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The Star and Garter (East Dean, West Sussex)

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Address: East Dean / Near Goodwood / West Sussex PO18 0JG

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      01.12.2012 11:29
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      Superb food and drink in the pretty downland village pub of East Dean in West Sussex

      Despite subscribing to daily Groupon offers, the ones that actually tempt me are rather thin on the ground. I don't want my teeth realigned or my car serviced, but I do love eating out (not hard to fathom, I guess, judging by the amount of restaurant reviews I've posted over the years!). Groupon often do great deals on dining out, but they hardly ever offer venues that are local to me. However in May this year a venue I was familiar with popped up in one of their daily deals and I snapped it up without hesitation. The Groupon deal in this instance was for a £22 fee which entitled us to two starters, two main courses and two glasses of wine in a pub that I used to frequent in a previous lifetime. I worked at Goodwood Racecourse for nearly ten years in the 1990s, and the Hurdlemakers in East Dean was one of our nearest watering holes when we wanted a break from galloping horses and drunken punters. Cue the noughties, and the Hurdlemakers is now known as the Star and Garter. The question was, would it still live up to the charm of the lovely country pub that was the Hurdlemakers or had they ruined it by rechristening it the Star and Garter?

      The Star and Garter is one of the nearest pubs to Goodwood Racecourse, and with Glorious Goodwood (a huge five day horseracing fixture) looming on the horizon at the end of July I thought that chances of us getting a table and using our Groupon during this period would be virtually zero. Although the Groupon deal did not expire until early August, we decided that we had better use it or lose it as quickly as possible. I don't know about you, but whenever I've rung to book and redeem any Groupon voucher, the venue in question can be a bit sniffy at the other end of the phone. It's almost as if you're a second class citizen because you're on the cheapie deal they're not going to go out of their way to accommodate you. Yes they will honour the deal, but it has to be on a Tuesday lunchtime in November and only at 11.30am - no later. Therefore I rang the Star and Garter with some trepidation. We only had three weeks left before our Groupon expired, and they were facing one of their biggest trading weeks of the year the following week. Therefore I was half expecting some kind of dismissal or claim that they were far too busy to accommodate us, and that I really should be applying to Groupon for a refund. I came away most surprised as the gentleman at the other end of the phone was remarkably pleasant and most obliging. Instead of telling me there was "no room at the inn" or that "Sir Giles St John Ponsonby-Smythe had booked the entire inn for his Goodwood house party", I was asked when I would like to book a table. I suggested the following evening and the table was duly booked.



      *** A STAR IS BORN ***

      As I said in the previous paragraph, I knew the Star and Garter as the Hurdlemakers in a former job. Evidently it was rechristened the Star and Garter in 2003 and it took its new name from the Richmond coat-of-arms (the Duke of Richmond being the owner of the nearby Goodwood Estate). The pub dates from 1740 and is a charming flint built building. Inside it's all decked out with bleached wooden tables and chairs and the odd church pew which adds to the rustic charm of the place. Some of the walls inside have been left bare with just the intricate flint work on display, and others are festooned with a number of pictures of East Dean throughout the ages, so you get a real sense of the history of the place. The overall feel of the place is definitely warm and welcoming.

      However, it has to be said that the Star and Garter is definitely not a pub-pub. You could pop in there for a drink, but you'd be outnumbered by the diners, and there's not an awful lot of bar space. Most of the bar area is laid up with tables to dine at. There are a few stools at the bar and one or two tables nearby at which to sup, but at least 80% of the pub is made over for dining. However, it is worth remembering that the pub does have a delightful and quite spacious garden. There is lovely large paved terrace area just outside the pub and a lawned area just beyond that. It was a warm evening when we dined there, and we took full advantage of the weather by taking our drinks and the menus outside. The views of the surrounding South Downs were delightful.



      *** FIVE STAR PUB GRUB ***

      With a definite lack of indoor drinking space, the Star and Garter is definitely a gastro-pub rather than somewhere you'd pop into for a swift half. However, it's still a warm and welcoming place, providing you're in the mood for dinner or lunch.

      We visited on a sunny Tuesday evening and the pub was doing a reasonable trade with a few lone drinkers in the garden, and a half-full restaurant of diners. I guess that's not bad going for a pub right out in the sticks on a mid-week evening. However, I suspect it would have been a different story the following week when Glorious Goodwood was underway; then you wouldn't have been able to move in the bar for racegoers dining on lobster and quaffing vintage champagne. The restaurant area in the pub is not massive - I'd say it can seat about 30-40 people at the most. However, if it's a sunny day then the garden and the paved terrace are available for some delightful alfresco dining.

      The Star and Garter serves food every day, and it's most definitely a foodie's paradise. There's not much in the way of snacks on offer here. Indeed, I saw no evidence of sandwiches or ploughmans...although they could well be on offer during lunch, and hidden away during the evening. Despite being well inland and in the middle of Sussex's green and rolling hills, the Star and Garter rather specialises in fresh fish and seafood. Local Selsey crab and sea bass from Portsmouth were very much in evidence when we visited. Evidently the pub is renowned locally for their Star and Garter seafood platters which retail from anything upwards of £40 to £70 (depending on the number of people sharing) and consist of lobster, dressed Selsey crab, scallops, wild salmon, large crevettes and a pint of prawns. Obviously this sort of platter is definitely not on offer if you're on the Groupon deal like we were! However, it certainly looked and sounded tempting enough to return and make a full price visit someday.

      In addition to the printed menu we were shown, there are about 6 or 7 daily specials chalked up on a blackboard. On the evening we dined there, the specials were mostly fishy with choices ranging from Warm Salad of Scallops and Chorizo, Whole Selsey Lobster with Lemon Mayonnaise and New Potatoes to Whole Baked Sea Bass Roasted with Garden Herbs and Fresh Fillet of Cod in Crispy Arundel Beer Batter with Handcut Chips and Tartare Sauce. However, if you're not a lover of seafood or fish there is still plenty to tempt your appetite. Specials included a Rib-Eye Steak or a Warm Barbary Duck and Bacon Salad with Honey and Mustard Dressing or simpler dishes such as Ham, Egg and Chips or Chicken Breast in a Creamy Tarragon Sauce. Pricewise I'm afraid that the Star and Garter could never be called cheap. Starters range in price from £6 to £8 and main courses run from around the £9 mark up to £17. Obviously if you're going to push the boat out and dine on Dressed Lobster Salad it's going to cost more - around £19 for one or £36 for two.



      *** EVENING STAR - DINNER FOR TWO ***

      We had reserved our table the day before and made them aware we were on the Groupon deal (£22 for two starters, two main courses and two glasses of wine). As soon as we arrived we were given an A4 sized paper menu with plenty of choice. However, the proprietor also said that we could also choose from the specials board if nothing grabbed our fancy on the paper menu. He did point out that we may need to "come to arrangement" regarding the costs if we did choose from the specials board, but it was done in a nice and helpful manner and we understood where he was coming from. Obviously we weren't going to be able to partake of a whole lobster salad apiece on our Groupon deal and if we wanted that option a supplement would have to be paid. However, I must say that it was nice to be even offered the option of upgrading and "coming to an arrangement". Far too many of the Groupon deals I have partaken of are all about choosing from a very limited range of options with little to no room for manoeuvre.

      We sailed out into their lovely garden with our drinks and our menus wanting to make the most of the good weather now that summer seemed to have finally arrived. There were plenty of choices on offer from Smoked Salmon, Calamari, Tiger Prawns, Whitebait, Baked Camembert or simply Olives and Bread from the starters selection. For main courses there was even more choice, and we had the blackboard specials to add to the pot as well. From memory dishes on offer were Ham, Egg and Chips, Hamburger, Scampi, Chicken Breast in Tarragon Sauce and Plaice and Chips, plus several others I cannot recall here. All in all were we pretty impressed by the selection of different dishes on offer under our Groupon deal. Often you are limited to 2-3 starters and 4-5 main courses on a Groupon deal and they tend to be the cheapest things on the menu. There was no such penny pinching here and we certainly weren't made to feel like second class citizens. We had the full run of the menu and could order pretty much anything we fancied (within reason).

      After about ten minutes the barman came out into the garden and took our order. We weren't expecting this and had fully expected to go back into the bar to place our order, so it was a nice touch. After another five minutes or so we wandered back into the bar and were told we could sit anywhere we wanted in the restaurant. After a short wait our starters arrived.

      For starters I chose Deep Fried Calamari with Lemon Mayonnaise. The Calamari (squid) were served in huge rings, and this was by far the biggest portion I'd ever received of this dish, and it's one I've eaten often. The batter surrounding the squid was lovely and crispy with just a hint of beer and nicely seasoned with salt and black pepper. It was a more than generous portion - served with a good, fresh salad garnish and a thick wedge of lemon to squeeze over the squid. The mayonnaise was served in tiny ramekin and was creamy and thick with just a hint of lemon to lessen the sweetness of it. It made the perfect foil to the crispy batter. Delicious :o) Himself choose Panfried Tiger Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce. Sadly the barman came up to us just after we had placed our order and informed us that the kitchen had run out of Tiger Prawns. We also overheard them tell another party that they'd run out of lobster too. Changing course swiftly, himself decided on his second choice of Devilled Whitebait with Tartare Sauce. This was a wise decision as yet again this dish was nicely presented and more than generous of portion. The whitebait were bigger and plumper than expected and had been coated in a nicely spiced breadcrumb and then deep fried. The spiciness of the breadcrumbs tasted like cumin to me, and they certainly had a bit of a kick to them. The breadcrumbs created a nice crunch to the outside but the whitebait inside the breadcrumbs were still fleshy and moist. Again, this dish was accompanied by a good, fresh salad garnish and a generous portion of creamy Tartare sauce, which proved a nice foil to the spiciness of the whitebait.

      For main course I chose the Homemade Beef Burger with French Fries. The burger was quite well cooked and had lost much of its moistness; coupling this with the dry bread roll, the whole dish was quite hard to eat. The salad garnish served with the burger was very nice and put some moisture back into my palate. The French fires were sublime - some of the nicest I've ever tasted. I'm not a fan of a chunky chip, preferring my fries to be skinny and crispy, and these definitely did not disappoint in either taste or portion size. The dish was also served with a chunky relish, which leant a hint of fruitiness to the dish. All in all I enjoyed this dish, but would have preferred it if the burger had been a little less well done.

      Himself decided to upgrade to the Rib-Eyed Steak with Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, Watercress and French Fries. He had to pay a £3 supplement for this, but decided it was well worth the extra investment. He received a nice sized steak which he asked to have cooked medium rare. The steak was still running with plenty of juices when he cut into it....unlike my burger. He also greatly relished the salad garnish, mushrooms, French fries and tomato that the dish came with.

      Desserts weren't included in our Groupon deal, but that certainly wouldn't normally stop us from partaking. Sadly, although we were both tempted by the dessert selection, neither of us had any room at all for a pudding. They had one of my absolute favourite desserts, Eton Mess on offer, but I just couldn't manage another morsel. From memory they also had Crème Brulée (a favourite of himself), Sticky Toffee Pudding (another one he's partial to) and locally made ice-creams. All the desserts are priced at £6...and I will make room for one next time :o)



      *** SEEING STARS (OR JUST TOO MUCH TO DRINK?) ***

      The Star and Garter offers draught lager in the form of Carlsberg or Leffe. Cider is locally produced Mr White's Heart of Hampshire dry cider. Real ale lovers can sup on Ballard's Best, Nyewood Gold or Arundel Gauntlet. Although there are a few taps for lager on the back wall of the bar, the rest of the bar looks more like a shop counter. However, lovers of real ale should not panic when greeted by the surprisingly pump free bar here! Evidently all the real ales are kept out the back and are drawn the old fashioned way by tapping them direct from the casks in the stillroom.

      For wine lovers there is a small but good selection from local wine merchants. We started off with lager. Himself had two pints of Leffe lager at £4 a time, and I made do with a cheapie lager shandy at £1.80. Our Groupon deal included a glass of wine each and we were offered either a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Himself chose the Chardonnay and had both glasses to himself as I'm not a great wine lover. I made do with a bottle of sparkling mineral water at £2 as I was the one that was going to have to negotiate the narrow and windy country lane road home afterwards. I did sip some of the wine and it wasn't all that nice - it was slightly too warm and very fruity. It reminded me of a German Liebfraumilch and we decided that himself would have done better to have opted for a drier and crisper Sauvignon on this occasion.

      The service at the Star and Garter was excellent. We were greeted warmly and served promptly. Everyone was very friendly throughout the evening and nothing was too much trouble. Our bill for the evening came a reasonable £15.30 and we rounded that up to £20 to include a tip. All in all this £22 Groupon deal was excellent value and we would definitely return to this pub and pay full price.

      The ground floor toilets were nice and clean, with a huge linen basket in which they requested you throw any used paper towels...a much nicer touch than the usual bin :o) As a side note, there is accommodation available at the Star and Garter as well. They have six letting rooms (all with ensuite bathrooms) available from £90 per night. Rates include a "hearty breakfast" as well as a flat-screen TV, free WiFi and tea or coffee making facilities in each room.

      I'm afraid that access for the disabled may prove to be somewhat of a problem. East Dean and the pub are prone to flooding (all that water cascading off the South Downs), so there are several steps up to the front entrance of the pub. Once inside, everything is level, but getting through the door in the first place may prove tricky.



      *** LUCKY STAR OR BLACK HOLE? ***

      It's not fair to say that I'd never been to the Star and Garter before as I knew the place well when it was the Hurdlemakers in 1990s. However, not having visited the pub for a good 10+ years I was interested to see what changes had been wrought to a former favoured watering hole. I have to say that the Star and Garter did not disappoint. It was still the charming flint built country pub I remembered, and the garden was every bit as lovely as it ever used to be. However, the new owners of the pub have done wonders with the menu. The menu at the Hurdlemakers was always rather pedestrian and unexciting. We only used it as it was one of the nearest pubs to our workplace, the food was reasonably priced and the garden great for relaxing in after a hard day's graft. However, it wasn't the sort of pub you'd go out of your way to visit or make a special trip for. Where the Star and Garter differs is in the menu. It now offers something special, something worth making that a special trip for.

      The Star and Garter is definitely recommended. It's a lovely gastro pub in a delightful countryside setting. Yes, the food and drink are expensive, but the quality and the portions are superb. Add in the friendly welcome, unpretentious furnishings and the stunning garden, and you've got a pub that's well worth making a detour to.

      The Star and Garter gets five stars from me and it's definitely laid the ghost of the Hurdlemakers to rest. Recommended.



      *** FURTHER DETAILS ***

      East Dean is a tiny little village surrounded by the rolling South Downs - it's very pretty and has a church and a pond as well as the pub. East Dean is just two miles from Goodwood Racecourse and the rest of the Goodwood Estate is only a tiny bit further on. Nearby you have The Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton and West Dean Gardens in West Dean. Chichester is just six miles away.

      To find the pub you need to take the A286 from Chichester heading towards Singleton and Midhurst. When you reach Singleton, turn right towards Charlton and follow this road until you reach East Dean. The village is very compact so the pub is very easy to find...but just in case you don't spot it, it's on the right just after the pond. The pub does not have a car park, but there is plenty of space on the roads nearby. East Dean does not get much through traffic (the odd tractor or rambler are more likely to pass by), so it's perfectly safe to leave your car in the street.

      The Star and Garter
      Butchers Lane
      East Dean
      West Sussex
      PO18 0JR

      Telephone No: 01243 811318
      Website: http://thestarandgarter.co.uk/

      * All major credit cards accepted
      * Lunch is served everyday from 11.30am to 3.00pm
      * Dinner is served from 6.00pm to 11.00pm (10.30pm on a Sunday)
      * Please note food is served all day on Saturdays and Sundays

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