any good pub.



Our exploration of the menu had heightened our expectations, and when the food was placed on the table, our faith was vindicated. The burger was delicious, as was Dad's ham, real, good quality ham, but what we hadn't been prepared for, and bear with me here, was the standard of the chips. My species of chip was of the skinny fry family, and after one mouthful it was obvious that these were homemade and of a very high stand indeed. As I tried to contain my childish excitement at getting some decent chips for a change, Dad passed me one of his chips. These were of the chunky persuasion, but blow me down with a potato if they weren't as good, or possibly even slightly better than mine. We did later confirm that said chips were in fact made in house. We think, that being the case, this should be shouted from the roof tops. Chips may not be a culinary masterpiece, but good chips can transform your meal. Imagine you order fish and chips. Half your plate is filled with chips. If those chips are limp, pale and tasteless, that makes half your plate pointless. There are so few pubs turning out real, quality chips, we feel it important to credit those who make the effort, and we want them to know it is worth that effort and appreciated.

When it comes to eating in Petersfield, you have plenty of options. But if you haven't yet tried The Square Brewery, we recommend that you give it a go. You might even find us in the corner getting over excited about our chips.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 8
Food                    8
Value                   9
Verdict                 4*

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