Lower Froyle, Alton, Hampshire
The doors of the new-look Anchor Inn may have opened four months later than planned due to building problems, but the wait for Andrew Clark's and Lucy Townsend's second Hampshire pub has certainly been worth it.
Having quickly realised their vision of creating a classic fishing inn at the Peat Spade Inn in the glorious Test Valley village of Longstock, it was only a matter of time before the former Hotel du Vin chefs rescued another village inn and replicated the successful formula, one that offers an informal and relaxing atmosphere, space for local drinkers, proper pub food, and stylish rooms that would appeal to shooting parties and fishing folk.
The east Hampshire location of Lower Froyle, two minutes' drive from the A31 between Alton and Farnham, is smack in the heart of shooting country and within easy reach of the Meon and Itchen chalk streams for quality fly-fishing.
The tile-hung exterior of the 16th-century pub has been extended and smartened up, with huge lead planters standing guard either side of the Snug and Saloon Bar doors. However, the real "wow" factor has been reserved for the cosy interior, the original bars sporting sagging, head-cracking, low oak beams, polished wooden floors, open log fires and an eclectic mix of furnishings, from leather chairs to cushioned pews. Walls drip with a fine collection of prints and old school (Charterhouse) photos, and there's a subtle military theme throughout.
With papers and magazines to peruse, unreserved tables, stools at the bar, and local Ringwood and Bowman ales on handpump, it is still very much a pub and one that wants to welcome local drinkers.
Seamlessly blending with the beamed bars, the impressive dining room extension offers slightly more formal surroundings, with tables laid up with gleaming cutlery and glasses, candelabras, and plants in pewter tankards.
In the new £150,000 kitchen, Andrew cooks classic British dishes using top-notch seasonal ingredients from local producers and suppliers. There's nothing fancy on the short, simply-described menu, just really satisfying traditional pub dishes that are well cooked and presented.
In the bar, you can quaff a pint of Fortyniner and snack on Welsh rabbit or devilled lamb's kidneys on toast, or tuck into a bowl of crispy devilled whitebait served with a delicious home-made tartare sauce. More substantial bar offerings come in the form of beer-battered haddock and chips or toad in the hole with decent meaty sausages and a rich shallot gravy.
Head for the dining room to sample the Anchor fish pie, lamb hotpot with braised red cabbage, confit of belly pork with braised peas and onions or smoked haddock kedgeree, with interesting side dishes of purple sprouting broccoli, minted pea puree or a mixed lead salad with rape seed oil to choose from.
Few manage to tread the fine line between pub and restaurant as well as Andrew and Lucy. Clearly setting out to appeal to the well-heeled country set with a classy reincarnation, quality food and swish bedrooms, they have the knack of keeping the atmosphere relaxed and informal and maintaining a good local drinking trade. The Anchor should certainly find favour in East Hampshire, as should pub number three, somewhere in Berkshire's Lambourn Valley, when it opens it's doors later this year. Watch this space!
Owners: Andrew Clark and Lucy Townsend
On the menu:
Starters: potted rabbit, beetroot, toasted sour-dough bread (£7.50); warm pig's head terrine, salad of crispy pig's ears (£7); dressed Cornish crab, lemon mayonnaise (£11.50)
Mains: pork chop, braised red cabbage, roast pear, Thatcher's cider sauce (£15.50); Donald Russell rib-eye steak, hand-cut chips, pepper sauce (£17.90); whole lemon sole, burnt butter, caper and parsley (£18)
Desserts: rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream (£5.95); queen of puddings (£5.95); chocolate tart, white chocolate ice cream (£5.95)
Menu innovation: time-honoured "on toast" bar snacks of devilled lamb's kidneys (£6.50/£12) or Welsh rabbit with shallot marmalade (£5.50/£10), alongside quail scotch egg with piccalilli (£5.90), and prawns served in a half-pint glass (£6/£11.50). A grill section on the menu lists T-bone steak with Portobello mushrooms and garlic butter (£25.50) and Barnsley chop with crushed peas and mint sauce (£15.50). Rather than a pudding, finish with a savoury - Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese (£6.50); English cheese plate with quince paste (£7.50).
Wine List: Willy Mason's wide global selection favours the more traditional end, with some fine producers and vintages, notably in the Beaujolais and Burgundy sections. House wines (nine) start from £13.50 and rise to £23.50 - all are served by the glass.
Standing out from the crowd: Upstairs are five swish bedrooms with plasma screens, Egyptian cotton sheets and goose down duvets on vast beds, with fresh coffee, and walk-in power showers - book the Rupert Brooke suite (£170) for picture windows and glorious country views from both the bed and private terrace.
Openings around the country
Slab House Inn
West Horrington, Wells, BA5 3EQ 01749 840310
Who: TV chef Brian Turner is working as an advisor to managers Daniel and Simone Abella and head chef Andy Jones. The freehold is owned by Simone's father Stuart Legassick, who is a friend of Brian's and Daniel used to be a chef with Brian at the Millenium hotel.
What: A country pub that gets its name from the fact that it was on the edge of a plague quarantine area, where cautious farmers would leave food for the people of Well's. Stuart and Brian are also planning to open a cookery school close to the pub, in the near future.
On the menu: Starter: Garlic mushrooms flambé - button mushrooms flamed in brandy with a garlic cream finish. (£5.50). Main: Sirloin rustica - 8oz sirloin steak topped with a rich Italian red wine sauce and fresh parmesan shavings (£16.50).
Richmond, London 0208 940 4067
Who: This is the 10th Food and Fuel outlet - the gastropub company set up by former Spirit Group chief executive Karen Jones. The other gastropub sites include the Lots Road pub and dining room in Chelsea Harbour and the Roebuck in Chiswick. The portfolio also includes two cafe bars.
On the menu: Starter: Devonshire potted crab with toasted sour dough bread (£6). Main: Chicken & mushroom pie with green beans (£10.50). Dessert: Vanilla pannacotta with apple sorbet (£5).
The Five Tuns
Terminal 5, Heathrow
Who: This is London-based Geronimo's 19th opening. The company has two other pubs at Heathrow - the Tin Goose in terminal one and the Three Bells in terminal three. The food offering is similar to its other London sites and the focus is on honest, fresh and seasonal food.
On the menu: Tomato, bacon and brie tart; chicken and ham pie; lemon tart with crème fresh.
Covers: Over 100.