The Hurdles, an imposing Victorian pub, is perched on an incline on the edge of the Meon Valley village of Droxford.
The remodelled historic Victorian building, under new management, has kept the same décor but not the type normally found in a village pub - it’s more city bright lights than cosy.
Black chandeliers, black striped faux velvet chairs, black tables and gold and black William Morris wallpaper give it the air of a boutique night club. Only the lovely floorboards and coal fires from another era give it a more pub appeal.
Evidently, whoever previously was responsible for the décor laid their own misplaced preferences with a large trowel.
That aside, the service is superior in all ways to the usual pub: professional yet relaxed, friendly and darned efficient. Splendid.
As is the menu. More adventurous for some but all dishes accessible. Starters include seared scallops with samphire, broad beans and shallot harissa toast; crispy oriental beef salad with honey, soy and ginger dressing and chick pea and feta fritters.
Move on to beef and ale pie, horseradish mash and braised red cabbage; duck breast, pancetta and thyme potato cake; plus fish dishes including battered fish and chips and mushy peas and a sirloin steak. Prices? From £4.50 to £18.50 for the steak, most mains around £11 or £12 including several vegetarian options.
Eat outside under a canopy or in one of four rooms surrounding the bar. My choice was the main dining area with fireplace.
Duck salad with oriental flavours including marinated ginger was first up, the delicate leaves fresh and perky with a topknot of the ginger. The duck was crispy and cooked with the addition of garlic and soya, hidden under the leaves.
This turned out to be one of the best salads by far in my recent salad memory – a sassy, spicy yet subtle starter which I would return for alone.
Sea bass on crushed potatoes and samphire with a buttery sauce with caperberries was equally moreish, bar the lack of crispy skin and far too many potatoes. The slightly crunchy still-verdant samphire (this can go a muddy colour) also demonstrated well-judged cooking.
Desserts are equally ‘real’ food, ie, made from scratch on the premises. At last, a chef who doesn’t run out of steam or interest after the main course. No, carry on to the end with your culinary prowess and don’t buy in.
Here the kitchen offers maybe a banana and walnut sponge with toffee sauce, almond and strawberry bakewell tart, strawberry cream or profiteroles with a chocolate sauce (my choice). Just a slight warming of excellent little choux pastry buns would have lifted this fine dessert into another category. The sauce was one of perfection.
A glass of Gewurtztraminer from Chile was a welcome change from the ubiquitous wine lists which mostly don’t stray beyond pinot grigio, merlot and other usual ones.
The Hurdles’s décor may not suit all, but what it achieves in service and quality food is what makes this pub an easy hurdle to jump. My bill came to just under £20 (three courses from a set menu plus a glass of wine at lunchtime or from 6pm-7pm, but a little more later in the evening).
The Hurdles, Station Road, Droxford, SO32 3QT 01489 877451.
Open 11am – 11pm Mon-Sat and 12pm – 9pm Sun.
FOOD Four stars (out of Five)
SERVICE Five stars (out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE Three stars (out of Five)
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: From the M27, follow the A32 to Wickham, carrying on to Droxford. The pub is out of the village to the north on the right, on an incline.