Set back from the main Winchester-Petersfield road, the Seven Stars exudes quality thanks to its fine flint and stone-clad front and well-kept gardens.
It’s one of the larger Hall & Woodhouse managed pubs (the Dorset-based business has a few outlets in Hampshire, all varying in quality and size) and the initial impression is a positive one.
There are well-furnished, well-managed rooms including the bar area, a snug or two, the restaurant and the Barn, a further dining area overlooking the garden with its many smart tables and umbrellas.
Money – well-spent – shows itself via carpets, curtains, beams, tongue-and-groove ceilings and maintained wood fireplaces. There are wooden floorboards and pleasant candlelit tables or booths. Unobtrusive music plays.
The welcome was rather effusive. I lost track of the many times willing, friendly, bouncy staff came up to my table to ask if I’d like a drink. I did, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc rather less swiftly making its way to my table.
Nothing on the menu will startle the diner, all dishes tried and tested up and down the land. But at Hall & Woodhouse they’re given new subtitles to make them seem different.
We have Larder Boards (meat, fish or vegetarian, all at £11.95); Kitchen Specials (fish mixed grill; glazed chicken supreme; gourmet burger; 8oz sirloin steak, dishes from £8.95 to £14.95) and Heritage Cooking (fish & chips, beef lasagne, pork and apple sausages; steak and Tanglefoot Ale pie from £6.95 to £11.45). Lighter Dishes, Vegetarian, Starters and Sharing are other sub-headings. There’s a specials board too, which was mostly sold out even at 7 pm.
I chose herb grilled chicken with roast tomato, couscous, crème fraiche and pepper leaf salad (£11.45) and sat back to enjoy a noisy birthday party nearby. Since when did it become an offence for children to sit down at the table and not rush around while parents ignore their charges? How can parents be so oblivious?
The supreme of chicken – just a leg bone on the breast remains in this cut – was flavourful and moist, the rocket salad perky. The couscous, made with an off-putting oil, was unpleasant and was left, while the roasted tomato was also left. Why? No manner of judicious cooking will bring a cheap, tasteless, watery tomato to life even if it has been bombarded with garlic, breadcrumbs, the kitchen sink – anything.
This was a 1990s tomato look-alike, the supermarket type labelled as ‘grown for flavour’ when it was anything but.
The party opposite made short shrift of a birthday cake, avoiding the Puds section of summer pudding; chocolate brownie; hand-cut fresh fruit salad; sticky toffee pudding; baked pecan tart; or a Dorset ice cream selection.
You can also try ‘legendary mini puds’ for £1.99 each or all six for £9.99. Great idea. I ordered one, a summer pudding. It came in a small shot-type glass and didn’t contain the pudding, but instead meringue shards with copious amounts of whipped cream and a few cold strawberries. Turned out to be an Eton Mess, a very tiny one. A tiny espresso was better than the average pub specialist coffee, a Chilean unoaked Sauvignon a lovely glassful.
Despite the couscous, tomato and Eton Mess hiccups, Seven Stars is a delightful place, with its heart, hospitality and ethos in the right place. But iron out the problems and next time this punter will leave with more of a smile, not a slight bad taste. My bill came to £19.45 not including a tip.
Seven Stars Inn, 56 Winchester Road, Stroud, Petersfield GU32 3PG Tel: 01730 264122.
Open: Seven days a week from 11am–11.30pm
Food: Three (out of five)
Disabled access: Excellent. Very spacious inside and out.
How to get there: Follow the signs to Petersfield on the A3, then the signs to Winchester. Stroud is a very short distance from the town and the Seven Stars is on the left on the Winchester road. Huge car park.