There’s rarely much news to come out of Curbridge, a small village in the Meon Valley, but at least two exciting things have happened there in the past 100 years.
Luckily you can find out about both at the Horse and Jockey, in Botley Road, the heart of the community.
A few months back the future of the pub hung in the balance. It shut, then reopened without a kitchen and things didn’t look so good.
Thankfully Franco Ardani, who used to run Franco and Paulo, a popular Italian restaurant in Locks Heath, was on the hunt for a new home for his business. The pub’s potential obviously caught his eye.
So, to interesting thing number one – after a huge investment from pub chain Fuller’s, giving the place a fresh new look, Franco and his team took over the Horse and Jockey in July, bringing their delicious Italian cuisine with them.
We visited midweek on a sunny lunchtime. Expecting an empty scene, like you’d find in most village pubs, we were surprised to almost have to fight a group of pensioners for the last table. As it was a beautiful day, and the Horse and Jockey has a nice terrace and garden which overlooks the River Hamble, the pensioners – who looked like they’d just walked the nearby National Trust trail – agreed to sit outside, and everyone was happy.
I was with the most expert real ale taster I know, my father. He’s a bona fide paid-up member of Camra and a regular patron and letter writer to Wetherspoons.
Being in his 70s, he’s certainly drunk enough of the stuff to have an opinion and it’s always a risk taking him to any pub. We are in luck though as the Horse and Jockey passes muster. There’s London Pride, Gales Beachcomber and HSB to chose from and they’re all perfectly looked after.
For lunch, we’re warned there’s a bit of a wait as it’s so busy but that’s okay as we’ve a couple of pints of good beer, so I choose us a starter from the specials board to bridge the gap. I plump for the squid served with a sweet chilli sauce at £7.95.
The sauce, a tomato Italian flavour rather than sweet chilli, is delicious but the squid itself is a bit tough and chewy. It’s not to my father’s taste, but I finish it. A bit of a damp squib on what’s so far been an excellent trip.
For main course, I go for the burger, which comes served in a brioche bun with cheese and sweet chilli jam with chunky chips on the side, at £12.95.
It’s a brilliant pub burger and it’s good to see they’ve kept a few plates of traditional pub grub on the menu.
My dad can’t resist the smells of Italy that are wafting from the kitchen and goes for the wild mushroom and chicken risotto, topped with Parmesan shavings, at £12.95, from the specials board. It’s a tasty dish, with genuine Italian flavours, if a little pricey for a pub.
The Horse and Jockey is not your normal pub grub kind of place. It’s a special affair kind of place, with some of the prices reflecting that – making it more in line with a restaurant than a ‘Spoons or Brewers Fayre.
By the end we are pushed for time so there’s no chance for pudding – and the pub has no milk alternative for my coffee so we pay up.
We leave feeling full and happy, it’s been a lovely lunch in a lovely setting. It’s nice to see the pub full of customers and full of life. The staff were lovely too.
Oh, and the second interesting thing to happen in sleepy Curbridge? Apparently a whale was found in the river in 1932. Don’t believe me? You’ll have to visit the pub and see the newspaper clipping for yourself as – despite the upgrade, various owners and surviving the decades – it still hangs proudly on the wall.
The Horse and Jockey, Curbridge
Ratings (out of five):