“ Address: Stopham Bridge / Pulborough / RH20 1 DS „
Earlier this year my mother celebrated her 74th birthday, and announced that she didn't want a great deal of fuss made about the fact she was getting so old. We therefore decided to pander to her request, and keep things low key. My local radio station, Spirit FM, runs a weekly promotion called "Half Price Dining" where they feature a local restaurant or pub and offer you a chance to buy a limited number of discount vouchers. The White Hart was featured very recently, and we decided it was low key and laid back enough to qualify as a suitable venue for the birthday celebrations. For £15 we were able to buy a voucher from Spirit FM giving us £30 off the bill.
It had been more years than I can remember since I'd last been to the White Hart at Stopham, but it had been somewhere I'd visited fairly regularly in my youth. The pub is situated in delightful location on the banks of the River Arun and beside the rather picturesque and ancient stone built Stopham Bridge, which is now closed to traffic **. The pub garden in particular is a very popular place for a summer time drink beside the river. Indeed the last time I visited the White Hart was on a blazing hot summer day, and the garden was absolutely packed. I can remember being forced to hide at the bottom of the garden in embarrassment. Why? Unfortunately the local Morris Men were visiting the pub and looking for volunteers to join their merry band for a dance. My mother shows no shame in joining in with that sort of capper and duly stepped forward....hence our fleeing to the bottom of the pub garden in an attempt to disown her.
As last week's visit was on a dark night in mid February, the garden was out of bounds (and there were no lurking Morris Men in sight this time either thank goodness!). Sadly it was also too dark to see anything much of the bridge or the river below, so we headed straight inside the pub.
~~~ THE VENUE - HART OF HARTS ~~~
The pub dates from the 17th century and it was once obviously several riverside dwellings which have been knocked through to form one long low slung building. The pub is all on different levels so you climb up several steps to reach the front door and then once inside step down into the restaurant. Inside it's all quite cosy with a cheerful warming and welcoming fireplace. The ceiling is studded throughout with ancient beams, but the décor is a little tired to be honest. The carpet is a rather lurid swirly pattern - the sort you see in your granny's bungalow. It's not so much shabby chic here, but more tired and lived in. Nonetheless the place does have a certain charm, and the welcome we received upon entering was excellent.
Evidently the place has recently been taken over by a new couple, and they were as keen as mustard to ensure we enjoyed our evening with them. There are a variety of special deals on offer all of which are obviously to encourage local people out of their front rooms watching TV and into the White Hart for a pie and pint. Things like "Monday Blues" where you can have a pint of Carlsberg or a pint of Sharps Doom Bar for £2.50 on a Monday night. They also run regular live music nights, quiz nights and "open mic" evenings. Finally they offer a two-course menu for just £9.95 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. All in all, they're doing a lot to encourage people to use their local boozer and I hope it takes off for them and their efforts pay off. We've all seen so many local pubs shut their doors in the last 10-15 years and it would be a shame to see this charming hostelry go the same way.
The pub has an unpretentious and relaxed air to it and it's definitely a place where you'd feel equally as welcome if you just wanted a drink rather than a meal. We visited on a Sunday evening and the pub was fairly quiet. There were a few drinkers in the bar and a few lone diners, but that was the extent of it. I would imagine they were quite grateful to have our reservation for a party of six as it made the place look a lot busier.
~~~ THE FOOD - EAT YOUR HART OUT? ~~~
The White Hart serves food all day every day and there is a good range of dishes to suit every budget. Indeed the most expensive main course on offer comes in at just under £15, which is rather reasonable in this part of the world. The White Hart is most definitely a pub-pub and has no gastro-pub pretensions. The food is mostly all good hearty pub fare and priced with a keen eye to attracting punters through the door. The lunch menu offers a range of Filled Baguettes (from £7), Pizzas (£7 to £12) and Ploughmans (£8.45) as well as heartier dishes in the form of perennial favourites such as Scampi, Macaroni Cheese, Lasagne, Fish and Chips or Burger and Fries (from around £7 up to the £11 mark).
The dinner menu is slightly more interesting and has matching prices. Starters are all around the £5 to £7 mark with dishes like Green Lip Mussels, Butterfly Breaded King Prawns or Asparagus Spears. Main courses start at £8 ( Ham, Egg and Chips, Homemade Fish Pie and Crab Bake) and go up to just under £15 (dishes such as Sirloin Steak, Roasted Pork Belly and Loin of Cod). Desserts are all homemade and cost a reasonable £4.50 each. In addition to the printed menu, there is a beautifully chalked up blackboard in the bar which lists the daily specials on offer. On the night we visited this comprised of two starters and about four main courses.
~~~ OUR MEAL - HAVE A HART ~~~
We rang up the day before to ask if they could accommodate a party of six on a Sunday night and if it would be acceptable to use a Spirit FM discount voucher. I didn't want to buy the voucher unless they were happy to accept it. However, they said it was fine provided we called them back with the voucher code, which I duly did.
Once we'd ordered drinks at the bar, we were shown through to our table in the restaurant. The table had plenty of A5 size laminated menus to peruse and we also had our attention drawn to the specials blackboard in the bar. Once we'd made up our minds, the landlady came and took our order.
We ordered four portions of Pan Seared Garlic Chicken Goujons at £5.95. However, our server came back almost straight away and informed us they only had enough for three portions, so my father decided to choose something else. The landlady was most apologetic and came up with several recommendations as to what he might prefer. In the end he had something that was not on the menu which was Carpaccio of Beef. Carpaccio is very thinly sliced and marinated raw beef and my father's beef was draped over a lovely fresh mixed salad and garnished finely grated parmesan. He thoroughly enjoyed it, and we were all quite envious of his dish as the chicken goujons weren't all that special. To my mind a goujon is a thin strip of meat coated in breadcrumbs and fried until crispy on the outside. The goujons at the White Hart were strips of chicken which had been lightly fried, but not pan seared, and had no breadcrumb topping. The chicken didn't much taste of anything and I was slightly disappointed with it. If there wasn't going to be any breadcrumb coating, I would expect the chicken to have been marinated in something to give it some depth of flavour. The chicken strips were garnished with a mixed salad, some kind of oily dressing and some lardons. A perfectly presented dish, but one that lacked flavour I'm afraid.
For our main course several of our party quite fancied the Veal Escalope served on Bubble and Squeak with thinly sliced French Beans from the specials blackboard. However, almost as soon as we ordered it we were told they'd just sold the last portion. This was more than a little strange, as the landlady had just discussed the full range of specials with us and had not pointed out that the veal was running low. Added to which, the pub was more than a little quiet, and I didn't spot anyone else at the same stage of their meal as we were. Perhaps the kitchen had done a quick scratch and sniff and decided that the veal no longer passed muster, as there was no way anyone else had just ordered it! No matter, we swiftly returned the menu to choose alternative dishes.
In the end we all chose different things. I had Lamb Steak with Redcurrant Jus at £14.95. This was a nicely sized portion of lamb steak presented in a bowl of gravy. Despite a lack of garnish it was a flavoursome piece of meat, just a bit boring looking, and lacked any hint of redcurrant flavouring. It was altogether too brown and could have done with a sprig of green mint or a couple of red berries to make it more pleasing to the eye. It came accompanied by an individual dish of vegetable consisting of cauliflower, carrots and one of my favourites, braised red cabbage. The dish was supposed to have new potatoes with it, but I asked if I could have chips instead. These were simply delicious - crispy to the outside and fluffy inside.
My partner had Royal Windsor Pork Escalope at £12.95 which I was once again expecting to be coated in breadcrumbs. I always expect an escalope dish to be a flattened thin piece of meat coated in breadcrumbs, but they had other ideas at the White Hart. This was a fairly thick piece of pork which had been pan-fried and then served in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was a tasty enough dish, just not what either I or my partner expected, and he was also disappointed with the smallness of the meat portion. My mother chose her dish off the Specials Blackboard as this one was still available. She had Salmon and Prawn Linguine with Garlic Bread which was a goodly portion of linguine pasta flecked with lots of pieces of flaked salmon and small prawns. It was all bound together with a creamy sauce and garnished with grated parmesan and a huge piece of garlic bread. She enjoyed this dish but struggled to finish it as serving both pasta and bread with this dish was a bit too much for her. I suspect she would have preferred a small side salad as a side dish rather than the garlic bread.
My father and my brother both chose Barbecue Ribs with Mixed Salad and French Fries at £11.95. This was a fairly small portion it has to be said, and I think my brother was disappointed there were so few ribs on his plate. However, they both pronounced the barbecue sauce as delicious, and it certainly did look good. Finally, my sister-in-law went for a Baked Cod with Vegetables dish which was also off the Specials Blackboard, which she thoroughly enjoyed. I didn't get much of a look at this dish as she was at the opposite side of the table to me.
We had all spotted a rather tempting looking blackboard of desserts all priced at a reasonable £4.50. Again, the landlady was very good at running through the list and explaining what some of them were. My partner plumped for a dish described as Bonne Femme, which was basically chocolate mousse. He didn't really enjoy his choice all that much as he felt it was rather on the elderly side and had been hanging around in the kitchen rather too long :o( My mother and I both had Marbled Chocolate Pyramid which was a beautifully presented dessert. Thin tranches of marbled white and milk chocolate were stood up on the plate to form a pyramid shape and inside was a chocolate mousse filling. It was such a work of art it was a shame to eat it! My brother and sister-in-law shared a Winter Berry Trifle, which was so nice they wished they'd ordered one apiece rather than sharing. Other dishes on the dessert blackboard were Sticky Toffee Pudding, White Hart Cheesecake, Apple and Blackberry Crumble, Treacle Sponge Pudding and Melting Middle Chocolate Pudding.
~~~ SERVICE AND DRINKS - TAKE HART ~~~
The White Hart offers Fosters draught lager, Stowford Press cider and others. Real ale lovers can sup on Harveys Best, Sharps Doom Bar and various guest ales. My father and brother each enjoyed a pint of Sharps Doom Bar before moving onto a bottle of red wine, but my partner and I stuck to Fosters. I was designated driver for the evening so I made my half of lager shandy last all night (and it was a good job I had no more than a shandy as the drive back home over the South Downs was rather fraught with hazards....at two separate points groups of deer ran out onto the road in front the car causing me to swerve).
The service at the White Hart was very friendly. I believe we were served by the new landlady herself and she couldn't do enough for us. She was most apologetic when they ran out of several specials from the blackboard and really helpful in suggesting alternative dishes. We were looked after most attentitively throughout the entire evening and nothing was too much trouble. The service was swift and drinks were fetched from the bar and brought to our table without a murmur, which was nice (far too many pubs can get a bit sniffy about fetching drinks to you and encourage diners to go up to the bar and get their own). All of our dishes - starters, main courses and puddings - arrived after a wait of only 10 to 15 minutes at the most.
Initially I did find the pub warm and welcoming due to the blazing fire in the bar, but when we moved through to the dining area, I found it a bit chilly. There was a wood burning stove in this room, but none of the heat from it was reaching me. However, I was seated at the end of the table nearest the door so I guess it was just bad luck on my part. Afterall no one felt the cold in there - it was just me :o(
One thing to note at this pub is that there are more than a few steps to manoeuvre. Being so near a river, one suspects that they have had more than their fair share of flooding problems over the centuries. Therefore there are a range of quite steep steps to climb to enter the pub itself. Once inside, the pub is split over several different levels, and to get to the toilets one needs to go up another couple of steps. Therefore, I suspect this is not the best of venues for the disabled or your elderly grandparents simply as it's rather bumpy terrain to manage. And talking of the toilets, they're clean and functional, but rather dated inside. Clipped tiles and rather ancient carpet are the order of the day here, so not a place to linger in really.
Our bill came to just shy of £150, but with our handy £30 discount voucher it landed up being £119. We all paid £44 apiece to include a tip. I think that £119 for 4 x starters, 6 x main courses, 4 x desserts, a bottle of red wine and a couple of rounds of drinks was fairly good value here considering the quality of the food and service.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION - HART TO HART ~~~
We all enjoyed our evening out at the White Hart, and my mother certainly enjoyed her low key birthday celebrations. The food was very good and the service superb. Although we were disappointed with their running out of several specials, the alternative suggestions were just as good and any regrets quickly forgotten.
I'd certainly like to return to the White Hart again as there was more than enough on their menu to tempt me to a return visit. The prices were reasonable and the food well cooked and presented. I think a return visit on a warm summer's evening could well be on the cards. The garden at the White Hart is truly delightful and there's nothing nicer than sipping a Pimm's beside the river on a hot day....providing those godamn Morris Men don't make an appearance of course....
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS - HART AND SOUL ~~~
Stopham is not really a village, just a collection of one or two houses, the pub, a garden centre, an ancient bridge and the new bridge which replaced the ancient one in 1986. The pub is just off the A283 which is the main road between the village of Pulborough and the town of Petworth. The pub has plenty of car parking opposite the pub.
** Even if you don't want to visit the pub, Stopham Bridge itself is a rather stunning Scheduled Ancient Monument, and well worth a visit. There has been a bridge on this site since the 1300's with the first stone version dating from 1442 (probably with a wooden drawbridge to allow boats to pass). Over the centuries the bridge has been extensively repaired and reconstructed with a central arch added in 1822 to provide the extra clearance needed for the more heavily laden barges of the industrial revolution. The bridge remained part of the main road until 1986 when it was finally decommissioned by a brand new metal construction just a little further upstream. I can well remember driving over the ancient bridge in my younger days as the traffic lights they installed used to take an age as the bridge was too narrow to allow vehicles to pass on it. Nowadays the bridge is closed to all traffic, but it's a super place to stop and admire the views, and enjoy a quiet pint in the lovely gardens at the White Hart which overlook the river and the bridge. It's also a good starting or stopping point for a super river side walk alongside the River Arun in the area. More details can be found at http://myriverarun.com/houghton_to_stoph​am.html
The White Hart
Telephone No: 01798-873321
* Food is served all day, every day
* Opening hours are 10am to 11pm with an 11.30pm closing on Friday and Saturday and 10.30pm closing on Sunday