Carol Godsmark reviews the Hare & Hounds, Stoughton, West Sussex

The Hare & Hounds, Stoughton.
The Hare & Hounds, Stoughton.

Enter the Theatre of Fear for a triumphant homecoming

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Stoughton is one of those West Sussex villages that has the des res look and feel.

Like its neighbour Walderton, the village is strung out along the floor of a valley dominated by Walderton Down and Stoughton Down to the south, both hills forming part of the outstanding Kingley Vale Nature Reserve.

A glorious herringbone brickwork Saxon church, St Mary’s, is a focal point as is the Hare & Hounds, the appealing brick and flint pub close by, its terrace a good pitstop for walkers along the Monarch’s Way, the 615-mile long distance footpath from Worcester to Brighton.

The unattached-to-any-brewery pub, a rarity these days, matches the quality of the feel of the village – quiet, stylish, timeless.

Walk through a small door with a sign welcoming dogs and walkers, but not muddy boots, into the main room with two beehive fireplaces, one of them dividing the room in two. There’s a further room with a darts board at the back. Scrubbed heavy pine tables and chairs, flagstones, plants, a few prints and soft lighting are the sum of its parts. No music plays, a major plus, and there’s plenty of evidence that this is a village pub for locals.

The menu equally charms with its mix of sophistication and straightforward pub food.

Start with soup; chicken liver parfait; goat’s cheese tart or whitebait maybe before moving on to 28-day aged ribeye; venison liver from the nearby Uppark estate with mash; fish and chips; 8oz home-pressed burger; shepherd’s pie; risotto or BBQ ribs. From £5.50 to £19 for the steak, most mains around £12 - £14. Lunchtimes also offer filled baguettes or the Hare & Hounds’ Platter, a mix of cheese, meat, soup, breads (£11).

First up, a fine board – everything seems to be served on boards here within reason – of whitebait with a delicately dressed salad, the piled-high fish crunchy and not greasy. There’s a need to go back to the drawing board with the drab tartare sauce, poorly-sourced bread too which came with my next course, ham hock terrine with celeriac salad. Moist, moreish and mixed with leeks, this terrine was spot-on, despite a lack of seasoning. The celeriac needed some too. The portion was generous for £7. Walkers might curl up on a hillock to sleep off the excesses before climbing to Kingley Vale, especially if they choose one of the many real ales or draught ciders, the wine too proving this house knows quality over quantity.

A longer snooze might happen if polishing off a dark chocolate tart with Grand Marnier syrup; spiced plum and apple crumble or sticky toffee pudding.

Service? Couldn’t be better. Warm, helpful, quiet and informed. My bill was £17.75 including an excellent Piquepoul sauvignon.

May the Hare & Hounds remain a free house. We need them to remind us what a modern, non-corporate pub can be – which it does with flair and genuine heart.

ESSENTIALS

Hare & Hounds, Stoughton, West Sussex PO18 9JQ (023) 9263 1433

Open 11–3 and 6–11.30

Food: ****

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ****

Disabled access: toilets upstairs.

How to get there: From Havant, take the 2148 to Westbourne then follow signs to Walderton, Stoughton signposted to the right, the pub on the left past the church. Small car park or on-road, pub side only, parking.