When my parents were (and even when I was) growing up, regular flying was seen as the preserve of the rich and famous. Most people did not get on a plane until they were well into their teens or even twenties – even more so if that plane was heading “overseas”, to somewhere beyond South Africa’s borders. Movie stars were always being whisked to the plane door in a limo and jetting off somewhere but for Joe Bloggs and his family it was a rare and special occasion to board a plane at all. That all changed with the arrival of low-cost, no-frills airlines from the 1970s onwards, and by the early 2000s on any given weekend you could find every man and his dog jetting off on a low-cost weekend break. I still remember one of South Africa’s pioneering budget airlines Kulula’s first TV ad which was accompanied by the catchy refrain “Now anyone can fly, Kulula.com!” And fly we did, with gusto.
But now it seems that things are swinging back the other way. The budget airlines still proliferate and flights are as cheap as ever, but in an age of climate change, we seem to be falling out of love with flying to a destination. Budget airlines and increased airport security measures have over the past two decades systematically stripped away much of the glamour of flying, and whatever was left has been finished off by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. So after years of feeling smug and cool boarding a plane to jet off for a weekend, these days I feel far more smug hopping on a train and heading off for a weekend break in the English countryside – even more so when my destination is a lovingly restored listed building with a restaurant serving locally sourced produce.
The White Horse Inn in Sutton on the edge of the South Downs National Park is a Grade-II listed 18th century building with eight bedrooms owned by locals Odile Griffith and John Connolly, who joined together with Chris and Ali Booth to acquire the inn in 2017 from previous pub company owners. Downstairs there is a pub area with loads of pale wood, natural light, a beautiful brick fireplace, and the most comfortable bar stools I have ever sat in; as well as a dining area with about 15 tables, some with cosy leather banquette seating. We were warmly welcomed by genial and impeccably dressed manager Billy Lewis-Bowker who showed us around the property en route to our rooms.
The White Horse Inn has eight beautifully and individually decorated modern double bedrooms – five set in the main house and three in the rear garden (one in a refurbished cottage and two in a newly constructed luxury lodge, reached by crossing a lovely wooden deck where you can drink and dine in summer). Each room has a modern and spacious en-suite bathroom and is named after a famous race horse, inspired by the owners’ passion for horseracing and the pub’s proximity to Goodwood Racecourse. All the bedrooms have incredibly comfortable beds (either king or super-king sized) made in Devon from 100% organic Dartmoor wool. There is a hairdryer and a lockable safe in each room as well as a generously stocked tea and coffee tray, a small fridge, and complimentary bottled water. The bathrooms all have underfloor heating, fog-free heated mirrors, fluffy robes (my weakness!) and Noble Isle toiletries. A special mention must also go to their super-simple push-button selector for switching between the overhead and the handshower, which will delight anybody (like me!) who has fought in vain to understand the controls of a fancy hotel shower. I was shown to Galileo while my friend was shown to Frankel, a cosy and quiet room facing towards the back of the building, decorated in warm shades of red and with a lovely big bath. Galileo is a bit noisier as it faces the road and is above the pub entrance but is slightly larger, featuring a dressing area and decorated in restful teal and antique gold tones. The bathroom is generously sized and features a huge walk-in shower, 8-inch shower rose and a little tiled alcove with downlighters in the shower for your toiletries. I was smitten!
Once we had settled into our rooms, we headed downstairs to the bar for coffee and a truly epic homemade coffee walnut muffin from under the cloche on the bar. The waitress told us that cakes are baked on the premises every day and that if we came back tomorrow there would be something else to tempt us with our coffee. Suitably fortified with caffeine and cake, we set off to explore the village of Sutton, stopping first to admire the world’s cutest bus stop directly across the road from the hotel. I would definitely recommend a walk around the village as it is very picturesque with beautiful gardens, adorable cottages and some seriously impressive large houses. Make sure you don’t miss the beautiful parish church of St John the Baptist – the nave dates from the 11th century and the south aisle from the 12th century. There’s also a rustic and peaceful cemetery for strolling or just sitting and contemplating life.
We arrived back from our walk as the pub started filling up with locals and guests for their pre-dinner tipple. There is an impressive gin menu but we chose instead to have a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc at the bar before heading to our table for dinner. The wine list is mostly European and falls mostly into the £20-£60 per bottle price range, with a good selection of at least half a dozen each of reds and whites available by the glass. Once at our table, we enjoyed warm, freshly baked sesame rolls with homemade hummus and whipped butter while we decided what to order. The kitchen at the White Horse Inn is led by head chef Jonny Trent, who previously worked at the Michelin-starred Number 6 restaurant in Padstow and at the nearby Goodwood Hotel. Jonny is a firm believer in the importance of provenance and sustainability of his ingredients, and has developed close relationships with with local farmers, butchers, fishermen and producers to get the best possible seasonal produce for the menu at the White Horse Inn.
The menu comes in groups of five: a selection of 5 each of starters, mains, desserts and cheeses (all British), plus a couple of steaks and burgers. I started with the seared scallops with peas, courgettes & roe sauce (£12.00), while my friend had the ham hock & rabbit terrine with red onion jam & brioche (£9.00). My scallop dish was a perfect balance of flavours, with the sweetness of the plump scallops and peas complemented by the saltiness of the roe sauce and a gossamer slice of lardo that topped them. For my main I had the Chalk Springs trout with tenderstem broccoli, chilli, potato rosti & crab sauce (£18.00) while my friend had the free-range Gloucester Old Spot pork two ways, summer cabbage, spaetzle & roasted garlic (£19.00). I absolutely loved my trout – the skin was cooked to golden crispy perfection while the flesh remained moist and flaky. The rosti turned out to be more like a generous Jenga finger of potato dauphinoise fried to a crispy exterior; and the al dente broccoli with the umami-rich crab sauce were a great match. Sue also loved her pork – crispy belly and juicy loin medallions on spaetzle and a sprinkling of pork crackling puffs. On the side we had a portion of skin-on chips (£4.00) and peas, mange tout & gem lettuce (£4.00). For dessert I could not resist the rum baba with roasted pineapple and lime sorbet (£8.00) – although both the chocolate torte and the homemade stem ginger ice-cream tempted me! The baba was satisfyingly rum-soaked and the the caramelised pineapple and zesty ice-cream provided the perfect foil. All the food was meticulously plated and well-thought out with confident flavours and textures – definitely a dining destination worth detouring for if you are in the area.
VISITOR INFO FOR THE WHITE HORSE INN, SUTTON
Tel: +44 (0) 1798 869191
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