Sometimes I just love my job.
You know, that sometimes when you get asked to do something that is an absolute pleasure.
And that’s what happened when I was asked to sample The Royal Oak at West Lavington.
Nestled beside the A289 just outside Midhurst, it looks lovely from the outside.
It’s even better inside.
It has a bit of a chequered history, so eating there was always going to be an adventure.
And what an adventure.
Put simply, it’s the best food I have eaten in a pub – and I’ve eaten in a few.
Yes, the best anywhere. The best any time. It’s that good.
And how they’ve managed to produce food of that quality so quickly is nothing short of amazing.
Jamie Flodman got the keys to The Royal Oak on December 13.
Three days later, after freshening up the interior, the doors opened.
“We opened at 4pm, but we were still painting walls and moving the furniture around,” he says.
“Customers thought it was quite funny. By 6pm we were almost finished.”
Working in the kitchen is Jamie’s brother Jonathan Macdonald.
He has worked all over the globe, most recently in Melbourne, and has worked for the super-rich, for big firms and on superyachts.
It’s easy to see why he’s so much in demand. His food is to die for.
“I like to produce food with a bit of panache, but I won’t forget where I am – I’ll produce proper portions,” he says.
“I’ve worked in places where portion sizes are tiny.
“But we’re a pub. I can still produce lovely food, but I’ll make sure there’s enough if it.”
Oh, there’s enough of it.
My daughter and I started the evening with bubble and squeak with back bacon, poached egg and hollandaise (£6.50 and delightful!), seared scallops with truffled cauliflower puree and pancetta (£8.50 and superb) and a soft shell crab, celeriac remoulade and mojo sauce (£7.50 and the best of the lot).
For the main meal, I went for the slow-cooked Funtington belly of pork, with cauliflower puree and leeks (£14.50).
It’s cooked for six hours to let the juices flow into the meat.
The result is perfection – perfectly presented, perfect taste.
And the crackling really crackled. It was my highlight of many highlights of the night.
My daughter tucked into the filet of beef, maris pipers, kale with horse radish cream (£19.50).
I managed to grab a mouthful – purely in the interests of writing about it, you understand – and immediately understood her reluctance to let me have any of it. Succulent, juicy beef... beautiful.
We also got to try the pan roast rump of Sussex lamb, forest mushrooms and turnip, with a spectacular curl of potato crisp (£16.50). Outstanding.
The pub-sized portions had left us full, but as the winter berry Eton mess (£5.50) and steamed butterscotch pudding with honeycomb ice cream (£6) had come highly recommended, it would have been rude not to have tried them.
We’re glad we did. The perfect end to the evening.
The couple at the next table had eaten the home-made beefburgers and house chips (£10.95). “Come back another time try them – they’re amazing,” they said.
Oh, we’ll be back all right. There’s so much of the menu we haven’t tried yet...
Review by Colin Channon