The White Hart, South Harting
Fill your cup, both literally and figuratively, at this cosy country inn tucked away in the heart of one of Sussex's prettiest South Downs villages. High end pub fare, a charming and friendly atmosphere and a blissful night's sleep await.
Half of Sussex’s pubs, restaurants and businesses claim to be tucked away in the heart of the South Downs but in the case of the White Hart at South Harting, this is actually true. Muddy’s wheezed past this cosy-looking country pub and inn on many a bike-ride, slogging up the magnificent Harting Down wishing instead I was stopping for dinner, dessert and an early night. The hub of this tiny village on the borders of Sussex and Hampshire, the White Hart is one of the Upham Inns portfolio and under the stewardship of the lovely Sophie. Does it live up to its promise of a nurturing base after a day well spent? Let’s find out.
I’ll give you fair warning, you’ll need to scrape your jaw off the floor before you enter because the views of Harting Down are absolutely sensational, especially at sunset when Muddy rolled up, knackered and starving (for a change). Out back there’s a lovely grassy garden, with its own bar. Inside it’s got the feel of a Highland lodge, all antlers on the walls, oak beams, fireplaces, cosy armchairs and tweedy decor. But this is proper tweed, not bad fashion tweed. Everything feels natural, rough tactile real wool, warm and characterful wood, exposed brickwork. You’ll want to run your hands over everything. Just make sure you’ve washed them first.
Since we’re on the subject of hand-washing, now feels like a good time to add that Sophie and her team have put in a range of hygiene measures including health and temperature checks for all staff before their shifts, and increased hand-washing and deep cleaning. Sanitiser is widely available for all guests and the pub is arranged to observe social distancing, with guests served at their tables. Guests can request staff wear masks if they feel more comfortable. The feedback from guests so far is that the atmosphere is still relaxed and as a bonus, the White Hart also now offers takeaways too.
But back to business. Inside the pub is low-lit and welcoming, with a bar area and a restaurant, all linked with those classic wood panels and posts. Plenty of fireplaces to choose from too and lots of cosy corners to tuck yourself away in, should you so desire.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Some locations just demand country pub fare at its finest and the White Hart absolutely hits the spot. The menu changes regularly to reflect the use of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, sourced where possible from the surrounding areas and businesses. It’s hearty – think roast haunch of venison, Cote de Boef and pearly barley and wild mushroom risotto – but upmarket hearty. I asked Sophie’s recommendation and went for the aubergine mezze to start.
Served with baba ganoush, tahini and tabbouleh, this was wonderfully crisp, peppery and satisfying – the portions are generous and I’d have happily eaten this for my main course. Some of the sharing plates looked mouthwatering too, if I’d had the space I’d have definitely tried out the garlic & thyme stuffed camembert. As it was I once again grilled Sophie as to the best of the main courses and was recommended the fish pie.
There are some dishes I rarely order when eating out and fish pie is one of them, because I don’t often find one better than I can make myself at home. But this was a firm contender, the mashed potato topping was perfectly golden and bubbly and the sauce was generous with the salmon and white fish. I love tenderstem broccoli fairly al dente and this was beautifully done. Top marks for Sophie’s recommendation.
If I’m honest, my main love of eating out is the desserts and I absolutely adore comforting puddings. That said the White Hart has a tasty-looking cheese menu, with an artisan selection from Sussex and further afield. But I couldn’t go past the promise of chocolate mousse with peanut butter cake, chocolate aero, caramelised banana and peanut ice cream.
Reader, it didn’t last long. It was all feather-light chocolate flavours and crunchy sweet nutty goodness, there’s something almost childlike in the satisfying combination of chocolate, nuts and bananas. And something very childlike in how quickly I devoured it even though I was stuffed.
The wine list is extensive and covers red, white, rose and sparkling by the glass and by the bottle, ranging in price from £3.50 for a small glass of house red to £69 for a bottle of Laurent Perrier. There’s plenty of French and Italian on there along with New World reds and whites and sparkling Cuvee from Nyetimber in Sussex. I don’t drink so I’m always interested in the non-alcoholic options, but today I went for a lovely proper frothy latte instead of one of the juices and soft drinks on offer at the well-stocked bar.
COME TO BED
Oh I thought you’d never ask! Sophie, my new BFF, earmarked her favourite of the White Hart’s cosy and charming rooms for me. In a separate annexe, away from the hustle and bustle of the main pub, it’s a huge ensuite with an enormous and inviting-looking bed, and a separate single bed tucked around the back so it’d be a perfect one for families and still allows privacy and, er, ‘grown-up’ time. If by ‘grown-up’ time you mean sending a few flirty texts before sinking into a pleasant slumber in the crisp and inviting bed linen, that is. After a quick video call to the kids, to show them the splendour they were missing out on, it was the land of nod for me.
Breakfast was served in the main restaurant area, which looked wonderful in the natural light. Given that breakfast is the most important meal of the day I was tempted to eat my way through the entire menu which featured mouthwatering delights like a full English, avocado, halloumi and poached eggs, and cinnamon French toast. Eventually I went for eggs benedict and they were perfectly cooked, with delightfully runny yolks.
AROUND & ABOUT
South Harting isn’t exactly big, but it’s right in the middle of the South Downs so the perfect stopover for anyone hiking the South Downs Way – and you’ll definitely leave rested and replenished. It’s also not far from National Trust house Uppark, and the Goodwood Estate with its racecourse, aerodrome, golf course and motor circuit. For culture, head to nearby Chichester or follow the A3 down to Portsmouth.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Outdoorsy types, families, cyclists and hikers. Dogs are welcome too. It’s also classy enough – and cosy enough – for a romantic break in picturesque countryside.
Not for: Culture vultures looking for a cool and edgy getaway. Rustic and wholesome are the buzzwords here.
The damage: The food and drink is reasonably priced for higher-end pub grub, with starters from £6.50 for the fresh homemade soup to £9.50 for pricier seafood options like scallops or prawn and avocado cocktail, and mains ranging from £13.50 for conventional dishes like ham, egg and chips to £22 for the haunch of venison. Comfy double rooms start from £84 a night, and family suites from £94.
The White Hart, The Street, South Harting, West Sussex GU31 5BQ, 01730 825124