Now that’s how you do an onion ring, remarked the Dish Detective’s dining partner, as she examined the wonderful specimen that accompanied her burger.
And she was right. Sadly, it can be all too rare to find an onion ring that even looks like it came from a real onion rather than a packet – let alone one that tastes of the allium rather than the deep freeze.
But in the Hampshire Bowman, tucked away down lanes in the Meon Valley, the Detective’s date looked happy. This onion ring had recently made a chef cry, and in a good way. And now she looked on the verge of happy tears.
The attention to detail – or at least the care shown in the deep-fried accompaniment – is typical of the whole pub.
The burger that was ordered was clearly handmade, as no machine would have been designed to shape such a large – and, as it turned out, wonderfully juicy – lump of beef mince.
The salad was fresh and crispy and the chips... well you know what’s coming next. Spot on.
All in all, for a tenner – nowadays a good deal for a pub burger and laughably close to what Burger King can charge in motorway services – it was a shining example of how to do pub food. Lovely stuff.
The date was very quiet for a few minutes after receiving her plate, which meant the Dish Detective could run the rule over the pub and the clientele.
The pub is in Dundridge, within the South Downs National Park and a couple of miles north of Swanmore and west of Droxford.
It’s that wonderful part of Hampshire where, after the bustle of the south coast cities and towns and the more genteel Meon Valley villages, there is just... nothing. Nothing, except the rolling hills, scattered farms and beautiful cottages.
You could consider yourself mad to believe you were just a 30-minute drive from Portsmouth, but that is all it takes.
Why more people do not take advantage is beyond me. In any case, the Dish Detective is happy to keep this a secret.
On the Saturday we visited, we felt as if we had wandered into a cast meeting of The Archers.
Waxed or tweed jackets, check shirts, classic country style, with small dogs under the tables, and none the worse for it. And quite rightly so, for the Bowman feels like a proper pub.
You can tell it’s been there for years. You can see from the pictures on the wall that it’s been a fixture in people’s lives.
There are some great real ales on offer and all served from kegs that you can see from the bar.
There was Swift One, made by B0wman Ales, Gold Old Boy from the West Berkshire Brewery, Montana Red from Fullers, Broken Tradition from Broken Bridge in Hampshire, plus more. And that’s not to mention the ciders.
This pub is a far cry from the trendy chain pubs that are cluttering up our high streets pretending to be country.
This place is the country and with its large garden, backed by rolling fields, it’s country that would be a tonic for any city dweller.
This is a pub where the specials are written in chalk on a board – and they change depending what’s in season. I went for the eight-hour slow braised beef shin with polenta and roasted red onion (£11) and it was deliciously done.
I cleared my plate and had enough room to help my date finish her chips – even snaffling a wonderfully-created onion ring. Simply divine – and well worth the 30-minute drive.
Tel: (01489) 892940
(ratings out of 5)