“ Address: Halnaker / Chichester / West Sussex / PO18 0NQ „
My local radio station, Spirit FM, runs an occasional promotion called "Half Price Dining" which features many a local restaurant/pub. Last month an old haunt of mine, The Anglesey Arms, was featured, and I jumped at the chance of buying one of their vouchers. The Spirit FM deal was for a £15 voucher which gives the redeemer £30 off the final bill.
Neither my partner and I had been to the Anglesey Arms for getting on for 15 years, but it used to be a very popular place for a post-work drink or a spot of luncheon. My partner and I used to work at Goodwood Racecourse in the 80's and 90's and the Anglesey Arms was one of number of pubs that was in fairly easy reach. If we fancied a nice plate of food and a swift pint, then the Anglesey Arms was only a ten minute drive from the racecourse and one could always be guaranteed a good meal (and their lunchtime fry-ups were legendary!). We were therefore very much looking forward to revisiting an old haunt and seeing if the present day menu and venue lived up to our memories from the 90's.
*** THE PUB ***
The owners of the Anglesey Arms describe their pub as "A charming and old-fashioned country pub" and I would definitely agree with that. This is definitely a pub-pub and this was evidenced by the number of drinkers in the bar area on the night we dined there. Next door to the bar is the restaurant and that was a lot quieter than the bar area. The pub is housed in a Georgian brick building and has a wonderful two acre garden to the back of the place. The car park is large and well laid out to the side of the building. I would have liked to have had a quick peek at the garden to see if that was still as lovely as it used to be, but it was too dark to see it properly on the March night we dined there, so I will have to content myself with a return visit someday when the sun is shining.
Inside the pub is very laidback and lacking in airs and graces. It's all flagstone floors, wooden panelling and old ceiling beams. However, it has to be said that the place looked more than a little shabby. The décor was exactly the same as when we last visited the pub in 1997...only a lot more tired and a lot more used looking. Don't get me wrong, the place is obviously well loved, but it looked more than a little tired and in need for a good tablespoon of TLC. For example the carpets in the restaurant area were the same dark patterned swirly carpet that had first been laid last century and were not improved by the large swathe of yellow and black sticky hazard tape stuck on to keep the tread down. Equally, the toilets looked like something that had last been decorated in World War II - dark green paint, cobwebs and an ancient hot water device. There was a large arrangement of hideous plastic flowers (complete with dust and cobwebs) by the sink which leant absolutely nothing to the ambience and would do better to be tipped straight into nearest bin. The whole place was clean(ish), but oh so very dated. We really didn't expect to walk into a place we last visited 16 years ago and find it so completely unaltered. It was almost as if time had stood still and we needed to break into a chorus of "Let's do the Timewarp again".....
*** THE FOOD ***
The owners of the pub make much noise about their food being fresh and home-cooked as well as their use of many local suppliers. They get most of their meat from local suppliers and all their chicken is free range. All fish is locally caught and from sustainable stocks, and they try and use organic eggs and vegetables wherever possible.
The Anglesey Arms offers a full range of snacks as well as proper sit-down restaurant meals. If you've just popped in for a snack and a drink, there are a full range of sandwiches (from £6.50) and ploughmans (£10.50). If you're after something a little more substantial and hot then there a nice range of lunchtime classics in the form of Scampi, Beer Battered Cod or Sausages and Mash at £11.50 each. If you prefer to see something a little less traditional on your pub menu then you can partake of Thai Fishcakes with Homemade Chili Dressing and Oriental Salad (£11.50), Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg on a Toasted Muffin with Roquette Salad (£6.75) or how about Warm Salad of Free Range Smoked Chicken, Chorizo and Chili Dressing (£13.50)?
Dinner prices are a little heftier than lunchtime ones. Starters range in price from £5 to £7.50 with main courses priced from £13 (Ham, Egg and Chips or Cod and Chips) up to a massive £27 (8oz 21 day hung Sussex Fillet Steak).
In addition to the printed menu we were shown, there is the usual chalk blackboard with daily specials on it. There was a choice of about 2 or 3 starters (Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup or Grilled Halloumi) and 3 or 4 main courses on offer (Anglesey Fish Pie, Wild Mushroom Penne or Smoked Haddock on Warm Potato Salad with Poached Egg and Spiced Hollandaise Sauce) on the night we dined there. I must say that the lighting in the Anglesey Arms is rather dim and the blackboard in need of a further coat of black paint or a new stick of chalk as it was extremely hard to read. After squinting at it for a bit we managed to decipher the contents, but it wasn't easy :o(
*** DINNER FOR TWO ***
We visited on a Tuesday evening in March and the pub was rather busy with plenty of drinkers in the main bar area. The restaurant was much quieter and there were only about 3 or 4 tables occupied. However, this could well have been due to the fact that there was live music in the pub that evening and the band were setting up their gear in the main restaurant area. When I rang to book the table earlier in the day, the landlord did warn me that they had live music starting from 8.30pm that evening, so I booked the table for 7.30pm hoping that we would be able to eat most of our meal before it got too loud in there.
Upon arrival we ordered some drinks at the bar and then made ourselves known to the landlady. She asked us if we wanted to have our drinks in the bar or go straight on through to the restaurant. We opted for the latter so she furnished us with a couple of menus and asked us to pop through the door to the restaurant.
We were both rather hungry so we decided to have starters to take the edge off our appetites. There was plenty of choice on offer from Homemade Selsey Crab Pâté, Whitebait or Marinated Olives. There are also a couple of sharing platters on their menu in the form of Charcuterie of Salami, Chorizo, Serano Ham, Marinated Olives, Artichokes and Warm Ciabatta (£15) or Whole Camembert baked in a box with Crusty Dipping Bread (£11), but the smell of someone partaking of the camembert dish in the main bar put us off that - it smelled just like the drains needed attention and fast :o) I was tempted to try the Duck and Pork Rillettes but having not enjoyed rillettes much at Brasserie Blanc last year, I was unconvinced a second outing would improve things here. Instead I decided on one of the blackboard specials of Crispy Beef and Oriental Salad (£6). This was a very tasty dish indeed, although I did think that the portion was a little mean for a £6 outlay. What there was of it was very nice - tiny julienne strips of beef in a spicy sweet chilli marinade tossed in a salad of mixed leaves, cucumber and radishes. However, I do think it would have been nice to have some noodles or crusty bread on the side of this dish as I thought it was a little lacking for £6. It was also extremely spicy due to the numerous flecks of raw chilli in the dish. I needed a second lager shandy to deal with the fire that had been ignited in my mouth :o)
Himself also choose a special from the blackboard of Prawn and Crayfish Cocktail (£6.50). He was very impressed with his starter as there was a generous amount of both prawns and crayfish in the dish and it hadn't been bulked up with lettuce and Marie rose sauce like many places do. His dish was accompanied by four slices of brown bread and butter and I pinched a slice to make up for the lack of portion on my starter.
For my main course I was again tempted by the blackboard specials and chose the Escalope of Veal with Salad and Frites at £14. This was a more generous portion than my starter and it looked wonderfully appetising. There were two good chunks of veal coated in a thin, crispy crumb accompanied by a goodly mound of thin and extremely crispy fries. The dish was finished off with a separate bowl of salad. Unfortunately the dish was absolutely swimming in garlic butter and although I found it delicious initially, it was far too rich and rather sickly. The butter soaked into the bottom of the fries and the escalopes making them really soggy. If I had appreciated quite how much garlic butter there was on the plate initially I would have drained most of it off, as it rendered the remainder of the fries inedible by the time I reached them. They were just too wet and I was feeling a little sick from the surfeit of butter in the dish. All in all the excess of garlic butter just made this dish far too greasy and overly rich to the stomach, and I was left feeling more than a little nauseous.
My partner went for their Anglesey Organic Beef Burger with Blue Cheese, Onion Rings and Confit served in a Toasted Bun with Fries, also at £14. Neither of us is a fan of blue cheese so he asked if he could have his burger served with cheddar or mozzarella instead, and the landlady agreed to substitute the blue cheese for cheddar. The burger was quite rare to one side and it didn't look quite cooked to my mind. However, my partner begged to differ and said it was just very rare. Rather him than me! He reported that the burger itself was very tasty, but the bread roll was rather average tasting. He enjoyed the onion rings which were large and very obviously homemade. The salad garnish served with the burger was very nice and the fries nice and crispy.
Desserts were chalked up a small blackboard and there was a choice of about 5 or 6 different puddings. We were tempted to order a couple, but the landlady had now been distracted by the number of new arrivals to the pub wanting to enjoy the live music. Sadly there did not seem to be enough staff on hand to deal with all the newly arrived drinkers and those still eating in the restaurant. After a ten minute wait, we decided against ordering puddings in the end and asked for the bill instead. However, if you visit on a quieter night then the selection of puds consisted of things like Anglesey Mess (their version of Eton Mess), Apple and Pear Crumble, Banana and Chocolate Sundae, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Bread and Butter Pudding and Chocolate Brownie. All the desserts are priced at £6.50.
*** SERVICE, DRINKS AND EVERYTHING ELSE ***
The Anglesey Arms offers draught lager in the form of Becks and cider is produced by Stofford Press. Real ale lovers will be heaven as there are at least four different choices on offer, two of which change regularly. On the night we visited I spotted Young's Best Bitter, Black Sheep Ale and Havant Herd. Himself had three pints of Becks lager at £3.60 a pint and I made do with two halves of lager shandy as I was driving.
The service at the Anglesey Arms started off being brisk and efficient and reasonably friendly. However, as the pub got progressively busier the efficient service tailed off considerably and despite being asked if we'd like desserts, our order did not get taken as the landlady was obviously distracted by the number of drinkers that needed to be served in the bar. They really needed a third pair of hands in the bar to serve at the pumps as it was rather busy in there and they couldn't cope with demand.
In retrospect, we should not have dined there when they were holding a live music night. Despite being told it was taking place, I didn't appreciate it was being held in the restaurant nor quite how obtrusive the arrival of the band and their groupies was going to be. Although we were not seated by the door to the restaurant, we certainly didn't appreciate the cold draught from it being constantly opened and closed by the band arriving with their equipment. They appeared to have enough equipment to headline at Glastonbury! There were constant trips to and from their van with various amps, instruments and speakers all of which brushed past our table. Once all the equipment was unloaded, we had various hangers-on and groupies loitering by our table waiting for the band to start. We left as soon as we could as we get fed up with the constant interruptions and traffic by our formerly quiet table.
Our bill for the evening came to £54.90 for two starters, two main courses and five drinks, which represents reasonably good value. However, we had our £30 Spirit FM voucher to apply against both the food and drink which brought the final cost down to a rather reasonable £24.90 and we left a £5 tip on top of that.
*** RECOMMENDED? ***
Whilst we were eagerly anticipating revisiting an old haunt, we never imagined it would be exactly as we left it in 1997! The pub décor and layout was totally unchanged and it was just like taking a step back in time. The only thing that had altered was the menu and the owners. We were sad to see the demise of their legendry fry-up from the menu, but to be fair it isn't the sort of dish you'd want for dinner anyway.
On the whole we enjoyed our meal, and certainly thought it was good enough value for the price we paid, bearing in mind our discount voucher from Spirit FM gave us £30 off the final bill. However, I don't really think that the venue, food or service was special enough to make a return visit at full price. Maybe I'm remembering the pub with the rose-tinted glasses from the past, but nowadays although the food was good enough, it certainly wasn't the keenly priced huge plates of food you used to get there in the 1990's. What was strange however was the décor remained totally unchanged...and it really does need to be freshened up!
Recommended....if you don't mind tatty (and the band aren't playing)
*** FURTHER DETAILS ***
The Anglesey Arms is located in the tiny village of Halnaker (pronounced Hanaker as the "l" is always silent. It's a handy way to sort a local from a tourist as a newcomer to the area doesn't realise that the "l" is never used!). Halnaker is about four miles from Goodwood Racecouse and less than two miles from Goodwood House. The pub is on the A285 Chichester-Petworth road, which follows the course of old Roman Stane Street. Chichester is less than 4 miles in one direction and Petworth 11 miles in the other. Halnaker is famous for its disused windmill which sits high on the hill over the village and is thought to date from the 1740's. It's a fairly steep and robust climb, but it's definitely worth a walk up the hill to view up close...and reward yourself with a pint afterwards. As well as the windmill, Halnaker is a hop skip and a jump from Boxgrove which is home to Boxgrove Priory (dating from the early 12th century) and the famous Boxgrove archaeological site where Boxgrove Man was found in 1993 (a 500,000 year-old shin bone belonging to a rather robust man believed to be over 1.8m tall).
The Anglesey Arms
Telephone No: 01243 773474