Simon Haynes, chef-proprietor of The Sussex Brewery, took over the Young’s Brewery pub last year, the food previously decidedly disappointing.
Can the past head chef of one of the far better Sussex pubs – The Crab & Lobster at Sidlesham – lift the standards while maintaining the quintessential pubbiness of this delightful old-fashioned, traditional pub?
The sawdust went a while ago in the bar but not the atmosphere. The log fire still draws visitors as well as the simple rusticity including a mix of seating, some old warped tables, a tiny snug and an unpretentious dining area at the back of the fine 1700s brick building with its flagstones and floorboards.
Today, the pub offers six pump beers including Tribute and Bombardier and an interesting wine list, complementing the classic pub grub with an upmarket edge.
Those in search of more refined cuisine and those wishing to plump for solid grub will find choices to satisfy.
There’s a bucket of whitebait with home-made tartare sauce; sausage meat and black pudding Scotch egg; seared scallops with pea purée and pancetta and ale braised pork ribs.
Salads include grilled halloumi with roasted peppers, aubergine and artichoke or caramelised shallots and goat’s cheese tart with salad.
Prior to Simon’s arrival, the pub was known as the sausage pub with no less than 40 or 50 types, but Simon has managed to narrow it down to five or six varieties including wild boar. Order a platter of six types with a whole stash of other ingredients including mash and onions, £21 for two.
There’s also ale-battered cod and chips, calves’ liver, macaroni cheese with tomatoes and herby breadcrumbs and goat’s cheese and twice-cooked pork belly with bubble and squeak.
Prices run from £5.50 to £19 for an aged Scotch ribeye with all the trimmings. Most mains are about £10 to £12.
Service, by one of the young men with a great, sociable beagle in tow, was impressive; knowledgeable, swift, smart and friendly.
I sat at a tiny table between the bar and snug with an excellent, hoppy half-pint of Tribute and a vast plateful of faggots with braised onions, mash and gravy.
My, the kitchen can turn out a fine faggot: three densely meaty ones sat between three luscious mounds of perfect, creamy, well-seasoned mash. The braised onions were OK and the gravy was fine. The good, black pepper content in the faggots might put off some but not this freshly-ground pepper-lover.
For dessert a crème brûlée, served properly in a broad but shallow ovenproof dish, certainly topped the list of ones I’ve come across recently. Crunchy on top, meltingly creamy underneath, it demonstrated impressive skills and palate.
Sticky toffee pudding; chocolate fondant with whipped malted cream and five types of Sussex cheeses or Mooka ice cream were also on offer.
Without doubt, Simon and his team have raised the bar for Sussex Brewery food and service. Other pubs in Emsworth – eight of them – seem mostly rather humdrum in comparison.
This recent newcomer’s prowess as chef-proprietor is highly impressive. Sawdust or no sawdust – it gets my vote.
I spent £16.50 for two courses and a beer.
The Sussex Brewery, 36 Main Road, Hermitage, Emsworth PO10 8AU 01243 371533.
Food from 11am–2.30pm and 6pm–9.30pm. No food Sunday evenings.
Disabled access: Fine. Step up to dining area at back of the pub.
How to get there: A27, exit at Emsworth and drive towards Bosham. Pub on the right past the anchor roundabout going out of town.
Ratings (maximum *****)