EpiQR – Greyhound-on-the-Test, Stockbridge & King’s Arms, Lockerley, both Hants.

Greyhound-on-the-Test, Stockbridge, Hants.

King’s Arms, Lockerley, Hants.

EM MARSHALL-LUCK

The Greyhound-On-The-Test is situated on the broad, handsome high street in the Hampshire village of Stockbridge. Immediate appearances from the outside are attractive and inviting, and this appearance is not deceptive; the Greyhound being a pleasantly welcoming place to enter. One finds low wooden beams, wooden floors and rustic wooden tables, comfortable chairs and wood-burning stoves. The bar is smart, modern and uncluttered, with clean lines and ales on tap. The sophisticated grey wall colour hints at Farrow and Ball, and lighting comes from lamps with large shades, pillar candles on mantelpieces and smaller candles on tables. Colour is injected into the room by paintings of bars, cafes and restaurants (all of which were for sale; thus one presumes that they are by local artists). The Greyhound branding is clear, clean and attractive – we later found greyhound paper placemats in a smart, sophisticated font and with a dog logo. The toilets continue the theme with the Ladies’ bearing the head of a greyhound wearing a fascinator and necklace; the chaps a dog with a pipe and tie – slightly quirky and fun.

The only negative point that presented itself in the first few minutes of walking through the door was the irritating pop music, which was rather too loud and featured lots of wailing – thankfully, however, this later moved on to jazz. The second drawback to become apparent was that the dry sherry that we ordered at the bar was not chilled.

Nevertheless, we were soon happily ensconced in the bar area with our drinks and the menus – these are printed on marbled and slightly textured A3 card, which gives a sophisticated feel without straying into the realms of pretention. The dish options aren’t, however, desperately clear – the starters and mains alternate grey and black print – at first it looks as though the grey options are the accompaniments to the main dishes in black. There is a fairly small choice for each course / dish type (not that this is necessarily a negative point). As well as the starters and main courses, there is also a good salad section, an oyster and seafood menu, a greatly appealing “On Toast” section (with croque monsieur and the like), and a tempting special for each day of the week. There isn’t a tremendous amount for vegetarians: this is proper hearty British cooking – burgers, lamb navarin, roast beef, ox tail and oyster pudding, local rabbit cassoulet and steaks. The menu also gives the password for the internet should clients wish or need to connect. Obviously this would be far from desirable in the restaurant, but is a thoughtful touch for customers in the bar who might like to log on.

The wine list is excellent – pleasingly varied options for whites, roses and reds by the glass; a fine selection of sparkling (including a Hampshire sparkling rosé), and about 35 reds and whites each in total, with a healthy price range from  £17.95 to £70, most of them in the £20 / £30 mark. These cover a reasonably good range of countries with mostly French but also Italian, New Zealand, Chilean, American, Australian, Spanish and South African wines.

I chose a Californian Zinfandel (2009 Four Vines, Old Vine Cuvée), with its deep purple colour and immediately rich hit of bramble fruit, ash and tar – and a hint of petrol – on the nose.  The taste is spicy – with white pepper, black fruits, coffee and a lingering black bite –very dry, with not much tempering sweetness: a good, characterful wine.

We were relocated, in due course, to one of the separate dining areas – a room with a vast brick fireplace with wood-burner, dominated by a great lintel and with bread oven inside – nice features. The decor had changed to a slightly more distressed look here – a battered hamper presenting old silver cutlery; food-orientated pictures presented in distressed frames, and old china displayed on a large plate rack on the wall. Intimate without feeling at all cramped; private without feeling isolated, it had a relaxed ambience yet one which did not lack vibrancy.

The service – like the welcome – was pleasing; friendly and knowledgeable and prompt but not pushy. One of our knives was a little grubby, and we were brought sparkling instead of still mineral water, but these were easily changed, though, and no harm was done.

Bread arrived in the form of doorstop wedges of granary and white. The granary was particularly good – a slightly rubbery crust, with a soft yet not-too-yielding crumb; the white was rather blander. (No separate bread knife, though, and not enough butter, either)!

The starters were absolutely spectacular – so much so that I regret to confess that I ate both my own and my husband’s. He had foolishly gone for the breast of lamb croquette and as consequence was allowed barely a mouthful. These were not croquettes in the traditional Spanish sense, but rather long thin chunks of immensely flavoursome lamb (quite fatty – but the marbling of fat lent a glorious extra flavour) wrapped in a well-seasoned crunchy bread-crumbed crust and served on a bed of tender lentils. Exquisite – truly one of the most sublime starters I’ve ever enjoyed.

My buffalo carpaccio was also excellent (and a nice touch that the chap on the table next to ours was pointed out as the farmer). Again, the meat was very flavoursome – quite rich, gamey and almost smoky. It was served with celeriac and a vinaigrette with pine nuts that cut through the richness of the meat well.

I had selected whole lemon sole for my main course. The general rule at The Greyhound is that food is as locally sourced as possible, and this was from Brixham – not that close, perhaps, but good and fresh nevertheless. It was served simply but effectively with capers and a butter sauce and was generally well-cooked – tender and very delicate, although parts of it were slightly too pink and lacking in firmness for my liking, hinting at almost being under-cooked. It came with gratifyingly crunchy green beans and potatoes (although I preferred the deliciously buttery creamed mash that we ordered as a side). Mr Marshall-Luck chose poussin, which he deemed excellent – very tender and flavoursome, with slightly crunchy and lightly salted skin, which complemented the texture of the meat.  The prune, fig and apricot stuffing that the bird was served with was an excellent accompaniment; not overpowering the meat but rather enhancing the flavour.

This, he followed with a dessert of rhubarb and apple crumble, served with vanilla ice-cream (the latter tasting home-made, he noted with approval).  This afforded a good contrast of textures – and the crumble featured an interesting and unusual mixture of ingredients, including oats and (we guessed) sunflower seeds. Although the rhubarb was perhaps a little on the sweet side for my husband, it was only fractionally so and very much a subjective issue; and the rest of the dish worked very well indeed.

I decided to go French and eschewed a dessert in favour of a salad, choosing the apple, beetroot and goats’ curd. Tangy, salty, creamy goats’ curd combined well with the sweet and earthy white and purple beetroot and the thin slivers of apple.  The leaf salad with walnuts and clean, fresh-tasting vinaigrette also worked well and the whole dish provided me with a satisfactory conclusion to a really excellent meal.

The King’s Arms at Lockerley is the sister pub of the Greyhound and was once, apparently, the “roughest pub in Hampshire” – although it is hard to see how this might be, given that it seems to be in a traditional and apparently quite well-heeled, respectable and reasonably remote village.

The interior is, like the Greyhound,  tastefully decorated, with flagstone and wooden floors, walls grey or a bold red, subdued lighting and candles on the wooden tables which, like the chairs, were an idiosyncratic mixture of elegant antiques and more rustic items of furniture (my rather bucolic chair was immensely uncomfortable – the luck of the draw!). There is a smart wooden bar, at which one may perch on comfortable, backed, leather-seated bar stools.

The walls sported an eclectic range of pictures – ballerinas, French impressionism, botanical drawings, landscapes, seascapes – all of which were for sale (again, local artists). There were also some grand and impressive mirrors and a beautiful commemorative flag (alas, not for sale, or I would have snapped it up at once!)

The pub’s name was, again, reflected in the toilets, with the Gents’ labelled “Kings” with the Ladies’, unsurprisingly, “Queens”. I found nothing amiss in mine, although my husband reported that the Gents’ were slightly odd in that they were overstuffed with framed prints and old books; this veneer of antiquated civilisation being somewhat at odds with the powerful smell of urine.

The one item that immediately and irrevocably endeared the pub to me was the presence of a pub Labrador. Excellent. Every pub should have one. Said Lab clearly realised she had an ally as she kept ambling over to say hello (and, no doubt, investigate the possibility of any tit-bits that might find their way in her direction), despite being chased out of the restaurant area (to my deep disappointment) several times by the patient staff.

Service was not as slick as at the Greyhound – slightly on the dopey side, and my husband took great exception to our being referred to as “guys”; suggesting that he should arrange next time for us to arrive seated on top of a bonfire.

It was noticeable that the clientele is very different from that at the Greyhound, and it is to the pub’s tremendous credit that they have apparently retained their old customers as well as presumably bringing in new patrons for the food. The music, however, was, we supposed, what would have been to the taste of the regulars rather than the occasional diner – rather ghastly pop and rock. Thankfully the speaker next to us was broken so it wasn’t too intrusive.

The menu is a simple and more basic version of that at the Greyhound, still with a different special for each day of the week. As a general rule, however, the food here is less interesting and less fancy – there are fewer choices as well. The food that is on offer is again traditional, nourishing, British fare: sausages and mash, pork belly, braised beef. The wine list, like the Greyhound, is good; both food and wine seemed to me to be slightly cheaper than at the Greyhound.

We were led through to the restaurant area, which had a rather odd and cold atmosphere – nothing to do with the decor (with which there was nothing wrong at all) – more an unsettling echo or feel. Tap water is placed on the table as one is seated – a nice touch, but it tasted very chlorinated to me, so we had to order mineral water instead. The bread, brought shortly after we had been seated was pleasingly chunky if just slightly nondescript and the butter was brought later after quite a pause – we wondered whether they were churning it specially!

I ordered a bottle of the 2008 Spice Route Shiraz from Swartland; a truly beautiful wine with a dark purple colour, and nose of black berries, vanilla and coffee. Its taste was rich and full, with cherries; dark but not at all bitter; velvety smooth and sweet yet with a full bite. Absolutely spectacularly good value.

For starters I essayed the goats’ cheese and beetroot salad (pretty much the same dish as with which I concluded my meal at the Greyhound, I realised, when it arrived). The white beetroot was a little too sweet for my taste but the purple cut through the salty savouriness of the goats’ cheese well. The pesto added further interest, and the walnuts a different texture: a dish full of good, earthy flavours.

Mr Marshall-Luck opted for wild mushrooms on toast with poached egg, with which he pronounced himself slightly disappointed. The mushrooms, apparently, did not have enough depth of flavour and the toast was a little on the soggy side. The onion marmalade was excellent, but it should be the supporting act, not the main feature, as it proved itself here.

The fishcake appealed to me for a main; served on a bed of spinach and accompanied by delicious pureed peas. Yet the cake itself seemed really to be too huge, and this meant that the ratio of crunchy outside to fluffy inside wasn’t right and the delicate balance suffered as a result; there was also too much potato and not enough fish proportionately. The breadcrumbs tasted rather false and manufactured; their very orange appearance added to this suspicion. My husband’s steak was a better choice – it was nicely flavoured and came doused in an absolutely exquisite powerful garlic butter sauce (most of which I siphoned off – really quite addictive). The whole was perhaps slightly on the salty side for my husband’s taste (and also arrived rarer than requested) but was, overall, very commendable indeed.

The finale was slightly disappointing in that it lacked sophistication (perhaps again catering for a different clientele?). We choose the chocolate and hazelnut marquise, which was slightly bland and insipid – not nearly intense enough. It was served with a sesame seed toffee that glued one’s teeth together and was covered in popping candy – not, sadly, a dessert designed to please the discerning palate.

Nevertheless, on the whole, the meal was a good one, and both pubs can be commended as decent places to eat (the Greyhound especially being outstanding), and enjoyable establishments in which to spend an evening.

EM MARSHALL-LUCK is the QR‘s restaurant critic

 

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