Gem of a Gastropub on the South Downs
I popped down to the South coast recently to catch up with my friend Fran, who I’ve known since, er, 19-something-other when we were both barely knee-high to a grasshopper if we stood one on top of the other. Lots of chat, lots of wine, you know how it goes. We took the opportunity to try out the Earl of March in Lavant, near Chichester – and what a treat that was.
As locations for pubs go, it’s pretty much got it. Lavant, in West Sussex just north of Chichester, is perched on those gorgeous rolling downs, so the view is stunning. I was lucky – we were there on a perfect sunny evening – but it would be hard to imagine it ever not looking impressive. And we were only about 20 minutes drive from the coast, too.
We started out on the terrace, which is full of comfortable chairs – with cushions and blankets in case you need to snuggle in as the sun goes down. All a bit blissful, actually. Sunshine, glass of wine, delectable specials board brought right to us.
I had heard great things about the food at the Earl of March – and that they had local Selsey lobster on that night – so my expectations were riding pretty darn high. The chef there, Giles Thompson, was, earlier in his career, Executive Head Chef at the Ritz and later Head of School at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in Marylebone.
The menu alone was more than enough, but the specials board – complete with the promised lobster in various guises – was super-tempting. I went for the Terrine Maison of Duck (which was rich and delicious), with truffled field mushrooms and pistachios,The Earl’s Relish (which was sweet and delicious), cornichons and toasted soda bread (which was dark and crispy). Fran had the smoked salmon, which looked absolutely stunning on the plate – and which she tells me was delicious.
I just had to try the lobster (obviously) so I went for Lobster Thermidor, which I’d never had before – but now want to eat every single day. Fran’s steak was huge and beautifully cooked, with crispy chips that looked like chips ought to look but never really do.
There wasn’t a huge choice for pudding – but, to be fair, we didn’t have much space left and the ones we we did manage to squeeze in (well, it would be rude not to…) were utterly fabulous. Fran’s brownie was achingly rich and gooey, and I had trouble not actually licking the plate to get every last delicious drop of the salted caramel sauce in which my sticky toffee pudding was happily paddling.
It wasn’t just the food, though. The pub’s been beautifully decorated in ‘country plush’ (is that really a thing?) and it managed to feel grown-up and relaxed as well as more than a little bit special. I was gazing enviously at the little almost-private room that larger parties can book – or sometimes just sneak into – but the main dining area was so lovely that I really shouldn’t have been.
The service was friendly and relaxed, and I could quite happily have sat there all night, talking, ordering more wine, enjoying the view, and just lapping up the Lavant luxury that is the Earl of March. Lucky for me, it’s not that long a drive – took me a couple of hours from Tring – and that’s perfect for a sneaky weekend away on the coast (right, Mr C?).
The Muddy Verdict
Great for: treating yourself – or, better still, being treated to a fab dinner out, celebrations, hot dates, birthdays, anniversaries, that sort of thing.
Not so great for: well, there is a very well-thought-out children’s menu (for Mini Gastronauts!) but I’m not sure I’d take mine there necessarily – although possibly for Sunday lunch. If they’ve been very good.
£££: on the main menu, starters range between £8 and £15, with mains starting at about £15 and heading up to £23 for the loin of venison. Puds are between £6 and £9. The Set Menu, only available at lunch, sits at £19.50 for 2 courses, or £21.50 for 3. There are some bar food choices, too, and sandwiches for between £7 and £10.50.