“ Address: Stoughton / Nr Chichester / West Sussex / PO18 9JQ „
It was an extremely dark and rather stormy night when we decided to venture out to the Hare and Hounds. The pub is located in the tiny downland village of Stoughton, and we'd forgotten just how long, and dark, the road to get there was. We were half convinced we'd driven past the pub in error such was the blackness of the night. Eventually we came across it - rather gratefully as we really didn't fancy trying to turn around on such a narrow lane and ending up in a ditch.
In case you didn't quite get the gist of my previous paragraph, the Hare and Hounds is right in the middle of wild and woolly Sussex countryside where they've never heard of street lighting. The village of Stoughton is home to about 250 houses and one pub. It's about 5 miles north-west of Chichester and situated on a rather winding country lane between the villages of East Marden and Walderton.
The village of Stoughton is more than a little remote, but that's a big part of its charm. The village is dominated by the green hills of Walderton Down and Stoughton Down both of which form part of the Kingley Vale Nature Reserve. The village is an excellent base from which to start a hike and the views are superb from the top of the hill. However, the views and the hill climb were firmly off the agenda on a dark November night :o( So was our hare-raising (sic) drive to get to the pub really worth the effort, or should we have stayed at home and put our feet up? Read on....
~~~ THE VENUE - LET YOUR HARE DOWN ~~~
Before we went there, I was convinced I'd been to the Hare and Hounds before, but as soon as we got inside I realised I'd mixed it up with somewhere else and this was definitely my first and only visit here. Our first impressions were good - it was warm and welcoming with a cheery real log fire burning merrily in a beehive fireplace. I'd never heard of a beehive fireplace before but they're evidently named for their shape and it makes sense to me now.
The Hare and Hounds is equally as welcoming whether you want a snack, a full meal or simply a drink. It's definitely not the sort of pub where they would turn their noses up at you if you asked for half a lager instead of a portion of jugged hare. Indeed I would imagine they'd welcome any trade at all in the deep mid winter such was the quietness of the place. We visited on a cold dark night in November and the pub was virtually empty. The restaurant part of the pub only had one other party eating there (a young family of four) and us. There were a few locals seated in the bar area of the pub, but that was it. All in all, I estimate that there were less than 15 people in the pub throughout the whole evening, and that included the staff (both front of house and kitchen workers too!)
The pub is housed in a charming flint built building and from the outside it looks just like someone's house. The pub sign has been removed for some strange reason, and only the tables and chairs to the front and side of the building give away the fact that it's a pub. Once we'd parked we did notice the white lettering on the side wall of the pub (which reads "Hare and Hound" singular....as there's obviously not enough room to fix the final "S" onto the solitary hound to make him into a pack!). Inside the pub is all flagstone flooring, low beams and rustic charm. The tables in the dining area of the pub are all bleached pine with red gingham effect curtains to make the place more cosy in the winter. The pub has an unpretentious and relaxed feel to it when you first enter.
~~~ THE FOOD - HAREWAY TO HEAVEN? ~~~
The Hare and Hounds serves lunches and dinners every day. The luncheon menu caters towards the lighter appetite with things like filled baguettes (£5.95), ploughmans (£7.95) and lunchtime pub classics (£7.95) such as Scampi, Ham, Egg and Chips, Fish and Chips or Sausages and Mash. I would imagine a simpler luncheon menu such as this would go down well with their daytime clientele as I suspect it comprises of many walkers and hikers visiting Kingley Vale Nature Reserve or taking in the views on the nearby Stoughton or Walderton Downs.
The dinner menu is slightly more exotic and a tad more expensive, although it is quite reasonable compared to some other pubs in the area. Starters are all around the £6 to £7 mark with main courses costing from £9 up to £17 (for an 8oz Rib-Eye Steak). Puddings costs around £4.95 each.
Starters comprise of old favourites like Soup, Devilled Whitebait and Homemade Pâté. Mains courses offer things like Scampi, Pie of the Day, Ham, Egg and Chips or Beef Burger and Chips. In addition to the printed menu we were shown there were about 8 daily specials chalked up on a blackboard. On the evening we dined there, the specials were all good hearty pub meals, with a heavy emphasis on what I call "stodge". You know, things like Steak and Kidney Pudding, Pies with Mash, Game dishes and Liver and Bacon - all good for sticking to your rib cage (or putting hares on your chest...sorry...yet another pun).
For starters there was Local Venison Live Pâté served with Toast and Homemade Fig and Stem Ginger Chutney at £5.95. Main courses offered Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Champ Mash and Vegetables (£12.95), Seared Lambs Liver and Bacon on Mashed Potatoes with Rich Onion Gravy and Vegetables (£11.95) or Smoked Haddock and Spinach Risotto topped with Shaved Parmesan to name but a few. I was tempted by the Poche Grille Local Uppark Partridge with Cider and Rosemary Jus, Dauphinoise Potatoes and Vegetables (£13.50), but my last experience with choosing partridge as a main course rather put me off trying it again as I found it extremely dry and flavourless.
~~~ OUR MEAL - HARE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW ~~~
We hadn't reserved a table and there was rather obviously no need to do so on the evening we visited. We were welcomed immediately by the lady on duty, but she was busy sorting our meals and drinks for the only other party eating there that evening, so it took her a couple of minutes to serve us. She was rather obviously doubling as both waitress and barmaid that evening, and was the only front of house member of staff on duty. We both ordered lager, and asked about eating. The lady gave us both an A4 size printed menu, and also drew out attention to the specials blackboard over the bar.
After about ten minutes of perusing the printed menu and the blackboard, the bar lady came and took our order. We had decided against starters, so we were rather surprised and delighted to receive a complimentary plate of tiny snacks comprising of a few Marinated Olives and four slices of Garlic Bruschetta each. This was a very nice touch and took the edge off our appetites.
For main course I chose a Quarter Pound Beef Burger with Stilton and Crispy Bacon served with Fries and Coleslaw at £8.95. I'm none too fond of stilton so I asked if it would be possible to change the cheese topping from stilton to cheddar, and the bar-lady agreed to do this without any hesitation. The food arrived after a wait of only 10 to 15 minutes at the most. There was a good plateful of food and a massive portion of crispy shoestring fires - my favourites. The burger was plated up in two halves with a generous salad garnish to one half and the burger, crispy bacon and melted cheddar cheese topping to the other half. There was also a generous portion of coleslaw served in a ramekin and a good sized gherkin garnish. All in all it looked simply delicious, but the proof would like in the tasting, and that's where it all went sadly wrong. The burger was obviously not made on site, and was a cheap bought in one. It tasted like the sort of burger you'd buy off a mobile unit and had no discernible beefy taste at all. The menu didn't say it was a homemade burger, but for £9 I would have expected a better quality tasting burger than the one served. The coleslaw was also a bought in product and had a watery, vinegary consistency to it, so I didn't bother to finish it off. The fries were truly delicious, but they were the only item I can rave about with my dinner. On the whole I would have expected a far better quality meal than that which I received.
My partner chose off the Specials Blackboard and plumped for Steak and Kidney Suet Pudding with Mash Potatoes and Vegetables at £12.95. His steak and kidney pud was covered in a good splodge of gravy and a generous mound of mashed potato. He was given a separate and most generous serving of vegetables comprising of carrots, cauliflower, leeks and mashed swede. He thoroughly enjoyed his meal, although again, we suspect that the steak and kidney pudding was bought in rather than made on the premises. The plentiful lashings of gravy went some way to making the dish tastier and a little less "shop bought" in flavour.
We both decided we quite fancied a dessert so the bar-lady brought the menus back over to us after she had cleared our main courses away. My partner was tempted by both the Warm Chocolate Brownie topped with Pistachio Ice-cream and the Rich Vanilla Crème Brulee, but finally settled on Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce. As he'd had pudding for main course and pudding for dessert he was definitely a sitting target for several well-aimed jokes from me about becoming a bit of a pudding himself if he continued on this diet. He ignored me, of course, and got well stuck into his pudding. He received a generous square of sticky toffee pudding which was swimming in a rich and dark butterscotch sauce. The pudding was topped by a generous mound of vanilla ice-cream, a wafer and a kumquat. By the time he'd finished it he was more than a little full - one too many puddings in one sitting I would imagine :o)
I choose Apple and Berry Crumble served with Vanilla Ice-cream. This was once again a more than generous portion and I struggled to finish it. The layer of crumble was very deep and pleasantly crunchy with a lovely nutty and biscuity flavour to it. Underneath the mountain of crumble was a goodly layer of warmed fruit comprising apple, blackberries and plums. All of this was also topped with a generous mound of vanilla ice-cream, a wafer and a kumquat. Both desserts were priced at £4.95, and they were definitely well worth the price in our opinion. If they were shop bought then we really couldn't tell with this course, unlike with our mains selection.
~~~ SERVICE AND DRINKS - HARE'S LOOKING AT YOU ~~~
The Hare and Hounds offers draught lager in the form of Becks, Fosters or Kroenenburg 1664 and Stowford Press cider. Real ale lovers can sup on Hophead, Harveys Best, Flack's Double Drop and others. The wine list isn't huge here, but there are still plenty to choose from with bottles starting from just under £14 and a glass from £2.60. As per usual we stuck to lager - starting from £3.30 per pint.
The service at the Hare and Hounds was very friendly. We were greeted warmly and served fairly promptly. There was only one lady serving both food and drinks so she was a bit pushed if anyone wanted a drink whilst she was serving food. She did her very best to keep everyone happy though - making eye contact and explaining she'd be there in a moment.
The pub was warm and welcoming due to a blazing log fire in the restaurant, but rather sadly, the atmosphere in the place was glacial. A bit of music wouldn't have gone amiss. As it was, we felt the need to whisper quietly to each other in order not to disturb the silence of the pub. Once the kitchen closed, the staff joined the locals in the bar area, and they all got quite loud and vocal. As there was no ambient music playing in the pub there was nothing to drown out the sound of someone effing and blinding in the bar next door. I curse as much as the next person so I don't find swearing all that offensive, but when you are trying to enjoy a quiet meal in a quaint country pub, it's not really in keeping with improving the atmosphere. It was a good job the family with young children who had been eating there when we arrived had paid and left, as I very much doubt the parents would have appreciated such foul language in front of their little ones.
One thing to note here is that the ladies toilets are up a rather steep flight of stairs. They are very clean and tidy when you reach the summit (lots of nicely laundered hand towels and Baylis and Harding toiletries), but if you are aged or infirm you may struggle to reach the facilities without some effort.
Our bill came to a quietly reasonable £40.05 and we decided to pay cash rather than wait for all the phaffing about that occurs with credit cards. The rather chilly atmosphere and quietness of the venue had finally gotten to us, and we just wanted to pay and go rather than linger with coffees. As we had limited cash we couldn't leave the full £4 tip we ought to have but managed to scrape together £3 instead. We felt a bit mean as the service had been attentive and warm (unlike the ambiance), but we just couldn't stand it in there any longer.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION - HARE ME OUT.... ~~~
There's an old adage that says "You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds", so I'm not going to prevaricate here. In keeping with the adage, I've definitely decided where I stand on this issue! The Hare and Hounds is best visited in the summer, and really not worth venturing out to in the middle of November. Part of its charm is the garden to the front of the pub and the delightful views up into the green hills surrounding the village of Stoughton. Sadly all this was unavailable to us in the middle of that dark November night, and the food and the atmosphere most definitely did not make up for it.
I would return on a fine summer's day, but probably just for a drink in the garden. The food is definitely not worth making a special trip for, and the atmosphere inside the pub was such that one would prefer to sit outside. The Hare and Hounds gets only three stars from me. The food was distinctly average and the atmosphere dire, both of which sadly over-shadowed the warm and welcoming service.
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS i.e. SPLITTING HARES ~~~
Stoughton is a very tiny little village situated roughly halfway between Walderton and East Marden in West Sussex. To find the pub you need to drive north-west from Chichester onto the B2146 road and then take the lane leading to East Marden. The pub has plenty of car parking, but the village of Stoughton is so small and quiet that you could also park on the verges by the pub if the place happened to be full. This was not a problem we encountered on our visit as the car park was virtually empty (as was the pub!).
The Hare and Hounds
Telephone No: 02392 631433