Dorset Arms, Withyham
Find Winnie the Pooh connections on the doorstep and great home-reared food on your plate at this Ashdown Forest pub, renowned for its organic meat.
This large East Sussex pub near the Ashdown Forest dates back to the 18th century and has a great choice of nooks, both inside and out where you can choose to settle in for a great lunch or dinner.
Among them is a garden room with a clever Wimbledon-style retractable roof and sun shades. Perfect for inbetweeny weather, or for stopping arguments on whether to sit in the pub or alfresco.
The Dorset Arms is part of the historic Buckhurst Estate so carnivorous foodies will be in their element. Organically-reared meat and game from the Estate appear on the pub menu, including a Buckhurst Bar Steak. Roasts are offered on Sundays, of course, and the wider menu includes fish, oysters and Sussex cheeses.
Not being a red meat eater, when I had lunch at the pub recently I went for double fish – light fishcakes with an excellent zingy horseradish sauce, followed by a perfect lemon sole with shrimp and samphire with french fries on the side.
I also snapped some of my table mates’ choices to give you more of an idea.
Puddings veered from comfort food – mmm check out this crumble!
…to a trio desserts – chocolate mousse, lemon posset and creme brulee – handy for the indecisive, or for sharing, as I did.
‘100 Acre Wood’ from the Winnie the Pooh stories actually sits within Buckhurst Estate. Owner Lord de la Warr dropped into the pub while I was there and told me how his dad used to play with Christopher Robin – and, yes, his toy bear – in those very woods.
A keen foodie, Lord de la Warr is behind the sausages on the menu – made to a type he fondly remembered from his childhood that he asked a local butcher to recreate (so popular they’re now stocked by Waitrose).
Though the decor and un-stuffy atmosphere of the Dorset Arms is definitely one of a pub, there are elements of fine dining even beyond the quality food, with monogrammed plates and waistcoated serving staff. It’s certainly a place you could choose for a special occasion.
Christmas (eek!) menus for parties and the day itself are out now, featuring turkey, venison and more, so take a look and get planning.
I asked for a nose around the pretty cottage (a former school room) behind the pub while I was there, which features six recently refurbished ensuite bedrooms with nice touches like robes and Nespresso machines.
One room has an adjoining lounge and the cottage can be rented as a whole if you bag it early.
In the area
AA Milne’s home village of Hartfield is just up the road.
Here you can drop into Pooh Corner – a gift shop and tea rooms selling all the souvenirs you’d expect, and pick up a map to local places mentioned in the stories. A cute sticker passport lets you tick off where you have been. You can also get written directions to the Poohsticks bridge, about 15 minutes out of the village – and instructions on how to play, in case you’d forgotten (as if!)
Groombridge Place is also nearby, which has elaborate gardens, the UK’s longest tree top walkway and usually plenty on for children, especially in the school holidays.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Meat lovers. A good choice of indoor, outdoor or even half-and-half dining spots. Working a great lunch into some touristy day trips, or walks in the area. A special occasion get together, relaxed enough to include children. A date in one of the cosy corners. The option of making a weekend of it with a country cottage break.
Not so good for for: There are veggie choices on the menu but with meat the star vegetarians are unlikely to make a beeline here. Wifi is patchy in the area.
The damage: Mains range from £11 for the Buckhurst sausage and mash, to £27.50 for whole roast grouse with game chips and bread sauce, or £29.50 for half a lobster, but most hover round the reasonable £12 – £16 mark. Lunch and early evening menus are great value with two courses for £16.50, or three for £21.
Rooms in the cottage start from £85/£90 for a twin/double midweek.
The Dorset Arms, Buckhurst Park, Withyham, Hartfield, TN7 4BD, 01892 770278, dorset-arms.co.uk