It came as a bit of a surprise on arrival at The Vine to be directed to a table covered with banners and balloons declaring ‘Happy Birthday!’
It wasn’t my birthday, or my companion’s birthday , and we have no idea how the confusion arose.
But it set the tone for a wonderful, relaxed evening with staff who went out of their way to ensure we enjoyed our meal.
A few years ago The Vine, in Hambledon, came onto our radar when the village was cut off by flooding.
All the businesses were struggling and we vowed then to give the pub a visit when it reopened.
Three years later, we finally made it. And we weren’t disappointed.
It was a freezing December Friday night.
The Christmas decorations were out and warmth emanated from the bar, busy with locals, as walked through to the restaurant.
But what came as even more of a surprise than the birthday banners was the fact that we were the only patrons in the dining room of this lovely welcoming country pub.
We were a bit worried. Perhaps The Vine had a bad reputation that hadn’t reached us? Did other people know something we didn’t?
We needn’t have worried.
Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable, and proud, of the local provenance of everything – from the meat to the ice cream.
I plumped for chicken liver parfait with chutney and toasted sour dough (£5.95) and my companion went for sautéed chestnut mushrooms with garlic, herbs and cream, served on soda bread (£5.95). Both delicious.
I can’t resist unusual cuts of meat – especially when you know it’s going to be good quality.
The braised ox cheek with parmesan mash, honey-glazed carrots and a rich red wine gravy (£1495) was just perfect.
The meat was melt-in-the-mouth and worked perfectly with the mash.
My companion’s haddock and chips (£12.95) were cooked beautifully, with crisp – not greasy – batter and plump chips.
My one complaint is the dance music which was played all evening – pretty jarring. But the food and atmosphere made up for it. It was not your average pub fare and we’ll certainly head back with friends.
Tel: (023) 9263 2419
(ratings out of five)