DISH DETECTIVE: Woman’s naked torso and sex on a plate

The Blacksmiths, Donnington, near Chichester

It was about 7pm, mid-September. The evening air was heavy, sticky like proving dough.

I felt a bead of sweat trickle down the nape of my neck as I gently pushed open the door marked Gents.

The headless woman's torso in the gents.

I was everything the well-dressed private detective should be, apart from the ubiquitous grubby mac. I used its sleeve to open the door. No point in leaving my prints too.

The anonymous caller wasn’t wrong. For there it was, the headless torso of a woman. Naked. Her left breast, on closer examination, disfigured.

I sighed. Yeah, it was just another night in downtown Donnington...

‘Donni-where?’ I hear you cry. With apologies to Raymond Chandler the Dish Detective has made an extraordinary discovery at The Blacksmiths in this old village just south of Chichester.

It was the slaw which grabbed the headlines – simply sex on a plate

Indeed, surveying the urinals is the body of a nude woman minus head – a life-sized sculpture made entirely of washers.

Apparently, visitors to this room can’t resist the lure of that left breast, caressing it for luck. Hence the signs of wear. Naturally, your reporter made his excuses and left.

This piece of art is just one of the outstanding features at this attractive roadside pub close to the remains of the navigable stretch of the Portsmouth-Arundel canal.

In the bar were a family of four from Gosport who had enjoyed the appetite-building 90-minute stroll along the towpath from the canal basin in Chichester. It would be dark by the time they hiked back, but they were regulars.

Venison and oxtail ragout, rigatoni, smoked tomato, dripping-fried breadcrumbs- �15.50.

It was the food they were after and it’s the food which is giving this pub a growing reputation, alongside its unusual garden with magnificent views across the south-west Sussex countryside, cleverly-protected outdoor seating, fire pits and their own herb and salad garden. There are chickens too which supply all the pub’s eggs.

But whether you arrive by boot, bike or boat (there’s a sizeable car park too) it’s likely to be The Blacksmiths’ menu in which you are most interested.

This is not one of your stratospherically-priced gastro pubs, but the food is excellent, the service attentive but not in-your-face, and the beer local – Langham’s Halfway to Heaven when I visited.

And so to the food. Always keen to experiment I went for a bit of a mouthful, naturally.

Ready? To start: roasted marrowbone, stuffed with slow-cooked barbecue beef brisket, kale, beetroot and blue cheese slaw.

Main: slow-cooked shin of venison and oxtail ragout, rigatoni, smoked tomato, dripping-fried breadcrumbs.

To be honest I thought I’d gone over the top with the starter. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The brisket melted in the mouth, the kale was cooked to perfection (plenty of bite), but it was the slaw which grabbed the headlines – simply sex on a plate. Myriad flavours but none overpowering any of the others.

The main? Obsessed with meat, especially venison at this time of year, my eye had skipped the word ‘rigatoni’ when choosing. So I was a tad deflated when pasta arrived. It had the potential of being a sloppy mess. But one forkful shattered my scepticism.

The blending of venison and oxtail worked perfectly while the al dente pasta added meat to the, well, meat.

Prices? £7.95 for the starter and £15.50 for the main. I’ve been charged an awfullot more for dishes not half as tasty and filling as these.

So, case closed. The Blacksmiths is a hidden treasure well worth investigating.

And for the women? I’m told there’s an equally enthralling sculpture in the Ladies.

Use your imagination for its well-worn body part...

THE BLACKSMITHS, DONNINGTON (TEL: 01243 785578)

RATINGS (out of five)

Food: 5

Value: 4

Ambience: 4

Child-friendly: 2

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