This week, it was another trip to the golden slice of pub paradise, on the outskirts of Chichester. Today's subject would be The Unicorn Inn, a pub which we had tried and failed to review on several occasions. This time we weren't to be stopped, and here is the resultant ramblings.
As we stepped inside, first impressions were good. It was warm, light, pleasant music could be heard, and the smell of a log fire made for a wonderful start to our latest pub adventure. We took drinks and menus to a table bathed in the Autumn sun and investigated the options. Let's get one thing in early. This is a pub aiming for the higher end of gastropubdom, as is the case with many of their fellow country pubs in particular. But this is the true test. If you are going to charge above average, you need to deliver, otherwise you end up taking the, you know what. Starters here range from £5.50 for soup, to £8 for a prawn and avocado salad. The mains started with a few fishy offerings, starting with the ultimate pub classic, fish and chips, (£13), skate wings, (£14.50), and something you don't see too often, a John Dory sea food stew, (£16). Another classic, cottage pie, came in at £13.50. These pub classics are a useful gage to measure standards and prices from one pub to another. A standard meal in a standard pub will set you back around £10, so if you're going to turn the dial up to £13, the customer needs to see where that extra £3 is going.
Dad decided to go for the whole roast partridge with game gravy, served with game chips and bread sauce, (£16). I chose warming Autumnal meal, chicken and dumplings with mash, (£13.50. It seems that most pubs will decide on a basement price for their mains, stubbornly refusing to fall below that chosen price, in this case £13. We will pay that for fish and chips if it is a step up from your average fish and chips, featuring a beautiful piece of fresh fish. We aren't quite so sure if a cottage pie can be lifted to the point where it becomes worth a similar price. But the one that we really aren't sure about, is macaroni cheese with bacon, salad and garlic bread. We both know how to cook, and we both know how much ingredients cost, and we would honestly struggle to pay £13 for that. This is not just a dig at The Unicorn, but at many gastro pubs. Price your food on its individual make up.
As we waited for our food, it also became clear that the pub fundamentals that we had so quickly ticked off upon entry, weren't holding firm throughout the pub. Our chosen seat was in a branch section off the main bar, and we soon realised that music didn't live here. This brought home the uncomfortable nature of sitting in a quiet room with people you've never met, each painfully aware that every word can be heard by everyone. Extra speakers would be our suggestion.
When the food arrived, it smelt good and looked as we'd expected. We were soon struck by something on Dad's plate though, two something's in fact. When the menu said "Game chips", we were thinking of a homemade vegetable crisp type affair, but they seemed to be crisps, as in a cold crisp from a packet of crisps. Perhaps we are simply a bit naive when it comes to game chips. The second thing, was that the bird was served on top of a slice of fried bread. Not that there's anything wrong with fried bread, it just struck us as odd. That aside, the partridge was cooked well and the game gravy was delicious. My meal brought us back to some of my earlier points. The chicken was very nice, clearly casseroled, and the dumplings were nice, although my personal preference is for a crunchy top dumpling, and in the words of John Torode, the mash was a twist of seasoning away from being just right. But our main issue here, was that if I had got my meal in an average pub, and paid £10 for it, I would have been content, but when the stakes and the prices are raised, you expect more. You are less likely to forgive any short comings, you want value for that extra outlay. There wasn't a lot fundamentally wrong with our food, neither did it blow us away. We would say it was good solid pub food which belongs in a good solid pub, where it is served at a realistic price.
Our experience may not have lived up to our initial hopes, but we still enjoyed our lunch. This is a nice pub, and the food is pretty good. We can only proffer our thoughts, whilst accepting that others might disagree. If you've had any experience here, feel free to tell us about it in the comments section below.