Review: The White Hart, Stopham
Best view in West Sussex? Very probably! Muddy sails on down to Muddy Award finalist The White Hart next to Stopham Bridge to see if the food's as good as the scenery.
Once seen, this pretty destination gastropub in the tiny village of Stopham, just outside Pulborough in West Sussex, is never forgotten. Overlooking the River Arun, the pub has an unrivalled view of the ancient monument of Stopham Bridge, which dates back to the 14th Century. Admiring kingfishers, swans, ducks and other wildlife (I once saw a grass snake swimming across the river) whilst tucking into top quality pub grub and locally-sourced booze and letting the kids splash happily in the river between courses? Sounds like heaven. Let’s give it a whirl then.
It’s so easy to wax lyrical about the wonders of the outside, that sometimes I forget the White Hart has an inside. And a very welcoming inside it is too, your quintessential country pub, cosy and timber-beamed inside with a lovely fireplace, tasteful art and intricacies on the whitewashed walls, and a classy, well-stocked bar. For all that it’s very rustic, the White Hart isn’t overdone like a lot of country pubs that dial up the cosy a little too far, and the interior has a clean, spacious feel to it.
But unless it’s raining or blowing a gale, whatever the weather, I’m going to want to be outside. The fabulous garden is huge, classy and features plenty of decking, coverings and awnings, none of which take away from the view of the river. Incidentally the White Hart also does events and weddings and the size, location and scope of the venue would put it high on my list were I ever to consider tying the knot again.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Food-wise, think top quality gastropub, which is exactly what you want at a place like this which has such a hearty, outdoorsy, worked-up-an-appetite vibe. The amount of people who stop by the White Hart via kayak, canoe or paddleboard for a bite to eat before continuing with their river trip would definitely agree! The lunch menu features a small but perfectly-formed range of classics from burgers (£15.95) and fish and chips (£14.95) to a rib-eye steak from Loxwood-based John Murrays butchers served with all the trimmings (£28) and a selection of delicious-sounding open sandwiches. Starters include crispy whitebait (£7.95) and bread and olives (£5.95). Fancy sharing, tapas-style? Choose from a traditional ploughmans or antipasti platter (£12.50pp). Specials from co-owner and chef James vary daily and today’s involved fresh cod and squid.
I chose the delicious-sounding BBQ pulled pork bun (£14.95) served with apple and celeriac slaw and skinny fries. There are so many things that can go wrong with a dish like this – will the pork be greasy or overcooked and crunchy? Will the slaw have the right ratio of dressing to veg? All those textures to play with – and it worked perfectly. The pork was butter-soft and succulent with an incredible depth of flavour balanced out by the fresh, crispy slaw. The Mudlets perused the kids’ menu (all dishes £9.50 including ice cream or fruit for dessert) and contemplated pasta, but predictably chose a cheeseburger, and fish and chips. The fish varies depending on what’s sustainably available and today, it was haddock. The batter was feather-light and the fish perfectly firm and fresh. The burger was declared ‘better than Burger King’ (I want it on record that I have never taken them to BK but their dad has) – high praise indeed.
Desserts (all £7.50) were a surprise, I was expecting your usual pub menu featuring the likes of sticky toffee pudding, fruit crumble and chocolate brownie but the desserts were rather more sophisticated than this. Our eyes were on stalks watching the banana and pecan frangipane with lime meringue being carried to neighbouring tables, so we ordered this, along with chocolate bavarois with orange salad, and poached strawberries with white chocolate and strawberry sorbet. They were all classy and sumptuous and the frangipane in particular went down so well my daughters ask on a regular basis to go back to the White Hart ‘for that lovely pudding, Mummy!’
The dinner menu differs slightly, with more options including seabream with crayfish and sage risotto (£18) and a South Indian chickpea and spinach curry (£14.95). Dinner here would feel a cosier, more intimate affair than lunch, and the dishes change subtly to match – hello, date night.
The wine list is extensive, featuring old and New World whites, reds and roses, and locally-produced sparkling as well as a range of Proseccos and Bruts. Co-owner Ohin is a bit of a whiskey aficionado so there’s a great selection if that’s your bag – plus a resident fanatic to talk all things whiskey with. The Mudlets somehow sweet-talked James into whipping them up fresh homemade milkshakes, which were sensationally thick, creamy and indulgent. I’d have had one myself, but I’m not 9, so I had a coffee.
AROUND AND ABOUT
The White Hart isn’t far from Stopham Vineyard, so if you wanted to make an afternoon of it you could head over for a tour and tasting afterwards. Alternatively, hire a canoe or kayak from Fluid Adventures and launch from Pulborough, make your way up the river to the White Hart for lunch, then paddle back down again. You’re also within easy reach of Petworth, famed for its huge selection of antique shops, Petworth House and the gorgeous, Capability Brown-designed Petworth Park. Staying over? Check out The Garden House, just down the road in Coates, for stunning self-catering or glamping options.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A true destination pub, the White Hart can do it all, be that lunch with friends or the family, a romantic dinner date, or a big rowdy party. You can also stop by for breakfast at the weekend or book one of the special events, most recently a Goan curry evening.
Not for: Those who are afraid of getting their stilettos a tad muddy.
The White Hart, Stopham Road, Pulborough, RH20 1DS, 01798 874903, thewhitehartpulborough.com