“ Address: Woodmancote Lane / Woodmancote / West Sussex / PO10 8RD „
Kooky = strange, crazy or offbeat or Kitsch = excessively garish and usually considered in bad taste
I'd been hearing lots of good things about the Woodmancote so my birthday last year was an excellent excuse to try this pub out for ourselves. My partner was charged with booking a meal at a surprise venue for my birthday, but it didn't take me much guesswork to discover this was where he had in mind. So not much of a surprise, but a great idea anyway :o)
Evidently the new owners purchased the Woodmancote in 2011 and spent eight months transforming what was a rather tired and underused village pub into something rather different. Don't get me wrong, it's still very much a pub, but the décor is unusual, eclectic and certainly not what you'd expect in such a quiet and sleepy English country village.
~*~*~ THE VENUE ~*~*~
The Woodmancote has been transformed from a rather drab looking brown and cream pub into something with bags of character. The exterior is now clad in smart cream timber New England style with rather elegant looking pale green accented paintwork. The pub now looks bang up to date - modern, fresh and intriguing. There is also smart new signage in pale green and a rather massive "W" high up on the side of the pub. The "W" is picked up throughout the pub and it's emblazoned on their menus and adverts as a kind of logo. I couldn't spot any garden to the pub as it was far too dark outside to see clearly. However, the pub does have a very spacious covered seating area which is very popular with smokers. In keeping with the rest of the pub, this is decorated in a somewhat funky style with silver and white tables and chairs and green astro turf on the floor. It's also full of bamboo plants to convey a sense of inside-outside, but a patio heater to keep the chill off. The pub has plenty of parking with car parking areas on both sides of the pub, as well as plenty of verge space in front of the place. Just as well really, as on the night we visited both car parks were full and we were forced onto the verge. The Woodmancote must be doing something right to be that full on a Tuesday night in late autumn.
Once you get inside the building the adventure really starts, and you cannot help craning your neck to look at all the different quirky features in all the various parts of the pub. The biggest room is dominated by a long bar and colourful pictures of cowboys in shouty primary colours. The bar looks very warm and welcoming as if all the optics and pumps have been polished to within an inch of their lives. Old fashioned blackboards offer tempting suggestions on what to drink or what's new in. A fantastic retro jukebox nestles alongside an old beamed fireplace with display of old copper saucepans above it. Around the corner is a snug like room with a range of mis-matched tables and chairs set around an ancient pot-bellied stove. The walls here are decorated with some Andy Warhol prints of Friesian cows all in different colours. Next up there's a quiet room with one wall completely covered in wallpaper depicting books on shelves. There's a full sized wooden butler in this room which has been nicknamed "Woodie" after the pub. There's plenty to charm and delight even the most jaded of drinkers here as it's eclectic and interesting.
Moving into the dining area and the décor continues to catch one's eye. The theme here is more courtesan's boudoir to my mind - it's much darker and more intimate than the rest of the pub. There are grey walls and carpets here, but with very loud accents of red throughout. There's a huge painting of a blood red rose to one wall, scarlet red chairs and a tall glass vase on each table with a towering single green and white bloom. There's a gold cupid on one wall and a huge twinkling chandelier hangs in state to the centre of the room. To be honest all that is missing in this room is a chaise lounge and one of those old-fashioned folding screens with a negligee draped over the side! The ceiling actually appears to be padded in this room but I suspect it was nothing more exotic than painted artex. Even so, it definitely lends itself to creating a more exotic opulence to the room. To the back of the restaurant there's actually a huge white padded throne with a replica crown slug on the side. As you can imagine the throne is very popular with those celebrating as they get to wear the crown and have their party sing to them. I kept a very low profile and didn't advertise the fact it was my birthday as I would hate that kind of fuss in public....and besides wearing the crown would have messed my hair up :o)
We visited on a Tuesday night at the very end of October, two days before Halloween. As we walked into the pub we were amazed to see the floor had been literally covered in autumn leaves. However, this had not been caused by sudden gust of wind bringing in autumn debris through a door left open as we first suspected. The pub had literally been decorated top to tail ready for Halloween. As well as a floor strewn with thousands of leaves (pity the poor individual who had to clear that lot up on the 1st November!), there were spooky cobwebs hung from the ceiling and plump pumpkins in every alcove. All in all it was a little disconcerting to crunch our way through leaves inside the pub and then avoid taking an eye out on the slippery tentacles of the various cobwebs we needed to push our way through to reach the table we'd reserved in the restaurant. Full marks to the Woodmancote for throwing themselves headlong into celebrating Halloween - some great imaginative touches I must say. However, once we reached our table we were rather relieved to see it was leaf and cobweb free so we could enjoy our meal without any more dangling debris :o)
~*~*~ THE FOOD ~*~*~
Despite the quirky and unusual décor, the menu at the Woodmancote is surprisingly pedestrian. I was expecting something leaning towards Heston Blumenthal / The Fat Duck in terms of eccentricity, but this menu is most definitely devoid of dishes like Snail Porridge or Bacon & Egg ice-cream (thank goodness!). I'm guessing that Woodmancote village and environs can accept quirky décor but like their food more plain and wholesome - and quite right too.
The menu at the Woodmancote is fairly predictable pub grub and there aren't really many surprises to be found in the selection on offer. The menu is rather charmingly presented printed on brown wrapping paper and held in place on a tiny individual silver clipboard. There are daily specials as well as the standard printed menu, but I cannot remember what was on offer that night other than Ham Hock, so I'm guessing it was nothing out of the ordinary otherwise I'd have remembered.
The menu is all fairly standard pub grub at fairly standard pub prices. Starters range in price from £4.50 to £6.00 and include things like Homemade Soup, Smoked Mackerel Pâté or Meat & Liver Terrine. I thought that the sharing platters for two sounded most interesting and would definitely be something I'd love to try if I went back for lunch sometime. They offer four different platters from £11 to £14 and they're described as Mezze(olives, feta, hummus and bread), Charcuterie (cold meats and breads), Mixed Carved Meats or Seafood Platter.
Most of the main courses are priced a most reasonable £9.50 and include perennial favourites such as Pie of the Day, Woodies Beef Burger, Sausages & Mash, Fish & Chips or Ham, Egg & Chips. There are more expensive options on offer such as Rib Eye Steak (£19.50), Sirloin Steak (£16.00) or King Prawns (£12.00).
For those looking for just a snack, the Woodmancote offers a good range of sandwiches at £6.00 or Ploughmans at £7.00 as well as the main menu. There are also a good range of vegetarian dishes on offer as well as 3 or 4 choices for children at £5.50 per dish.
Children are most welcome at the Woodmancote as evidenced by their upcoming events for locals - a Halloween party with a prize of a day out at Chessington World of Adventures for the best costume. We also noted that they were running a Fireworks Night as well as plenty of Christmas events, so they are obviously very keen to be part of the local community.
~*~*~ A BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR TWO ~*~*~
As it was my birthday we decided to go for a full blow-out and partake of a full three courses with coffee to follow. We were seated on a small table for two near the edge of the restaurant which was rather nice initially. Himself was seated in a vast Chesterfield armchair which he loved. However, it was difficult to conduct a conversation with him as the restaurant was crowded and noisy and he needed to lean right forward in his armchair in order to speak to me. I was seated opposite in a bit of draught, so he definitely picked the right spot.
Without any hesitation I decided on Fishy Fish Cake at £6.00 for my starter as I do love a homemade fishcake. This was a nice chunky cake encased in a lovely crunchy breadcrumb coat. The fishcake was drizzled with a rich white wine sauce and accompanied by a crisp salad of mixed leaves, peppers and a vinaigrette dressing. The fishcake was a meal in itself as it was a more than generous portion served piping hot. Inside the fishcake was made with white fish, potato and a herb I suspect was Tarragon. The white wine sauce that accompanied the dish was rich and buttery and worked very well with the bland white fish filling. All in all it was a super starter and would also work well as a light lunch such was the generosity of the portion. My partner went for one of his favourites Whitebait at £6.00 which was served with tartare sauce and brown bread and butter. This was another extremely generous portion with a massive pile of breadcrumb coated crispy fish in a bowl with two enormous slices of buttered chunky brown bread on the side.
For main course I was torn between Hand Carved Gammon Ham with Duck Egg, Rustic Chips and Pickle or Chilli Chilli Chunky Monkey at £9.50 (described as moist shredded beef, plenty of beans and spices served with garlic bread and tortilla chips under melted cheese). I do love Chilli Con Carne et al, but only if they're on the mild side of spicy. I was informed by our server that this was definitely a mild dish so I decided to take the risk. I certainly need not have worried as the dish had a nice tang to it, but nothing I couldn't handle. This dish comprised shredded pieces of beef in a rich meaty and slightly spicy sauce. There was a generous selection of three different types of bean in the rich soup like sauce, red kidney beans as one would expect, but also chickpeas and some kind of small pink bean I was unable to identify. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and the crispy garlic bread helped me mop up the remaining sauce. Not so good was the side dish of tortilla chips as some of them had gone slightly soggy under the onslaught of too much melted cheese. I think they would have been nicer with a lighter sprinkling of melted cheese and not a huge fug of the stuff...but that's just a personal preference.
My partner had no hesitation in his choice and went straight for 8oz Sirloin Steak at £16.00 (described as 21 day aged Sussex beef served with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, golden onions and rustic chips). He was delighted with his choice and pronounced his steak as cooked just how he liked it - medium rare with plenty of juices still inside. It was served on a wooden board with his rustic chips (potatoes skins still intact) in a small bowl to one side. His steak was served with grilled tomatoes, fried onions and mushrooms as well as a nice sized portion of dressed mixed salad leaves. He cleaned his platter in next to no time.
Once our plates had been cleared, a member of the bar staff asked if were interested in desserts and brought back the pudding menu, once again printed on brown wrapping paper and clipped to the tiny silver clipboard. All desserts are priced at £4.70 each or you can have a Cheeseboard for £6.50. The desserts section all sounded lovely and we were both spoilt for choice. After weighing up various options such as Fruity Apple & Sultana Crumble, Lemon Posset or Bread & Butter Pudding, I went for one of my favourites Eton Mess and himself choose Very Choccy Chocolate Brownies. I'm afraid that the Eton Mess was a bit of a disappointment to me despite being huge in portion. The concoction was very rich and creamy and had a nice fruity tang to it, but all in all it was a bit too liquid for my liking and the pieces of meringue too small and too few and far between. My partner had no such disappointment with his dessert and I could see what he meant. His brownies were indeed very choccy and were covered in one of the richest and shiniest chocolate sauces I've ever tasted. He also enjoyed the vanilla ice-cream the dish came with as it helped cut through the richness of the chocolate. This was an extremely rich and indulgent dessert and a delightful end to his meal.
We were rounded things off with a Café Latte apiece and this was served with a couple of macaroons - crunchy to the outside and nice and gooey in the middle. Our bill for the evening came to a quite expensive £59.50 which we rounded up to £66 to include a tip. In keeping with the quirkiness of the venue the bill was delivered inside a sparkly red stiletto shoe, which certainly wouldn't have looked out of place on Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. The owners of the pub make no secret of the fact they are gay, so I did wonder if this was a subtle reference to them being friends of Dorothy...just in case their punters hadn't quite worked it out for themselves :o) Whichever message it's meant to send, it's certainly a quirky dénouement to any meal and a unique way of presenting the bill.
~*~*~ DRINKS, SERVICE AND EVERYTHING ELSE ~*~*~
The Woodmancote is a free house and offers a good range of lagers, beers and real ales. Draught lager offers you a choice from Fosters, Amstel, Pilsner Urquell or Kronenburg, and cider is Symonds Founders Reserve. Real ale lovers can sup on Brains SA, Directors, Summer Lightning or Hip Hop. The wine list isn't massive at the Woodmancote, but I daresay most diners will find something which appeals to their palate. All the wines have a short burst of colourful description next to them such as "crisp white with floral aromas" or "intense plum and blackberry flavours" so you'll know exactly what appeals. Bottles start at a reasonable £12.50 and glasses from £3.20. We drank Fosters lager all evening at £3.20 per pint - sophisticated we ain't.
Reviews on Trip Advisor continually complain of slow service at the venue, but we certainly didn't find it slow. We found the service to be reasonable. It was neither fast nor slow, but slightly disinterested. We didn't build up much interaction with the staff as they were far too busy to do anything more than the perfunctory chat that goes with a meal out. Don't get me wrong, they were friendly enough, but slightly harried. They didn't have time to stop and make small talk as there were far too many other tables to attend to. And talking of the "many other tables", it has to be said that the restaurant was more than a little crammed with furniture. I think they've either gotten a bit too greedy or they've bowed to popular demand for more tables, as the place is rammed with far too many tables and chairs. The staff had great difficulty in manoeuvring between the tables to serve food and drinks as there was simply not enough free space. Added to which with so many tables and punters in such a smallish space, the noise levels were high and we had difficulty in hearing what each other was saying despite the fact we were on a small table for two on the edge of the room. We could, however, overhear everything our neighbouring tables were saying such was their proximity :o( The Woodmancote is most definitely not a place of a quiet meal, but great fun if you're in a party of four or more.
The ground floor toilets were nice and clean, but surprisingly boring in décor. I was expecting something more in keeping with the rest of the pub. Perhaps bright red varnished walls or a silver sculptured hand dryer, but it was all very normal and pedestrian looking in there. I guess they've decided to titillate and amuse their punters with their outlandish décor in the pub itself and allow you a brief respite when you visit the loo.
~*~*~ RECOMMENDATION ~*~*~
The Woodmancote is certainly not what you'd expect of a local in a quiet and sleepy Sussex village - it's loud, brash and unashamedly different. But the question is, does it work? Well judging by the number of cars in the car park and the fullness of the tables in the restaurant on a Tuesday night in October, the answer is yes. Woodmancote residents and their nearby neighbours are obviously loving the transformation of their local and the place is definitely gaining a reputation locally as being somewhere you really must visit.
As for the décor, it's funky, outlandish and quirky. Some might describe it as kitsch, but I think that would be a tad unfair. It's all been done to tease the eye and delight the senses so I'd definitely fall in the camp that describes it as kooky.
The Woodmancote gets four stars from me. The food was good, the portions more than generous and the prices about average for this part of the world. However, they do lose one star for the layout of the restaurant and for the service. I did think that the service was a little impersonal and they have tried to squeeze too many tables into the restaurant. It felt a little too crowded and claustrophobic in there, and the staff definitely had trouble squeezing between so much furniture. It was also very, very noisy in there, so this is definitely not the right place for a quiet and romantic meal.
Recommended...if you like a lively atmosphere, good food and funky décor.
~*~*~ FURTHER DETAILS ~*~*~
Woodmancote is a tiny little village situated roughly halfway between Chichester and Emsworth on the edge of West Sussex. To find the pub you need to take the B2147 from Chichester heading towards Havant. Once you pass through Funtington look for signage on your left for the village of Woodmancote. The pub has plenty of car parking, but the village of Woodmancote is so small and quiet that you can also park on the verges by the pub (and you may well need to as this pub is mighty popular).
Telephone No: 01243 371019
- All major credit cards accepted
- Lunch is served everyday from 12.00pm to 2.00pm Monday to Saturday
- Dinner is served from 6.00pm to 9.00pm Monday to Saturday
- Please note food is served from 12.00pm to 8.00pm on Sundays