Friday, 25 March 2016

THE BERKELEY ARMS - Delling lane, Bosham

Today, fait steered us to the village of Bosham, and more precisely, to The Berkeley Arms. Not far from the harbour, this would be an ideal location to grab some food after a leisurely walk, admiring our green and pleasant land.

The pub is a listed building, so as you'd expect, it is blessed with the good looks which can only be found in a real old English pub. The flint walls however belie the more contemporary interior. There's also plenty of room to eat outside, and due to the brief day of sunshine we were afforded, we decided to take that option. The menu sounded good, with your usual lighter options alongside the pub classics, not to mention a good smattering of fresh seafood. Refreshingly, the prices were as they should be, averaging just over £10. Some meals were a few pounds more, but you could see why, it all made sense. Some menus just frustrate and confound us, but thankfully this wasn't one of them.

The menu may have been good but it was the specials board which grabbed my attention. As soon as I found out that a chicken, broccoli and stilton pie was on offer, I was in love, and my heart was not for turning. The pie came with new potatoes and vegetables and cost a very reasonable £10. Dad opted for the ham, egg and chips, which came in at an equally reasonable £9.

The food was delivered incredibly quickly. This is normally a bad sign, but one look at the plates told a story with a very happy ending. It was obvious that my pie was spectacularly homemade, I mean this in the nicest possible way. Dad's ham was proper ham of a high quality and was accompanied by two eggs no less. I started with a bit of new potato, always a good indicator of the standard of food. It was very good, and the way I see it, if you can make a simple potato taste good, you can probably do the rest well. I need a moment to talk about my pie. I feel it should really have a review all of its own. A real pie, surrounded on all sides by homemade pastry and filled with the most delicious filling. We have come across several, "Award winning pies", in our time, very few of them living up to their own hype, well let me tell you readers, this may have been the best pie I've ever had, and for that reason, we would like to give out our first ever award, a real award that really means something. The GastroHub award for best pie goes to The Berkeley Arms.

We were both delighted with our trip to Bosham. Top quality food at a good price, in a lovely pub and served by friendly people who believe in what they are doing, plus a bit of welcome sunshine. We always measure our experience with one simple question. Would we go back? In this case the answer is an emphatic yes, and we have no problem recommending it to our lovely readers.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 9
Food                    10
Value                   9
Verdict                 5*

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Friday, 18 March 2016

THE RED LION - High Street, Southwick

After last week's trip to Southwick to sample The Golden Lion, it seemed like the right thing to do to return and pay a visit to The Red Lion, thus completing our Southwick scouting. I was once again joined by my brother Tom, with Dad expected back next week.

This is just the sort of pub you'd expect to find when you travel out to the sticks. There's lots of wood and history, but dare I say it feels a bit tired? We ordered drinks and made for the quieter end of the pub, all the better to discuss our thoughts. The menu is a good size, not in the literal sense of course, and is supplemented by a few dishes on a specials board. Our first thoughts were that the menu was a little uninspiring. Very little jumped out and begged us to eat it. When some of the prices were revealed I felt myself withdrawing in to my shell like a confused snail, wanting to eat the leaf, but finding it hard to comprehend the price of said leaf. For example, chicken breast with leeks and new potatoes in a cream sauce, £13.95. There was also a duck breast on offer for nearly £16, as well as a vegetable casserole with halloumi and a cheese soufflĂ©, both coming in around £12 - £13. There was though the curious anomaly of the sausage and mash which was priced in the Goldilocks zone at just over £10. Starters were on average £6, whilst sandwiches were between £6 and £7.

I did briefly think, to hell and damnation with the cost, I want to see what the food is like, but to be honest, nothing really tickled me. Not to be outdone, I regrouped and came at it from another angle. Perhaps I could order two starters, I liked the sound of that, but then that worked out at £12 too. Perhaps a starter with some chips then? I'm always interested to see how good peoples chips are. We then discovered that a side of chips is "£3.50, I just couldn't do it. My final attempt to find some value was a starter of chicken liver pate with a side of crusty bread, two things I like very much. This came in at £8 while Tom's ploughman's was about the same.

The food took about as long as you'd expect it to take to rustle up two meals that don't need cooking, and they were placed before us by a very friendly waitress. At first glance everything looked Rosie. I had a whole jar of pate all to myself, making me glad I had ordered the crusty bread too. I also had a small dish of delicious chutney and two slices of toasted brioche. This is where I feel the need to make several points. Firstly I don't like brioche with pate, I prefer bread, or it's toasted cousin called, toast. Secondly, (Here comes another of my big bugbears), when pubs and restaurants sell pate, does no one think about the bread to pate ratio? As stated, I had a jar of pate and two small slices of brioche. If I'd stacked the pate on two inches thick, it still wouldn't have touched the sides. I slathered that pate as though my life depended on it, getting through the brioche and the small baguette I had ordered separately and still didn't quite get through it all. Speaking of the crusty bread I ordered, something wasn't quite right there. The outside was of an odd and inconsistent texture. The whole thing was very hot, yet some parts were soft and leathery, I did wonder if a microwave may have been involved. I also thought the pate itself was a bit bland.

Tom's ploughman's was as a ploughman's should be. It featured pickled onion, ham, cheese, chutney and the same curious bread as I had been blessed with.

To be honest the whole experience confused me slightly. My continued bamboozlement at incomprehensible pricing sends my mind in to a spin. This is a nice enough pub, and the people seem very nice indeed. The menu sounds okay without getting you excited, and the food that I had probably didn't show them in the best light. Our advice would be, go and try it out for yourself, go for the sausage and mash, it's priced just right.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    6
Value                   5
Verdict                 3*

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Sunday, 13 March 2016

THE GOLDEN LION - High street, Southwick

Today my Dad was otherwise occupied, so his boots were filled by my able deputy, Tom, my brother. I wanted to take a closer look at the pubs in Southwick, so we decided to give The Golden Lion a go.

It's been a long time between visits for me, and the pub has since changed hands and has been making large strides towards the zenith of gastro pub excellence. Charming isn't a word I use very often, but it seems perfectly apt in this case. It's a lovely pub. Certainly not the biggest, but it has the feel of a proper old country pub about it. There's a cosy little garden area out the back, and the layout of the pub stops it feeling crowded.

We were greeted warmly, and the menus were brought to our table. We were informed of the soup of the day and told that someone would come to the table to take our order, I like that, makes you feel a little bit special. First of all, regarding the menu, I want to emphasise how well it read. You could see the care and attention to detail, from the cider battered fish and the selection of Winter casseroles, to the four different options of bread on offer when choosing a baguette. Almost everything is homemade and of a high quality, with sparks of imagination throughout. All things considered, I was already thinking five stars before I'd even eaten anything, then the prices revealed themselves. At the risk of repeating myself from previous reviews, I don't mind paying a bit extra when it is justified, i.e. a dish requires time, skill or expensive ingredients, but sometimes there simply is no justification. The standard price for a meal here will set you back £13.95. That includes such relatively simple fodder as fish and chips, sausage and mash and pie. You can get yourself a burger for £12.95, or if you're feeling flush, you can order off the grill menu for £16.95. Now I will pay over the odds occasionally, but I couldn't help thinking this was taking things a pound or two too far. I decided to make a stand, to rage against the machine. I ordered a baguette. These came with homemade coleslaw and a scattering of crisps, and at a reasonable £6.95, seemed the right thing to do. My brother did likewise as we struggled to come to terms with the pricing. As he wisely stated, "We were backed in to a baguette corner."

I chose chicken and brie in an onion baguette, Tom went for sausage and onion on an equally onion based bread. The food took precisely the amount of time it should take to prepare a few baguettes and we promptly tucked in. The bread was good, the fillings were good and the coleslaw was good, although there wasn't much of it. As we ate and I sat facing Tom's sausage baguette, a thought struck me. There were two sausages in his bread, and I'd wager they are the exact same sausages you get when ordering sausage and mash. If you were to argue that a baguette could be replaced by mashed potato, and coleslaw and crisps swapped for gravy, how can you explain the £7 difference in price between a sausage baguette and a plate of sausage and mash? Just a thought.

In summary, this is a wonderful pub in a beautiful little village, serving excellent food, and I so wanted to award the maximum five stars, but I just can't do it. The prices have just been pushed beyond breaking point. How good and expensive can a sausage or a piece of fish be? You could do a lot worse than The Golden Lion, so don't be put off by the prices, just be aware of them.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 8
Food                    8
Value                   6
Verdict                 4*

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Saturday, 5 March 2016

THE OLD DRUM - 16 Chapel street, Petersfield

This week we headed in to Petersfield to try out The Old Drum. They pride themselves on using local, fresh ingredients, which is always a good start, so we were of course curious to see how it was working out.

It's a lovely looking pub, with a beautiful fireplace and a wood burning stove. Although this is the oldest pub in the area, built in the 18th century, it has managed to fuse the class of a contemporary gastro pub with the rustic qualities it was first blessed with.

Despite the fires doing their best to warm the pub, it wasn't quite what you'd call warm inside, not to say it was cold, but a few more degrees would have been welcome. Still, we were greeted warmly enough and given menu's to take to our chosen table. As we sat down, it became apparent that one of our pub bugbears was making its presents felt. There was no music, despite the high quality speakers which silently mocked us from their wall mounts. Sometimes you can get away with no music if there is a rich atmosphere, but as we had arrived early, there weren't many other people in site. We struggle to understand why you wouldn't think it a good idea to put some nice music on if you were the purveyor of food and drink, surely it would be one of the first things you would think of. Well from our experience this isn't the case.

Let's get to the menu. Prices on the lunch menu range from £7 to around £13, from a sandwich to a fuller meal such as fish and chips, this is excluding the steak which I believe came in at £28. We couldn't help feeling that the menu was aimed at the upper etalons of society, with your pub classics conspicuous by their absence, with the already mentioned exception of fish and chips, which incidentally cost £13. To clarify, we actually thought the menu would have read beautifully with a few additions. It felt as though the menu was written by someone who has assumed that no one is going to want to eat too much at lunch time, I know that makes us sound fat, but we think you need a few more substantial options.

Seeing as I was actually very hungry having forgone breakfast, I went for what I considered the only proper meal on offer, which was fish and chips. The title doesn't really do justice to the reality of said meal. It was fresh fish of the day cooked either in breadcrumbs or as nature intended. Today's choice was refreshingly, plase or gurnard. Since gurnard is something you don't see too often in a pub, I felt it my duty to make that my choice. Even though Dad had also gone without breakfast, he went for a more reserved choice of a chicken BLT, which did come with chips, making it more of a meal than I'd first anticipated.

The food wasn't long in coming and we tucked in eagerly. You could tell at a glance that the chips were well and truly homemade, with the skin left on the potato. We wholeheartedly commend any pub which makes their own chips, but if we were being super critical, they could have been crisper. My fish was beautiful and perfectly cooked, the homemade tartar sauce delicious and the crushed peas made a tasty contribution to my five a day. Altogether a fine example of a plate of fish and chips. Dad's open sandwich was very nice, although we were a little disappointed with the bread. The menu had mentioned homemade bread, and in a pub of such rustic charm we had expected crusty doorsteps. Dad said he would be surprised if the bread holding his sandwich was homemade.

It is important to note that we are striving for perfection, so it is our job to point out where improvements can be made. Although the pub could have been warmer, the chips crisper, and without doubt there should have been some music playing, this is a very good pub. They are to be applauded for doing the right thing by saucing fresh produce and doing their best to present homemade high quality food. They are frustratingly close to a five star pub, but they aren't quite there yet.

Atmosphere          6
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   7
Verdict                 4*

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