The Dish Detective is a big fan of the Meon Valley. Rolling, lush countryside. The fact that the South Downs National Park means it is unspoilt, and in places sparsely populated. The fact it’s one of this area’s hidden gems – a 20-minute drive from north Portsmouth.
And the fact that the area has so many ace pubs that it almost feels unfair.
The Dish Detective is a not a stranger to these parts – we have enjoyed greatly the Hampshire Bowman at Dundridge, and in a previous life paid visits to The Shoe at Exton (wonderful) and the Roebuck on the A32 (a much nicer pub than that description would suggestion), and never failed to be delighted. There is almost always the winning combination of good food, well-kept beer and a friendly welcome.
And so when we turned up to The Brickmakers at Swanmore, we had high expectations; it has a lot of rivals both nearby (Swanmore is not huge and yet has three pubs, the Rising Sun and the Hunters Inn being the others) and in the area (see above), so how would it fare?
The answer is... it’s the kind of pub you wish was your local. It does everything, and does it well.
Now, the Dish Detective is not a snobby person. We have drunk in the roughest pubs Fratton and Portsea has to offer. For years our local was a pub that ‘did’ food – but ‘did’ meant it would sell a cheese roll to some favoured regulars on selected days. And we liked that pub. A lot.
People are friendly, and not just those who are paid to be there
But stepping into The Brickmakers is great. Firstly, people are friendly, and not just those who are paid to be there. There’s a good feeling at the bar – we had a chat with a regular nursing a Warsteiner lager and didn’t feel we’d crashed a private party.
Secondly, the staff were pleasant. We’re not asking to be every barman and barmaid’s best friend, but a smile goes a long way. Two-and-a-half minutes in, and so far so good.
Thirdly, they know how to keep an ale. Not only are there guest ales on the taps, but they have a ‘coming soon’ mini-blackboard detailing which beers are resting in the cellar. When we were there, we enjoyed a lovely pint of Hole Hearted – our first taste of the beer since production started up again after Gosport’s Oakleaf brewery was rescued and transformed into Fallen Acorn. Thankfully, Hole Hearted hasn’t changed – we can testify that it still makes you want to sit in a corner and drink it all night.
And The Brickmakers also does well with food. It won’t necessarily win any awards, but that’s not an insult. It offers top-notch fare; it’s not the cheapest you’ll find, and it’s not innovative cooking, but equally it’s well-prepared, quality meals. It’s the kind of thing that’s worth being a treat once in a while.
The Dish Detective is a firm believer that you can get the measure of a pub by its burgers (The Dish Detective is also a big fan of eating burgers). Here, the gourmet steak burger (£13.50) comes with a good range of pickles and coleslaw and suchlike, plus a healthy (OK, unhealthy) pile of chips, but most importantly tastes of quality mince, with a nice herby and spicy note to it. You can tell it’s been hand-made, too – it’s pleasingly knobbly and uneven.
There’s also the pie of the day (£13.50) – chicken on our day – which was demolished by our dining partner. She said it was great – a nice soft mash, and a hefty pie; proper filling pub food.
Elsewhere on the menu there’s pan-fried hake (£13), sticky barbecue ribs (£11), a 28-day aged Hampshire ribeye steak (£21) and pork belly (£17). There’s also a specials board, which when we visited had a wild mushroom risotto and fettucine chicken alfredo with fresh pesto, peppers and mushrooms (both were £13).
So in short, a great pub. Drink, eat and enjoy. And without wanting to suggest this has been a long run-up to a punchline, The Brickmakers is the kind of place that shows there’s mortar life (sorry).
(Ratings out of five)