Much as I like my job, I’m still prone to a bout of the Sunday evening blues. Wondering where the weekend went and why I haven’t done half the things that needed crossing out on my to-do list.
I think the cure for this is to start work on a Sunday afternoon – by reviewing dinner and an overnight stay at a country pub.
My companion and I drove out from London on a grey Sunday afternoon, with at least an encouraging patch of blue in the sky.
After an easy journey we arrived at the Royal Oak in East Lavant, pushed open a heavy, old oak door, embellished with a 150-year-old brass plaque warning ‘poachers would be shot’.
One of the reasons I’d wanted to stay at this particular pub is that it billed itself as a ‘dog friendly hotel’ and so I had brought along Jimmie, my black spaniel crossbreed. Dogs are a great judge of atmosphere. If somewhere has it right, they’ll settle down happily for a snooze. If anything jars, they won’t.
We were shown to our room – in fact a small cottage at the back of the pub, with a large L-shaped sofa downstairs just made for lolling in front of a fireplace.
“Would he like a bed too?” the maid asked, pointing at Jimmie. As he was also there to review the place I accepted, but put his blanket on top to give it that familiar smell.
We had our own little cottage at the back of the pub
Off to the beach
The weather had cleared up a bit and there’s not much better than having a raging appetite for dinner, so after dropping our overnight bags, we drove to nearby West Wittering beach to blow away the winter cobwebs.
On the way we drove past a large field of pigs, happy and muddy, with their corrugated sty shelters nearby. As a Somerset girl I grew up eating pork and that’s how I like to see pigs kept.
It made me think of environment secretary Michael Gove’s recent announcement for a “gold standard” labelling system on meat and dairy products after Brexit, which will make it clear which animals are kept outside and which are kept indoors. Such labels will show us, for example, which milk is produced by cows that are grass fed with unlimited outdoor grazing and which milk is produced by cattle kept captive in sheds.
Of course, fresh game doesn’t need labelling when it’s literally field to fork, or shot to pot. Like all the best food, it’s unprocessed and comes in its own packaging.
Everyone was catered for, including thirsty dogs and walkers without wellies
After a good hour of being pleasantly blown along the beach we returned to our little cottage for a reviving cuppa. In a corner of the downstairs room was a tray laid out for tea with – best of all – real milk in the mini fridge. A big tick in the Royal Oak’s favour; so many hotels let themselves down by only providing UHT milk. There was even a bottle of dog beer for Jim on the house and some homemade dog biscuits.
I left my companion to the relaxing Sunday afternoon pastime of watching sport on TV, dog at his feet, whilst I went upstairs to have a long-awaited hot bath.
Sometimes a bath is just made for reading in and this was just such a one. The angle of back tilt and head rest was perfection, sufficiently upright so I could finish reading my novel while basking in (English-made) bubble bath.
Crispy duck egg with pea mousse. Perfection.
A couple of hours later we walked round the corner to the pub and went into supper. Both of us started off in the best way with a delicious gin and tonic.
As I was on a mission to eat game and local, I began with pigeon breast, which was served with pearl barley and roasted fig. The combination of pigeon and fig was a winner and I would happily have done without the pearl barley, although it made for a more substantial starter.
My companion opted for the crispy duck egg, served with a garden pea mousse and local bacon. He didn’t utter a word when eating, which was a pretty firm indication that he was finding it absorbingly appetizing.
For my main course I moved onto locally caught skate, with cockles, brown butter, sautéed spring greens and baby potatoes. He had roast sirloin of English beef, with roast potatoes, Yorkshires and carrots.
And breathe …
It was Lent and I had given up alcohol – but Sunday is a feast day during Lent and so a day off. We had a fabulous 2012 claret, which was the perfect accompaniment.
Puddings were proper, old-fashioned, real sticking-to-your ribs kind of fare – definitely not desserts. S had sticky toffee pudding and I had queen of puddings, which was delicious and presented far more elegantly than the version served at school.
A quick walk around the lanes before turning in, to a quiet and comfortable bedroom with a view of the farmland beyond. Properly dark too. Drifting off with nothing to hear through your windows but an owl is true tranquility. As is an excellent reading lamp at each bedside, for insomniac sleeping companions.
Spot the reading lamps, perfect for 3am insomniacs who don’t want to disturb their sleeping partner
After a solid night’s sleep – no insomiac reading this time – I had porridge with some very good coffee. I could have had the full Sussex though, but tend to be a lighter breakfaster.
Then I had a chat with the landlord. I wanted to know more about where he sourced his meat, game, fish and eggs.
As I suspected, he uses all local butchers. Jordans (with Sussex-produced beef) and regional pork.
In season game comes from three local shoots, including Chilbrove and Coleworth, and he buys the pheasant and partridge direct from the keepers. The pigeons were also from Sussex and Nick The Eggman supplied the duck eggs (and he sounds like a local).
The produce was so local that every animal was almost reared within the same parish boundary.
What I thought
If you’re exhausted and need an excellent dinner followed by a good night’s sleep, or if you want to have a mini celebration and a night away, then the Royal Oak in East Lavant may well be just the place.
The pub is a member of the Epicurean Club
, a group of countryside inns and city pubs across London and the South of England. For £99 a year you get some satisfying benefits, including a free Sunday stay when you dine à la carte, complimentary dog stays, room upgrades and late checkout and check-ins. The group also offers learn-to-shoot packages which would definitely be worth investigating or giving as a gift to somebody you want to encourage.
Bev’s Homemade Dog Biscuits Ingredients 2 cups rolled oats 1 cup peanut butter 2 bananas Method Place in food processor…
Things I particularly noticed
- Wellies, sticks and brollies were on offer at the door for walkers
- Considering it had been Mothering Sunday that day, the staff weren’t jaded and were still eager to please. Better still, everything was still available on the menu.
- The dog beer and homemade dog biscuits
- The peace and quiet at night
- Delicious pigeon
- Definitely a dog-friendly atmosphere. My dog felt quite at home and settled.
- Not a glimmer of the Sunday evening blues. At all.