For a great dining experience, here’s the best Spread in town

Spread Eagle Hotel
Spread Eagle Hotel

During the second world war, it’s reputed that the local journalist was forced to take refuge at Midhurst’s Spread Eagle Hotel and worked from a corner of the 15th century lounge.

He would merrily tap out all the latest news about the town on his battered typewriter, surrounded by the ancient oak beams - and a roaring log fire in the winter months.

Spread Eagle Hotel

Spread Eagle Hotel

Readers might be able to tell me the veracity of this tale, but if true the reporter could have found no better a haven in which to locate himself.

For over many centuries the coaching inn - dating back to 1430 and one of the oldest in existence in the UK - has been at the heart of both local and national affairs of state.

Just above the lounge is the magnificent Queen’s Suite which provided accommodation to Elizabeth I when she travelled through the town in 1591.

A couple of centuries later Admiral Lord Nelson followed in her footsteps.

Spread Eagle Hotel

Spread Eagle Hotel

Framed mementoes - letters, sketches, and wise words - hang knowingly throughout this majestic building which has evolved from its medieval roots through to the additions of Georgian splendour over its long and distinguished existence.

This reassuringly timeless quality is to be found everywhere. In the style of decoration, in the furnishings, and even in the welcoming staff themselves.

When we visited this month, staying as a family for dinner, bed and breakfast with our teenage children, Mario served us in the restaurant.

Mario Quieti has been dispensing his own time-honoured hospitality at the Spread Eagle since 1975. Although now semi-retired, he continues to welcome guests as warmly and as generously as ever.

Spread Eagle Hotel

Spread Eagle Hotel

Of course, there have been changes and improvements. No great establishment ever stands still - but the best of them give the impression that the impertinence of change has been kept at bay.

In the mid-1980s there was a major conversion of the West Street wing.

In the late 1990s, the Aquila Health Spa, comprising indoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room, hot tub and gymnasium, was added.

The menu too continues to reflect new tastes and culinary innovations but in an interpretation that matches the aspirations of visitors here.

So while it might be true to say that the menu is contemporary, it’s also reassuringly traditional - with white table cloths and excellent service against the backdrop of a huge inglenook fireplace, stained glass windows, and hanging Christmas puddings.

We particularly enjoyed sharing a whole baked camembert as a starter and the crisp fried crab cakes and the grilled scallops with Chorizo, apple, hazelnuts, spinach were simply superb.

Our mains included lamb rump, South Downs venison steak, and sliced duck breast with mashed potato, spinach, orange sauce - and these won equal approval.

The food is all sourced locally whenever possible.

The secret of its success is the Spread remains truly independent. This is a family business and has been for more than half a century.

And it is that family dynamic, care, and attention to detail - reflected in the long-service and loyalty of the staff - which make the Spread such a special retreat.

Whether you are calling in for lunch or dinner - or perhaps even one of their famous clotted cream afternoon teas - you are welcomed like a very special customer.

For those using the spa or staying in one of the magnificent historic bedrooms - we were privileged spend the night in The White Suite - then this is a special occasion indeed.

It is sometimes easy to forget the treasures on your doorstep.

If you haven’t visited the Spread Eagle for a while, do make a return visit. At first glance it will seem entirely unchanged - but it just gets better and better with the passing years.

[blob] Rates at The Spread Eagle Hotel & Spa start from £119 for a standard room including breakfast, wi-fi and complimentary spa access. www.hshotels.co.uk, 01730 816911.