Monday, November 24, 2014
We are so fortunate to have a plethora of excellent pubs in the South of England. It seems like every time I read an article on the food scene in the country, there's another pub that is touted, "must-try", "the best in the country", "as idyllic as it gets". This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Why? Well, have you ever visited a shop early in the morning and there are a million parking spaces? Normally there aren't any and you dive into the first space you find. But when the parking lot is empty you take ages and finally pick the one that looks like it's been preordained by God as the space for you that morning. Usually it's no closer, or better than the space you normally get and it took you half an hour to decide. It's the same thing with the pub scene here in the UK.
If it were up to me I would visit the same few pubs week in and week out. I live in one of the best pub areas in the world and for me, The Bottle House, The Griffin Inn, The Coach and Horses and The Cat Inn are as good as it gets when it comes to English pubs. But, my wife and I like to get out of the area every once in a while and travel to pubs that are further afield.
The Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley, West Sussex is one of those pubs.
Now, I have been accused of being far too hard on restaurants in the past and I'm actually going to be a bit harsh about the food in a minute. So let me start with something positive. The drive to the Duke of Cumberland Arms and the scenery that surrounds it are among the best I have ever seen. It's like a mini-Lake District, right in the heart of West Sussex. Just minutes from the South Downs Way, this is truly a stunning place to visit. I felt like I was in The Hobbit, it's so pretty.
On to the negative. Ouch, this hurts me. I'm sorry to say, that I was disappointed with the food. Granted, I only had three items on the menu, but only one of the three was good. Actually, it was brilliant. The Mussels, served with Crusty Bread was the best example of this dish I think I've ever tasted. But the Fish and Chips and my wife's Burger were very poor quality, indeed. My wife's Burger was bursting with meat, but not in a nice way. It was seasoned too much and it was more than well done, it was cremated. It was supposed to be medium. The meat sat between two dense pieces of... what seemed like pine or maybe cedar wood. I'm joking of course, but it was a dense, horrible bun. As you can see from the photos above, the Burger just doesn't look right.
My Fish and Chips was slightly better. I enjoyed the Pea Puree. The Fish itself was glorious. However, the batter was dripping with grease that inevitably fell onto my Chunky Chips and made them soggy. It was one of the only times I haven't finished my Chips. They were soft and nearly flavorless. The Tartare Sauce was lovely though and I kept dipping my Chips into it in order to impart some flavor into them, but it just didn't work.
In the end, my wife left all of her bun and 1/4 of her meat from her Burger. I left quite a bit of my Fish, nearly all the Batter and a handful of Chips. £13.95 for her Burger and £14.95 for my Fish and Chips, plus £4.50 for Sparkling Water and I didn't feel like it was the best value meal I've ever had. £7.95 for a half portion of Mussels did help to ease the pain though as they are worth much more.
Having said all that, I will definitely be going back. I can be honest and I know that Fish and Chips and Burgers are not the best way to tell if a pub is good or not. It should be two of the simplest dishes to make, but so often chefs get these two easy dishes wrong. If you want to see how delicious these dishes can be, check out The Crown at Bray. Then you'll understand why I love them so.
Having won The Good Food Guide's Pub of the Year in 2012 I'm sure there are better items to be had on their menu. And I'll be trying them in the summer when I'm sure those views are nothing short of marvelous.
To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography