Droxford is a 10-minute drive from Wickham going north. Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, its now closed railway station was the meeting point for Eisenhower, Churchill and De Gaulle for the D-Day invasion tactics. A bench commemorates it.
Within walking distance of the bench is The Bakers Arms. It’s an old, small, casual venue. Owners Adam and Anna Cordery highlight its many assets with tact and simplicity.
Wood and stone flooring, and off-black tongue and groove slatting, offset a wood-burning fireplace. There were shelves with books and the occasional period knickknack, a deer’s antlered head took centre place.
It was all very charming and relaxing – and there’s no muzak to irritate, a huge plus. Papers and magazines were plentiful.
Chef Richard Harrison has gone down the local, seasonal route. The menu was a pleasure to scrutinise.
Here, there was spiced Hyden Farm lamb salad with mint yoghurt dressing; pigeon and bacon salad and walnut dressing; ricotta and blue cheese field mushrooms with pickled beetroot or maybe a squash and chestnut soup. Started from £6.
Mains, mostly around £15.95, included slow roast pork belly with puy lentils and cider sauce; chicken, vegetable and red wine hotpot, bubble and squeak and gravy; courgette, goat’s cheese and pine nut parcel; whole dressed crab with Hollandaise and skinny chips and the ubiquitous Hampshire pork sausage, mash and gravy.
Game included a Hampshire game hotpot, pot roasted pheasant and roast crown of partridge, the bird’s leg in a pie and redcurrant sauce. The latter was my choice.
Beautifully presented on a stylish square plate, the young partridge crown’s mild meat was excellently roasted. A moreish little pastry dish revealed juicy chunks of leg in a redcurrant gravy. Small garnishes included a chunky celeriac mash; chunky carrots; romanesco cauliflower; an over-spiced red cabbage in cider and superfluous, zilch-flavoured strips of yellow courgettes.
The very reasonably priced wine list had terrific choices. A French Grenache syrah Château Guiot (£5.75) showed a fine nose for quality.
Three dessert wines, equally sensibly priced, added panache to all desserts: pear and almond tart; sticky toffee pudding and Droxford blackberry and apply crumble with clotted cream (£5.50).
This is where the kitchen let itself down by too much sugar and not a clever choice of apple – a mush instead of sharp layers of crunchy apple to help offset the over-sweetness.
I should have gone for the varieties of local and regional cheeses, which included the superlative Tunworth, or a starter, the chef’s robust savoury prowess shown in the main course. However, I bet those with a sweet tooth will relish this dessert.
One of the chosen top 50 gastro pubs in 2010, and in the AA and other major guides, I would not hesitate to return.
Its pricing was highly realistic, ensuring it doesn’t push out those who wish to experience quality food cooked with assurance and flair. The service was equally delightful, helpful and welcoming.
It was just so darned relaxing too, all of which points to a pub of merit. My bill came to £27.20, not including a tip.
The Bakers Arms, High Street, Droxford, SO32 3PA, (01489) 877533. Open 11.45am–3pm and 6–11pm Mon-Sat. Sun 12–4pm.
Disabled access: Narrow entrance for wheelchair users, but good space inside.
How to get there: Take the A32 from the M27 going north, past Wickham. The pub is on the right in the middle of the village. Generous car park.
Ratings (maximum *****)