The Robin Hood Inn has an enviable position on the village green at Rowlands Castle
It is used by many walkers, thanks to three long-distance footpaths that pass this way – the Sussex Border Path, Staunton Way and Monarch’s Way (a 615-mile path that mirrors the escape route taken by King Charles II in 1651 after being defeated at the Battle of Worcester).
No castle would have given him shelter here though – the village is devoid of one.
The pub is owned by Hall & Woodhouse, Dorset brewers who took over recently. It has the air of a chain, with the rather samey, clinical décor sans personal touches giving the game away. Think faux leather sofas, bucket chairs in the bar, perfect blinds, generic chairs and tables and identical lighting and you’re there.
It’s a very welcoming, spotless pub thanks to its management, the chain not going down the route of identikit menus to its vast credit.
The relatively small menu gave me confidence that chefs are in control of the stoves, not a microwave and packets. Starters include a roast tomato and red pepper and tomato soup with potato and rosemary bread; warm crispy duck salad with oriental dressing; chicken liver parfait, apple and chilli chutney, toasted apple bread and three other choices.
The mains are sensibly brief. Choices include roast tomato and red onion tarte tatin, rocket and feta salad; salmon and Hampshire smoked trout fishcakes, aioli mayonnaise and watercress; braised crispy Gressingham duck, parsnip mash, buttered cabbage and peppercorn sauce.
Four sharing dishes feature a platter of Serrano ham, chargrilled artichokes, home marinated olives, houmous, feta cheese and ciabatta toast. Starters are around the £7 mark and mains are from £10 to just under £19 for a steak.
Several dishes sensibly have a two-tier price and size tag. My choices were Selsey crab on toasted muffin, poached egg, butter lemon cream as a starter and that duck salad to follow.
Service is jovial and spot-on, food taking its time to emerge, further confidence that scissors are not used to snip open bags.
These chefs do pictures on a plate – well, wide-rimmed bowls – but is the food also edible? The cooking matches the service. The crab dish was excellent, the egg deliciously running into the crab, top-notch pea shoots adding flavour and looks.
Duck is usually poorly cooked, tough, grey and disappointing. Not here. The only imbalance was too much raw red onion, otherwise this tender duck salad was a thing of beauty and health.
Desserts follow the moreish starters and mains. Try warm sunken chocolate cake with bitter chocolate sauce; vanilla cheesecake with orange and ginger syrup; English cheeses and ice creams. Most puds are £6.25.
The Robin Hood is a fine find. My bill came to £19.20, including a glass of Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc but not the tip.
The Robin Hood Inn, 26 The Green, Rowlands Castle PO9 6AB
(023) 9241 2268
Open: Open 11am-3pm and 5.30pm–close Mon-Fri and 11am-close Sat/Sun
Food: Four (out of Five)
Disabled access: Fine, with plenty of space for wheelchairs.
How to get there: From Havant, follow the signs to Rowlands Castle on the B2149 Petersfield Road. Turn off this road to the village and the pub is on the left on the green. Parking is on-street.