Sunday, 15 July 2018

THE WHITE HORSE - 44 North Walington, Fareham

It was a trip in to the unknown for me this week, having never knowingly entered the land of Walington. Our destination was The White Horse. Dad had provided the pre-visit Intel, so it was now down to us to move in and get the job done.

We found a beautifully convenient car park just over the road and over a small bridge from the pub, and even better, it was free. As we approached the building, I was met by that classic old pub sent of beer. This was in perfect harmony with the insides of the pub, complete with pool table and a friendly lady behind the bar. There are a few tables out the front of the pub, and that's where we decided to place ourselves. The first thing you need to know, is that the food is sold off at a bargain price, virtually everything coming in under £8. We didn't get too excited though. Regular readers will know that we've been burnt several times recently with promises of good and affordable food, I'm looking at you Green King.

There is plenty on the menu to keep most people happy, as long as you aren't looking for fine dining. Things are kept relatively simple on the menu, most meals served with a choice of chips or jackets. Quite a few of the meals are also available in small or larger sizes. I was drawn to the haddock and spring onion fishcakes. These were accompanied by chips and a side salad, and all for less than £8. Dad went for the most expensive thing on the menu, but that was £12 so we'll let him off. For that £12, you can choose from rump, ribeye or sirloin steak, each weighing in at 8 ounces. Whatever your choice, your steak will come with a whole host of friends, we shall come to that later.

Dad had plumped for the rump, and when it arrived, it seemed quite impressive that the friendly lady could hold it up with one hand. The steak was served up with a mountain of chips, a salad, tomato, mushrooms and onion rings. My fishcakes just came with chips and salad. I would like to begin if I may, with the salads. I was impressed, but there was also a twinge of sadness. The elements of the salad were fresh and streaks ahead of your average lazy side salad, comprising of nice leaves, baby tomatoes, onion, pepper and cucumber. The glaring miss for me, was the lack of a dressing. It would have elevated a selection of salad items in to an interesting and valued part of the meal. My two fishcakes were of a good size and tasted very nice in deed. The chips were of the steak cut variety, and rounded off the plate nicely. Unusually, I finished my meal before Dad, who was struggling to make an impact on his pile of food. Everything was fine and dandy on his plate other than the steak itself. He had asked for rare, but he declared it more medium. This in itself would have been no great hardship, but the steak was also a little tough.

Let's get back on the value horse. As I stated at the start, we have visited several pubs of late offering cheaper food and we have been burnt badly. We are happy to report that was not the case here. The value is unquestionable. A huge steak dinner for £12 and anything else under £8, that's a bargain all day long. This isn't a pub masquerading as a restaurant. This is a pub selling decent food at a value price. That's all well and good in principle, but they actually back it up with some pretty good food, even if it is lacking a splash of dressing on the salad. If you're passing through Fareham and you're after a bargain feed at a traditional English pub, pull up in the free car park, cross the small bridge and pull up a seat at The White Horse.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 8
Food                    7
Value                   10
Verdict                 4*

Saturday, 7 July 2018

THE HORSE & JOCKEY - Hipley, Hambledon

With an endless string of beautiful Summer days behind us, and hopefully ahead, we knew a pub garden was in order. With that in mind, we made the decision to head in to the countryside, and more precisely, the little known area of Hipley, for that dear readers is where the Horse & Jockey lives.

First things first. There is plenty of parking here, and ample garden seating. Before securing our spot outside, it was inside to procure drinks and foodie info. This is where it got a tad confusing. There are three menus, and, yes and, a specials board. Bare with me. There is a restaurant menu, a bar menu, and a garden menu, which is a shortened version of one of the other menu's. After questioning the friendly lady who poured our drinks, we found out that you can't order from the specials menu if you are sitting outside. This left me discombobulating. So many questions. Why is the bar menu different to the garden menu? Why is the bar menu different to the restaurant menu? Why can food from the specials board not be delivered outside? That's enough of that, otherwise I'll be here all day.

As we were definitely going to sit in the garden, we were limited to said garden menu. This being the case, I picked fish and chips and Dad went for steak pie. I had the choice of peas or salad. Peas obviously. I was a bit disappointed not to have the option of mushy peas. Dad had his own choice to make. Chips or mash. He chose mash.

We secured ourselves a lovely table in a separated part of the garden, just before the river crossing, AKA, the bridge. We bathed in the magic of a pub garden, and before long it was food time. Dad's pie was a first for us, not in a good or bad way. It was a slice of pie. That is, part of one big pie, rather than a self-contained, independent pie with its own government and currency. I can divulge that the pastry was good and the filling was very tasty, leading Dad to say that he would happily order said pie again. Not immediately after finishing the one he was eating though. I think he meant at a later date. The mash was good without inspiring poetry, and the peas were peas. My fish was good, the batter was crisp, the chips were fine, (not homemade), and again, my peas were peas. This brings me to the next point. If you are eating in the garden you collect your own cutlery and condiments by the door. This means that salt, ketchup, tartar sauce etc, all comes in those little sashays that you don't see so much nowadays.

Let's do some summarising. The service at the bar was good and friendly. The food didn't take long to appear. The menu situation seems unnecessarily overblown. Personally, I'm not keen on sashays when it comes to sauces. Generally speaking, when your food is delivered in a pub, whether it be inside or outside, you are asked if you would like any sauces. That didn't happen, nor were we asked if everything was okay? As I've said many, many times, homemade chips would make the world of difference. Our lunch also lead me to an epiphany of my own. If I had a pub, I would ban peas, other than mushy ones for fish and chips. It's not that I don't like peas, but they are a lazy offering. The easiest of vegetables to prepare and distribute. How much nicer would it be to be served up some braised cabbage, mashed Swede or cauliflower cheese?

Despite my grumblings, we had a lovely afternoon. It's a nice old country pub, with a lovely garden and some lovely, friendly staff. We do think the menu situation should be addressed, but that is only our opinion, and we live in a world of opinions, which we are all entitled to.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 6
Food                    7
Value                   7
Verdict                 3.5*

Sunday, 10 June 2018

THE ANGLESEY ARMS - Halnaker, Chichester

Desperate to squeeze all we can from the slice of pub paradise, we once again entered the outer reaches of Chichester. This time our target was The Anglesey Arms, a pub unknown to the both of us.

As if the pub Gods had decided to bless us this day, the sun emerged and shone its warming yellow magic on our chosen pub. This of course nudged us in to a full exploration of the pub garden. And what a pub garden it was. Let's get one thing out there straight away. We decided that this is probably the best pub garden we have visited thus far. There is ample seating scattered around the sizable and beautifully landscaped garden. There is a children's area and even a petanque set up, (French game, a bit like bowls). This made us wonder why more pubs don't have games, but that discussion is not for now.

This is a dog friendly pub, born out by the approach of the pub dog at the bar. He was wearing a neckerchief saying, "Please don't feed me", genius. The menu read well, and was augmented by a selection on the specials board. It was good to see a few dishes sporting local crab, both potted and otherwise. However, as is often our wont, we decided to test the classics. Sausage and mash for Dad, and fish and chips for me, both coming in at a very reasonable £12.50. It didn't take long for the food to arrive, but in the mean time we bathed in the wonder of a beautiful English pub garden kissed by some early June sun.

The sausages were produced by Mr O'Hagan, so you know they will be good. The mash was smooth, but could have used an extra twist of seasoning. The chips were pretty good, but the star of the show was a lovely peace of fish, of impressive size. A crunchy batter and tasty fish, that's all you want. The pub classics are very useful to scratch a benchmark, showing that basic principals are well understood and executed. Next time we visit, it would be interesting to sample something more elaborate.

This is a lovely pub with a good sized car park, and a brilliant garden. The main bar is great if you want a few drinks, and the restaurant area offers a separate space to sample the food. The service was just right, the menu was good, and the prices were where you would expect them to be. We are talking Goldilocks territory here. We had a wonderful time at The Anglesey Arms, and think that you will too, especially if you can get yourself a garden table when the sun makes an appearance.

Atmosphere 8.5
Service        8.5
Food           8
Value          8
Verdict        5*

Saturday, 2 June 2018

THE OLD CROSS - 65 North Street, Chichester

Today we decided to throw ourselves open to the whims of the pub gods. We headed in to Chichester and simply let fait shove us in the right direction. Turns out fait isn't very good at finding parking spaces. It was busy everywhere, making it a challenge to get around, and especially to park up. Lucky for this particular review, we did find a space in the end. Panic over.

After a ten minute stroll through the town centre, we came across The Old Cross. We were hungry, and it was busy, so in we went. At first glance it seemed like a nice enough pub. Clean, light and modern. But as we sat down with a drink to read the menu, a strong sense of déjà vu descended upon us. We had seen this all before somewhere, and not too long ago. Then it clicked that we were in a Green King pub, the second we have found ourselves in over the last month. We weren't too impressed with the last one, but since we were there, we bravely marched on.

As before, the menu is full of decent sounding options at very reasonable prices, but we have learnt through sometimes painful experience that these things are more often than not too good to be true. I picked out the sweet and sour pasta with chicken and garlic cibatta, while Dad had the belly pork with mash. Pretty much everything on the menu here comes in well under a tenor by the way. We were warned that due to high demand, there was a half hour wait, but in reality, we were waiting for half that time, so that's a well done.

Let's start with my pasta. It was cooked, and the sauce was quite nice, then dear readers, I'm afraid we are on a downwards hill until the bitter end. The chicken breast sitting atop my pasta still had its skin on. What's wrong with that? I hear you ask. I'll tell you what's wrong. Skin on chicken can be a wonderful thing, but it has to be cooked properly, leaving the skin crisp. I can't even pretend to figure out what they had done to my poor chicken breast, but the skin was an inedible lump of fat. My garlic cibatta was edible, but it was a touch on the limp side. On to Dad's belly pork, I think you can guess where we are going here. To be fair, the mash wasn't too bad, though I think it's safe to say it wasn't made in the pub. The carrots were undercooked and the peas, well, they were just peas. The infamous star of the show on Dad's plate was undoubtedly the pork itself. If I thought I had it bad with the fat on my chicken, it was nothing compared to the lumps of fat falling off the belly pork. It's actually making me feel slightly ill thinking about it. The whole sorry dish was surrounded by a wishy-washy gravy that I would be embarrassed to serve.

In hindsight I think we may have been a touch lenient on the last Green King pub we visited, but after enduring two visits to different pubs under the same banner, I shall be silent no longer. Our clear advice would be, don't even think about eating at a Green King pub. Don't be tempted in by the prices thinking that it can't be that bad. It can. That's not to say you couldn't drink there. Someone has designed a concept, but made no effort to see it followed through correctly. Either that, or the person in charge has no taste and no idea about food or hiring the staff who can do the job.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 5
Food                    3
Value                   4
Verdict                 2*

Friday, 25 May 2018

THE SHOE INN - Shoe lane, Exton

After several nudges from our readers, we were pushed inexorably in the direction of Exton this week to pay a visit to The Shoe Inn. We had tried to visit several times over the Winter, but both times found it full to bursting. This time I had the foresight to book a table, so nothing could stand in our way, although we did get a tiny bit lost on the way.

Due to the obvious popularity of this pub, parking can be a minor issue, but luck was with us and we secured what may have been the last space. This is a pretty pub, in the pretty countryside, with a pretty river running nearby, so if you like pretty, you're off to a good start. As I mentioned, it is always busy here, so do book. This is a prime argument for the power of diversification. What was once a traditional country pub, has now become more of a pub come restaurant, with the entirety of the space given over to accommodate eaters of food. This said, it still retains some of that old country pub charm. You are never going to get a table to yourself in a nice quiet corner, but we got the next best thing, a table in the corner without the quiet bit.

The menu was clearly of a high spec, with starters between £5 and £8 and mains averaging around the £14 mark. Whilst I debated with myself over the fish tacos, the onion, chickpea and coriander falafel or the Korean chicken burger with sweet potato fries, Dad had already made his mind up. He was to go with one of his favourites, ham, egg and chips at £10 from memory. I eventually picked the burger, having never really had much to do with Korean food. This came in at £13.

Our drinks order was taken at the table, nice bonus. We were then brought some homemade bread with a generous pot of butter, extra bonus points. We ordered food and lo it arrived. My burger was a monster. Bursting out from the confines of its bun, a feat of organic engineering was required to lift it to my mouth. For a moment I feared a collapse of burger society, but balance was found and the first bite was taken. It was good, very good. Inside the bread was a substantial peace of chicken, juicy in the middle and coated with crispy crumbs. This was topped with tomato and pineapple. After carefully placing the rest of the burger down, it was on to the sweet potato fries. They were also very good, and homemade, which is very rare for fries of the sweet potato family. Dad wasn't quite as impressed with his meal. It was good, but not of the same ilk as my choice. The chips were homemade , the side salad was nicely dressed and the ham and eggs were good.  Incidentally, the bread was excellent. I particularly appreciated being given a good amount of butter.

Just over the road from the pub, is a lovely beer garden. We retired here after eating to discuss. Some of the service we encountered was perfect, other parts slightly less so. My food was five star, Dad's more four. The prices are about what you would expect for high end pub food, and the bread is a nice touch. Personally I felt the tables were a little too close to each other, but that's a personal thing. This is without question a high quality foodie pub selling wonderful and imaginative food. I would love to come here in the Summer and eat in the beer garden with the sound of the river in my ears. It's certainly worth a visit, but do book ahead.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 7
Food                    8.5
Value                   8
Verdict                 4.5*