FOOD REVIEW: An idyllic country pub that isÂ more than halfway to paradise
The Dish Detective can't resist A Special Offer. This one wasÂ heavily trailed '“Â a one-day-only, grab-it-while-you-can deal. The tease was too great to ignore.
After weeks of searing heat and the driest start to a summer since 1961, autumn happened. It was last Sunday.Â
Number two on the list of things this gumshoe finds irresistible, is any chanceÂ to escape the daily joys of ploughing manic furrows along the A27 and M27. Having spent nigh on two months sweltering in a tin can on those roads, there had to be a better route, a different road, and avoiding any Brexit connotations (please God), a third way.
So what better than the majestically serpentineÂ A272 '“Â the only roadÂ to have a best-selling book written about it (Pieter Boogaart's A272: An Ode to a Road '“Â yes, it took a Dutchman to record the delights of this route through quintessentially English countryside across Hampshire and Sussex).
I loveÂ Portsmouth'sÂ cosmopolitan food offerings, but there comes a time when a young detective's fancyÂ turns to a country pub, a jolly good '˜motorÂ out' and a tastebud-popping Sunday roast. Which is how Mrs DD and I ended up turning right at Petersfield on to thatÂ A272 before pitching into The Halfway Bridge, an idyllicÂ 17th-century coaching inn. Halfway to where? It's roughly equidistant between Midhurst and Petworth.
We weren't the only ones from these parts.Â At an adjacent table a middle-aged couple, obviously on their first date, were treading warily '“Â she talking about abseiling down The Spinnaker Tower, he about Pompey's season-opener against Luton. They shookÂ hands at the end and left by separate doors.
A quartet of Lycra-clad cyclists from Clanfield appeared, dripping like spaniels excited by a large puddle, followed byÂ a family of walkers from Emsworth who'd chosen entirely the wrong day for a ramble. They too were soaked, but their young children were welcomed as warmly as the adults.Â
As the rain sluiced, treeÂ branches wavedÂ extravagantly and leaves cascaded, November had arrived in July and inside it felt just as autumnal '“cosy, welcoming, fuzzy. All that was missing was a fire and that would have been ridiculous in this heatwave hiccup. The interior is labyrinthine, with a plethora of rooms in which to eat or drink, the furniture all sturdy wood.
Service at the bar was swift (Chilgrove gin and well-kept beer from the LanghamÂ Brewery a couple of minutes down the lane) and charming, as were the waitresses.
It was autumn, so it had to be soup '“Â a brimful bowl of the parsnip variety accompanied by garlic and thyme croutons and two hunks of home-made bread (Â£6.50). Creamy,Â warming and utterly delicious. Mrs DD went for beetroot cured chalk stream trout in a beetroot and seaweed crumb (Â£8). It was devoured with relish (no, there wasn't any, it didn't need it) and that crumb exploded on the tongue.
Mains? For me roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings (Â£15). It arrived topped with a crown-shaped Yorkshire pudding, which was a tad too soft. Across the table, the whole south coast plaice was declared a triumph as were the violet potatoes which came with it. Yes, a splash of autumnal purple (Â£17).
White chocolate mousseÂ with mango panna cottaÂ forÂ her (Â£7.50) and cheese (Â£9) for meÂ rounded things off perfectly, althoughÂ the cheese was served on the ubiquitous hipster slate. Why? Whatever happened to plates?Â
Â The bill? Â£79.45 including drinks and worth every penny. When autumn finally does arriveÂ and you're looking for aÂ run out of townÂ and a touch of pub class'‹'‹'‹'‹'‹'‹'‹, you're more than halfway to paradise here.