Work took me to Guildford this week. To Loseley Park to be precise. The Surrey countryside was looking at its autumnal best - so close to the bustle of London and yet so far in terms of surroundings. Lunch called and I remembered a rather good little pub nearby that we'd enjoyed so much the previous year that we had lunch AND supper there during our travels.
My colleagues looked slightly dismayed as I rumbled our large van through the country lanes insisting 'it'll just be round the next corner'! Fortunately, eventually it did appear around a corner in the rather pretty, very English village of Compton. I was initially somewhat concerned by the freshly painted sign hanging outside. It claimed that The Harrow was a 'bar and restaurant'. I had remembered it as a very traditional pub that did really good food. Definitely not a 'bar' or even a 'restaurant'. I was in the countryside, I wanted a country pub.
Upon entering the pub/bar/restaurant it became clear that the pub had undergone something of a makeover. I later learnt that it had been taken over my new owners just two weeks prior to our visit. New paint. New tables and chairs. New menus. On initial inspection, The Harrow seemed to be having something of an identity crisis - whilst the bar area and large screen TV (please, no!) screamed pub, the swanky menu, paint-job and oversized tables did not. I was nervous...
The clientele were a mixed bag. Chiefly a sprinkling of retirees enjoying a mid-week treat and smart-suited business folk from Guildford entertaining clients. A slight lack of 'locals' I would hazard.
On return from the ladies (think nice-without -being-too-upmarket soap and handcream plus a complimentary tray of women's 'essentials'), my colleague said that he needed to 'explain' the menu to me. I am always wary of a menu that requires explanation. It turns out that half of the menu is not available at lunchtime - why not print a separate lunchtime menu, I wondered? Perhaps they will in due course.
Anyway, my spirits lifted when I read the menu. All the 'pub lunch' boxes ticked - a pie, bangers and mash, variations on steak, fish and chips, substantial sandwiches. Some of the dishes were favourites from a bygone era and I couldn't decide whether I thought this was inspired or ridiculous. Examples include spam fritters and corned beef hash. Out of nostalgia, I almost ordered the fish finger sandwich with iceberg lettuce and mayo. But I thought better of it. As for spam fritters, I am in the school of thought that there is never a good reason to eat spam. Not ever. Not even when it is the only thing left in the cupboard. My parents though would no doubt revel in this wartime relic.
As I toyed between fish and chips and a rather delicious-sounding chicken burger I saw a plate of 'ham, egg and chips' go by. It looked divine in an ironic, retro kind-of-way. Beautiful-looking ham, stunning chips and bright-as-a-buttercup egg yolks just screaming to be dipped into with one of those glorious chips.
I went for the Whitby cod fish and chips with homemade crème fraîche tartare sauce and crushed peas. It arrived fairly promptly and it was close to perfection. In fact, it would have been perfection had the peas not been forgotten and then arrived un-crushed. The beer batter was crisp and light, the cod beautifully fresh and the tartare sauce perfectly balanced.
As for the chips - divine. I have yet to understand how so many establishments can get chips so terribly wrong. These were just right - crisp on the outside and fabulously fluffy on the inside. And perfectly salted.
But I haven't yet told you about the condiments. When asking for the ketchup (yes, I'm afraid I simply must) I was pointed to the adjoining table of sauces. There were five different styles of mustard. English, French, Wholegrain, Dijon and American. Now that really is impressive for a pub.
We were working so didn't sample any of the more interesting beverages on offer. I took a look at the winelist though and it was good. Not especially exciting but a good, sensibly-priced selection of decent wines with a good choice of four of each colour by the glass. Bravo!
Service was efficient. But the staff and management were clearly feeling the strain of a busy lunch. Clearly word has spread quickly about the excellent fodder and almost all tables were occupied. Staff were certainly kept on their toes but this didn't detract from an overall excellent lunch. I would definitely return. In fact I'd advise taking a detour to come here. Not for the 'country pub experience' which The Harrow does not quite deliver, but quite simply for the excellent, hearty food.
The Harrow, Compton, Near Guildford