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GOOD FOOD IN THE SUSSEX DOWNS
The Royal Oak (Poynings, Sussex)
Member Name: Mauri
The Royal Oak (Poynings, Sussex)
Advantages: Good food, lovely location
Disadvantages: A bit expensive
The Royal Oak is a traditional country pub that in recent years has developed into a highly rated gastro pub in the Sussex area. The pub can be found in the small village of Poynings in the heart of the Sussex countryside not far from The Devil's Dyke a well known local natural attraction. The Royal Oak has been on this site since 1880; the present owners Paul Day and Lewis Robinson acquired the pub in 1996 and have won some prestigious awards for their food and standards of service.
To get to Poynings you have to drive down a picturesque tree covered lane and as you come into the village from the north you come across the Royal Oak on the right. Just before the pub you are pointed toward its spacious car park which extends quite away towards the back of the pub alongside a large garden. On sunny days especially the week-ends the garden is full and has enough space to accommodate lots of people and sees many outdoor events like BBQs. In the summer months the garden also holds a large marquee for special events and ticketed musical shows.
The pub is a family friendly pub with a children's play area summer and well behaved dogs are also allowed in the bar but preferably in the garden but they have to be kept on a lead and not foul on the grass. The pub also belongs to the 'Les Routiers' scheme.
INTERIORS AND GENERAL AMBIANCE
The first impression from the exterior is not over-whelming, the building is rather large and imposing as it sits on the main road entering the village. I wouldn't say the pub looks particularly charming but it is well maintained and inviting none the less. There are a number of entrances depending where you are coming from. Inside the area is divided into different bars with a central open plan type serving area. There is plenty of seating available but on busy days most of the tables are used for dining customers and you might be dissuaded from sitting down with simply a drink.
The decor is certainly not modern or trendy. In the mainly dining area the tables are solid wood with either small pew type benches or solid wooden chairs with leather covered seats. If anything there a few too many tables populating the bars areas and it can feel rather cramped on the busiest days. In other part of the pub plusher leathers sofas and upholstered armchairs can also be found.
The interior is quite dark during the day but in the evening soft lighting gives the place a warm cosy feel. It has a smart partly paved part solid oak floor matching the blend of traditional decor with a modern twist, a mixture of earthy shades and exposed wood with the compulsory wooden beams in the ceiling. Oil paintings by local artists are on most of the walls, mostly depicting rural scenes of livestock or the nearby beauty of the South Downs. The pictures are for sale if you are tempted. In the winter real open fires in the bar areas keep the place warm and snug.
The beer selection is fair, on the pumps you get a choice of the local real ale Harvey's Bitter and the Cornish Sharp's Doom Bar. Guinness is available as are and few lagers including the Italian lager Moretti. You also have a choice of one cider and a Perry as well as bottled soft drinks and spirits.
There is a decent wine list including new and old world wines with many available by the glass. Where the pub comes into its own and where its reputation lies is in its food.
Despite its focus on food this is still a pub so food has to be ordered at the counter. Tables in the upper section more focused on food can be reserved before hand and this might be advisable if coming at the weekends.
The menu is seasonal so the dishes will change from time to time. There is usually an a la carte menu as well as a specials board and you can choose from a selection of starters and mains. A separate and less extensive sweet and puddings menu is also available. If you don't want to have a long sit down meal there are also as selection of lighter dishes from good ordinary sandwiches as well as filled baguettes including the 'classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato' or 'Tomato & Mozzarella' on open Ciabatta'.
The produce is mostly locally sourced and mostly free range or organic. Local beef produced by the pedigree Sussex herd from the neighbouring farm is often offered.
On the most recent occasion I visited the Oak on Monday lunchtime with my wife for a 'lightish' lunch in the dining area. We decided to do without a starter and simply have a main course and then see if we could fit pudding in later. I plumped for one of the specials; Pork, fennel and lemon sausages with herb mash, onion jam and gravy, my wife had ham, turkey and oyster mushroom pie with truffle mash and gravy.
When it arrived, the food looked fabulous. I got a generous three sausages with my dish perched on a mountain of mash topped with the onion jam. The food was swimming in dark, rich gravy which at first I thought excessive but it was just enough to complement the amount of mash I had. The sausages were lovely. It was a beautiful blend of flavours to accompany the richness of the coarse textured meat. The 'jam' added just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the richness of the gravy. One disappointing note was the mash which although smooth and creamy lacked any herbs as had been advertised. The pie was equally delicious, served on a bed of mash again with plenty of gravy. The ham and turkey has a delicate taste which didn't drown out the mushrooms. The pastry was light and airy in texture, perfectly cooked. Once the again the only slightly disappointing note was the mash, which was not 'truffley' enough.
Other mains included cold roast gammon with fried eggs and bubble and squeak. As well as beef dishes and pies. You could also plump for a traditional roast with trimmings and Yorkshire puddings. The beef was locally reared in the village, you could probably find out what the cow was called if you wanted to!
There was a good selection of fish on the menu for those not wanting meat. The fish was freshly sourced locally from the locally renowned Spring's fish suppliers in the nearby village of Edburton. Fish lovers would be tempted by the shared platter including smoked halibut, crayfish tails, smoked salmon, marinated anchovies served with warm ciabatta bread. Other dishes included 'Whole-tail Scampi', Sole, Marlin, or the more conventional battered Harvey's beer battered haddock with chunky chips served with a fresh side salad or mushy peas and a selection of dressing and sauces. Vegetarian options included 'Roasted Root Vegetables & Port Jus', 'Baked Portobello Mushrooms, stuffed with Chilied Ratatouille & Feta' or a variety of salads.
Although we missed them out starters included simple nibbles like olive and bread selection to more foody dishes such as pressed Sussex game with apple and raisin compote. Fresh French onion soup was also on offer as well as 'Caramelised Red Onion and Gruyère Tartlet with sticky apple' or 'Tuna, Watercress & Parmesan Cakes', Oriental Duck Spring Rolls with plum dipping sauce'.
The main courses were substantial enough but were not served with vegetables; these would have been extra as would have been side orders of bread.
Although quite satisfied with our main we felt compelled to try out one of the deserts. The pudding selection was small and included the very tempting chocolate fudge cake with handmade Madagascar vanilla ice-cream. In the end we both decided on the apple and treacle pudding with crème anglaise, which was stunning. If you didn't fancy sweets there was also a cheese selection including many local English varieties.
Now onto the price, the food is not cheap. You can expect to pay between £5 to £8 for a starter and £12+ for a main. My special cost £13 and my wife's pie and mash was £14 and these were by no means the most expensive dishes. You can economise a little if you just have sandwiches at around £6 or baguettes for a little more. The puddings were more reasonably prices at £6.
A reasonably priced Children's menu is also available.
DRINKS, SERVICE AND THINGS
Since I was driving and it was lunchtime we didn't buy alcoholic drinks but had instead orange juice and cranberry instead. On a quick viewing of the wine list I found that although small it was varied including a fair selection of white and red wines. They were not cheap though. The list started with the cheapest at £16 and quickly rising to much more than that! Our total came to just over £45 including service, which was on the expensive side.
The staff were polite and attentive but in a very matter of fact manner maybe if one were being a little picky you could say that it lacked the personal touch that one might expect from a country pub.
Lunch served 12.00-14.00 (Sat & Sun 12.00-21.30)
Dinner served all week 18.00-21.30 (Sat & Sun 12.00-21.30)
Wheelchair access looks possible but can be difficult because of the age of the building it is recommended to phone ahead if possible.
The toilet facilities were in good order and clean.
Nearest station: Brighton (10 miles)
To get there by car take the A23 London road out of Brighton, then turn on to the A281 sign-posted to Henfield and then follow signs to Poynings when you come to a mini-roundabout. The Pub is on right as you enter the village.
For those keen on walking Mid Sussex district council website have a 2 hour walk that starts and finishes at the Royal Oak and takes in the local area including Devil' Dyke. This would be a fun thing to do on a nice summer's day.
Wi-Fi internet access is available.
Overall the Royal Oak would be a good venue for a special meal out with friends in a distinctive country setting. The food was tasty and well presented, the service was very good but overall it was a little pricey.
The Royal Oak
Tel: 01273 857389
Fax: 01273 857202
Summary: A 'foody' pub in the heart of the Sussex Downs
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