Dorothy Hartley, whose mighty tome Food in England is based on decades of research on the nation’s stomach, was recently celebrated for her lifetime’s study of rural England by a BBC television programme, Food in England: The Lost World of Dorothy Hartley.
The George Inn, Finchdean, in the beautiful rolling hinterland beyond Rowlands Castle, might initially have got her pulse racing as she stepped inside to find farm implements familiar to her era.
The Punch-owned pub is untouched by makeover and possibly little changed for decades apart from a conservatory at the back.
She might have stood at the flickering fireplace dividing the drinking/casual dining area from the rather spartan restaurant and studied the menu with interest. She would have been pleased to spot steak and kidney pies and puddings; local sausages with mash; beer-battered haddock; lamb’s liver with bacon and all those Sunday roasts.
The George doesn’t rock the boat when it comes to choices. Those tried and tested dishes, such as Chinese and Italian, are now more familiar to us than the meals our country forebears ate. The menu also sports the likes of burgers, both bean and meat; homemade nut loaf; mixed vegetable suet pudding and steaks. Prices range from £4.50-£6.50 for starters and £7.95-£14.95 for mains.
The pub is very much a community one and a Mecca for golfers. Music is another forte here with many live events. The only music heard during my meal was Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
I sat in the bar part of the pub, a much cosier option to the restaurant and conservatory and the oldest part of the building.
Service is exceptional, with the charming young waitress a total credit to The George. Spot-on. She’ll go far, her communication skills highly impressive and natural.
She delivered salmon fishcakes with a butter mustard sauce and vegetables with care and professionalism, the copious fish and potato well-seasoned and well-cooked within. These mammoth cakes were some of the best this reviewer has come across, but impossible to finish despite my aspirations.
The sauce too was pleasingly creamy and grain mustardy. The separate vegetables, however, were a complete and utter letdown. I suspect Hartley would have thrown up her hands in horror at these tasteless, watery veg and wondered why baby corn should not have been allowed to grow to maturity for flavour. Carrots and cabbage deserve a better fate.
Desserts are of the rib-sticking kind, nothing light to follow these heavy starters and mains. Most of us don’t work in the fields any more to warrant dishes such as chocolate brownie; apple and caramel pancake stack; sticky toffee pudding; lemon meringue pie and bread and butter pudding. The latter, a huge brick-like slab, was far too hefty and dull, the slab topped with an unfathomable burnt piece of toast embedded into it.
The George is an extremely pleasant pub to while away an hour or two. But England’s food here is a hit-and-miss affair.
My bill came to just over £17 plus a small glass of okay Sauvignon, but not including a well-deserved tip.
The George Inn, Finchdean, PO8 0AU
(023) 92 41 2257.
Open for food 12pm–2 pm and 6pm–9pm Mon-Fri (12pm–9pm weekends).
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: Take the A3 M, exit at junction 2 for the B2149 to Cowplain and Horndean. Following the road to Finchdean and the village green, the pub is on the right just before the green. Large car park.