What’s more wonderful than having a midweek day off? For those of us who work Monday to Friday, a free Wednesday is a great luxury.
That alone is hard to beat – but you can do with a free Wednesday, in the summer, with the sun out, with transport to go wherever and someone to spend the afternoon with. And that was Dish Detective’s pleasure last week.
So we left the city and went for a drive to explore the countryside of the Meon Valley. A few years back I’d had the pleasure of The Thomas Lord in West Meon – in very different weather – but remembered it being a fantastic country pub.
It’s nice to know that some things don’t change. In the glorious summer sun it was even better than my memory served. We managed to grab the last space in its car park (who says the village pub trade is dying?) and were greeted by friendly smiles from behind the bar.
This pub is a delight – think leather sofas, proper wooden bar stools, rustic decor, an open fireplace and even a group of taxidermy squirrels playing cricket in a glass case above the bar.
That’s not so strange, as for those of you not up on your cricket history, Thomas Lord was a cricketer who founded Lord’s Cricket Ground and retired to West Meon, where he died in 1832.
The pub does his memory proud. It is owned by the Upham Group, which until recently also ran Upham Brewery, so its collection of ales on tap is also superb. It’s hot today so we go for a lager – Amstel – and a soft drink, but also try a half of the Scratch, a golden ale from Red Cat Brewing in Winchester.
Today on tap they are serving Loxhill Biscuit, Hop Tipple and Dunsfold Best, from the Crafty Brewing Company, and Proper Job from St Austell. A decent selection which is on continuous rotation. It’s a shame to see Upham Brewery fade into memory –beer production stopped this year – but great that the pubs are supporting small breweries. We head into the garden, which is immaculate, and grab a table. It’s the kind of pub scene you can usually only dream of – colourful herbaceous borders, a smattering of well behaved people, a parasol, surrounded by picturesque country buildings with the faint drone of farm equipment from a nearby field.
The menu is just as brilliant as the pub – a good range of food, catering well for vegetarians and vegans with stir fries, salads and risottos, without forgetting the basic pub staples of a quality burger, meat dishes and fish and chips. They also serve a lunchtime baguette option.
We opt for the ale battered fish and hand- cut chips, which comes with crushed peas and tartare sauce (£14), and the Thomas Lord beef burger, which comes with coleslaw, BBQ sauce, truffle and Parmesan fries (£14, with cheese £1).
Both dishes are superb. Well presented, fresh and created with care. This place takes pub grub to the next level.
The batter is light and crispy, the fish flaky, the peas just crushed enough, and the burger puts all other burgers to shame. We were, ahem, bowled over by it.
For pudding, my companion goes for one scoop of salted caramel ice cream (£1.50), while I plump for bakewell tart, which comes with strawberries, raspberry coulis and clotted cream ice cream (£8). Again, superb. It’s hard to find the words to express just how delightful this pub is.
The food here is first class. The only downside is that someone needs to drive – but we eyed up the five log cabins in its garden, which start from £69 a night, and are planning the next visit. Although you may have to roll me out the next day, as I intend tasting all the beer and all the food. My mouth is already watering.
The Thomas Lord, West Meon
Tel: 01730 829244
Ratings (out of five):