“ Address: The Barleycorn / Main Road / Nutbourne / PO18 8RS „
The Barleycorn is one of those pubs I've driven past hundreds of times but never been inside...yet I couldn't tell you why. As a result of the record rainfalls in mid June last year my house was unfortunately flooded. We camped out as best we could upstairs for several weeks, but when the loss adjuster decided that the kitchen had to be replaced due to water damage there really was no alternative but to find rented accommodation for a couple of months whilst the drying and subsequent renovations were completed chez nous. We only moved literally four miles up the road, but our new route home took us right past The Barleycorn several times a day. We couldn't help but notice that the pub had been vastly overhauled with shiny new paintwork and a definite tart up to the exterior. There was also a massive new sign outside saying "Fresh Fish". Following our rather stressful move at the beginning of August (who knew one had quite so much "stuff"!), it was getting late and we were too tired to cook. We therefore decided to drag our weary limbs to The Barleycorn for some much needed refreshment, sustenance and a sit down. It was also a way to say thank-you to my parents who had both been absolute troupers in helping us pack, lift and carry all our junk between our old and new abodes throughout the day.
~*~ THE PUB ~*~
The Barleycorn is a period looking building with a smallish car park fronting right onto the busy main road (the A259) that used to be the old Portsmouth road. The pub looks very neat and tidy from the outside and it's obvious that the new owners have spent more than a few quid on updating the place. There's a posh new "Barleycorn" sign and some rather nice potted palms flank either side of the entrance. The pub is now painted a creamy white colour with the wooden window frames picked out in grey. All in all it's a rather tasteful refurbishment I must say. We ate there at night so I didn't get a chance to view the garden, but I did spot a nice looking outside gravelled area, which would be a nice spot for a sunny lunchtime snack (but is most probably used by smokers at night). Although the car park at The Barleycorn isn't massive (I'd estimate there is room for 12-15 cars at the most), there is a quiet lane right beside the pub (Cot Lane), and you can leave your car here without a problem.
The inside of The Barleycorn has obviously undergone the same updating as the outside of the building as it was all shiny and new inside. The bar had lots of shiny pumps and optics with plenty of clever spotlighting to make it look welcoming and attractive. The pub is done out with wooden floorboards throughout and there is lots of pale bluey-grey wooden cladding to the bar. There were a couple of bar stools if you're just after a drink, but not many. Most of the pub was filled up with different sized wooden tables, and although they weren't all laid up for dining, this place struck me as a pub that's trying to attract eaters rather than drinkers. This was borne out by the amount of blackboards festooning the bar area. I counted at least four if not five different blackboards, (as well as a hard back menu), and every single blackboard was detailing either a dish of the day, a dessert, sandwiches or a special upcoming menu. It was all rather confusing to say the least, and you really didn't know where to look first. If you sat down with the hardback menu, you missed out on all the daily specials, so you had to hop back up again and try and memorise the dishes on the massive blackboard in the bar area. On the evening we visited the place was quite quiet, and there were only a few other parties eating there. Including us, I estimate there were only about 20 people in the building, and that included the staff.
~*~ THE FOOD ~*~
As I said at the beginning of the review, The Barleycorn had a big sign outside the pub saying "Fresh Fish" and they certainly weren't kidding. The menu was absolutely bursting with every considerable type of different fish and seafood combination that you could imagine.
There is a limited range of starters on offer (prices ranging from £3.50 to £7.50) and dishes included were Soup, Moules Marinière, Chicken Liver Pâté, King Prawn Cocktail or Mezze (Serrano Ham, Olives, Feta Cheese, Dolmas, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Pitta Bread).
The blackboard of specials was so completely crammed with different fish and seafood options that I cannot possibly remember all the different dishes on offer, but from memory it ran the full gauntlet of everything you'd expect to see in a good seafood restaurant and quite a few surprises as well. There was a Half Lobster or Dressed Crab Salad for what I thought was a very reasonable £12.50. I was tempted to try their Monkfish dish, but I'd never eaten it before so decided to stick to something a little safer. From memory the blackboard offered daily specials of Bouillabaisse (a traditional Provençal fish stew), Salmon en Croûte, Fish Pie, Black Bream and Smoked Haddock dishes as well as many others that I cannot possibly recall. The pub has daily deliveries of oysters, mussels and scallops so many of the dishes were built around these ingredients. Pricewise the main courses ranged from £10.50 to around £15, which I thought was pretty reasonable.
There is a hardback menu as well, but this proved to be rather pedestrian and unimaginative. It listed the lunch menu of sandwiches, ploughmans or lighter dishes. There was also a menu for their weekly carvery session. Finally the menu detailed several meat dishes for those who weren't fond of fish. You can have Entrecôte Steak with all the trimmings for £12.50, Fillet Steak au Poivre for £15.50, Chicken Supreme for £12.50 or Best End of Lamb for £12.50.
To be honest, the blackboards are clearly the best option here, as they listed all that was fresh, and just slightly different to your usual run-of-the-mill pub grub....provided you like fish of course.
~*~ OUR MEAL ~*~
We were all very tired and extremely hungry as our house move had taken longer and proved a lot more arduous than anticipated. We'd almost reached the stage of all being too tired to eat, but knew we needed to refuel, and fairly quickly. We therefore decided to forgo the starters and plough straight on in with our main courses. After a bit of toeing and froing between viewing the various blackboards, the hard back menu and our table, we finally decided on four fish based main courses off the daily specials board.
My mother and I both chose the Luxury Fish Pie for £10.50 apiece. The pie consisted off a mixture of white fish, salmon and a couple of scallops mixed in with chunky pieces of courgette and aubergine in a creamy white sauce. This concoction was finished off with fluffy mashed potato topping and a smattering of melted cheese. I'm guessing that the "luxury" in the title for this fish pie was due to the addition of four medium sized prawns to the top of the pie, and indeed they made a nice addition. All in all it was a tasty pie and a generous enough portion for the price charged. Personally I would have preferred a pastry topping to the fish pie, be it filo or puff, rather than the potato, but that is a minor niggle. I did think it a little odd that the fish pie came served with a side salad here, as to my mind pies are much better served with a portion of vegetables rather than salad. However, the side salad worked quite well with the fish pie in this instance as it wasn't a particularly wet filling and you certainly didn't need any vegetables to mop up the juices. All in all, both my mother and I enjoyed our pies and we both cleared our plates in record time.
My partner had Salmon en Croûte with Red Wine Sauce for £12.50. The salmon was served in a filo pastry case surrounded with a thick and rich red wine sauce. Despite thinking it was rather odd to serve fish with a red wine sauce, it really worked well in this instance, and the red wine sauce really added a depth of flavour to the salmon. The dish was garnished with three small forets of cauliflower topped with melted cheese. I had a tiny taste of the dish in the form of a morsel of salmon smeared with the red wine jus and it was delicious. Himself enjoyed it very much too.
My father chose Codling with Cajun Spices at £12.50. I'd never heard of Codling before so I was interested to see what it looked like. Basically Codling is baby cod, and on this occasion my father received two long and thin fish that looked a bit like skinny trout. They were presented on the plate with their heads on but their eyes removed. The fish were served with a side salad and a rice mould. I suspect my father was slightly disappointed with his meal, but he was too polite to say much as he wasn't paying and we were. All he said was that the Codling did not have the Cajun flavouring to them that he was expecting and that all the Cajun spices seemed to have been added to the rice mould instead. The fish looked like extremely hard work to me, as there didn't appear to be all that much flesh to them and they needed to be eaten very carefully to avoid any bones. That said, he picked his plate clean and just left the bones behind so it cannot have been that unpleasing to him.
I cannot remember if we were offered desserts or whether we just asked for the bill. By the time we'd been served and finally eaten our main courses we'd all had enough, and we just wanted to go home to bed. I'd seen a list of desserts on a small blackboard on the bar, and it looked like a nice enticing selection with prices at around the £2.50 mark. From memory I can recall a Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Cheesecake, but the other 4 or 5 choices escape me.
~*~ DRINKS AND SERVICE ~*~
The Barleycorn offers a full range of lagers and bitters with real ale lovers being able to sample beer from the local Ringwood Brewery, Young's Bitter, Sharp's Doom Bar or the dreaded Abbot Ale (three pints and you'll think you can fly). I stuck to my usual lager shandy, himself had about four pints of Carling Black Label (moving is thirsty work....well that was his excuse anyway). My father stuck to a pint of Abbot Ale as he was driving.
On the evening we visited the pub was quite quiet, and there were only a few other parties eating there. Including us, I estimate there were only about 20 people in the building, and that included the staff. We were welcomed quite warmly and our drinks were served quickly and efficiently. As we were very tired and extremely hungry after our mammoth move, we immediately enquired about food and were directed towards several blackboards.
I found the positioning of the main blackboard very awkward as it had been mounted directly behind a table for four, and on the night we visited that table was occupied. The blackboard was huge, there were masses of options and the writing was extremely tiny. You therefore had to stand directly in front of it in order to try and see what was on offer before wandering back to your table, all the time trying to remember all the different options. I felt extremely awkward standing in front of this unsuspecting table of four diners who were trying to enjoy a quiet dinner and clearly didn't appreciate complete strangers peering just over their heads and having a sneak peak at their meals.
As soon as we'd had a good peer at the blackboard, we wandered off to find a table. My partner then went up to the bar and asked if the order needed to be placed at the bar or whether they came to us. We were assured that they would come to us to take our order. So we sat down and waited. We waited some more, and they we waited a little bit longer. Bearing in mind that the place was half empty, there were no excuses for the delay. My partner went back up to the bar and let the landlady know that we were ready to place our order, and she yet again assured us she'd be over presently. We then sat at our table and waited another ten minutes whilst she stood behind the bar doing absolutely nothing at all! I have no idea why she was deliberately making us wait - we hadn't been rude, demanding or unpleasant so her reluctance to take our order was baffling. I wonder if she was a little shy and needed to work up some Dutch courage in order to face us, or perhaps there was a crisis in the kitchen and the chef was best avoided with a new order.
All in all it was decidedly odd, and we felt more than a little unnerved by it. There was no explanation as to the slowness or reluctance to take our order, and we were left feeling somewhat undervalued. She did eventually take our order, but we then had a 35 minute wait for our food to arrive. Considering the place had only 3 or 4 parties dining there at the most, I consider a 35 minute wait for our food to be totally unacceptable. Add in the delay in placing our order in the first place, and I estimate we were in the building for a good 50 to 60 minutes before any food arrived. I know we were tired and hungry after our house move (and possibly a little irritable and quicker to criticise), but I really would expect a faster appearance of food on a plate than nearly an hour. Goodness knows how they will cope if they get a rush on in the future!
Our bill came to a fairly reasonable £61.80 which I thought was quite good value for four main courses and a couple of rounds of drinks. We didn't leave much of a tip as the service had been rather lacklustre at best.
~*~ RECOMMENDATION? ~*~
We all thought the food was rather good at The Barleycorn for the prices we paid. The menu was innovative and interesting, and there was certainly more than enough to tempt any lover of fish. The positioning of the blackboards was slightly awkward, but by no means a deal-breaker. However, where we did feel let down was the speed of service and the initial reluctance to take our order. A ten to fifteen minute wait to place our order was unacceptable given the quietness of the venue. If they'd been busy or rushed off their feet, we would have made allowances, but we could see the landlady standing just behind the bar either staring into space or polishing some already shiny wine glasses. Add in a further 35 minute wait for our food after we'd finally managed to place our order, and it turned into a rather long evening and not the quick meal we were hoping for.
The Barleycorn gets three stars from me - it should really be four stars as the food was very good when it finally arrived. However, the odd behaviour from the landlady over taking our initial order, coupled with the slow production of our meals means they lose a star. Recommended....but rather half-heatedly. After all is said and done, the food might have been good, but the service was rather bizarre and most undoubtedly lethargic.
~*~ FURTHER DETAILS ~*~
The pub is very easy to find as it's just off the A259 (the old Portsmouth road) - a busy main road running between Chichester and Havant. The pub can be found on the left just after you pass the sign to say you're leaving Chidham and entering the village of Nutbourne.