Two years on from the success of their first Hampshire pub, the Peat Spade Inn in Longstock, Andy Clark and Lucy Townsend have opened a second. Joanna Wood reports
With its mismatched wooden tables and chairs, old sporting and botanical prints on the walls, book-lined window ledges and artfully scattered bric-a-brac, the main dining room of the Anchor Inn at Lower Froyle in Hampshire feels like part of a tasteful, if eccentric, country rectory - in other words, as if it has been around for a while.
Indeed, the building dates from the 16th century, but it only opened in its current incarnation in March, after being closed for two years. It's a testament to the sure touch of new owners Andy Clark and Lucy Townsend - whose successful first business, the Peat Spade Inn at Longstock near Winchester, is a former Caterer Adopted Business - that the Anchor has an air of well-loved familiarity. And that intimacy extends to its menu.
Like that of its Longstock sibling, the Anchor's menu has a modern British rusticity about it. The work of Clark, who includes formative spells with Marco Pierre White and Hotel du Vin on his CV, and his head chef, Australia-born Shane Mernagh, it frequently sports classics such as beer-battered cod, Barnsley chop and Eton Mess.
"I like the history of English food," says Clark, who is currently spending most of his time at the Anchor, leaving Townsend to look after the Peat Spade. "I love the fact that they used to have big whitebait banquets on the Thames - it gives the devilled whitebait with garlic mayonnaise (£6.20) a context."
Local seasonality is the base from which the Anchor's menu kicks off. So, at the moment, beetroot, broad beans, artichokes and Hampshire watercress feature in several dishes on the à la carte. For instance, sweet, earthy baby beetroot and crunchy, peppery watercress come together in a salad accompanying satisfyingly chunky slices of chargrilled ox tongue, with a dollop of horseradish cream for extra kick (£6.90).
Offal is a Clark menu trademark - pig's head terrine with a salad of crispy pig's ears (£7) was on the opening menu in February, lamb sweatbreads with broad beans and minted peas (£7.90) is among the late-summer offerings. Admirably, Clark buys in whole lambs from a local producer, Isnage Farm, and butchers on site, distributing cuts throughout his restaurant and bar menus (legs go for a Sunday roast, racks on to a mixed grill, shoulders are confited, saddles get stuffed).
Other meat and produce comes from the trusted Hampshire suppliers that Clark has established relations with for the Peat Spade, only 40 minutes away, but the plan is to gradually build up local knowledge. However, one supplier that will probably remain constant for both pubs is Andover fish merchant Cooper's, which sources from Devon and Poole in Dorset.
Fish such as sardines, mackerel and cod make regular menu appearances in season and sell well, but lobster, surprisingly, does not. On the other hand, 16oz T-bone steaks (£29) shift at around four or five covers a night, while, among the desserts, summer pudding has proved popular.
"I look out for old cookery books for inspiration," Clark reveals. So plenty of traditional revivals get a nuance of a modern presentation - dishes such as a wickedly creamy Oxford and Cambridge pudding (£5.95), a non-baked version of Cambridge burnt cream.
The good news for Clark is that his passion for flavour-charged British food seems to be hitting the spot with his burgeoning customer base. Covers are an average of 34 for lunch and 40 for dinner midweek, rising to nearly 100 in the evenings between Thursdays and Saturdays. Average spend per head is about £35, inclusive of wine.
Most wine sales, says restaurant manager Casey Bartz, are in the £30-£35 per bottle bracket. A 2006 Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir from New Zealand's Central Otago region is popular at £34.50, and in the white Burgundies a well-priced £29.50 Saint Verain Terres Noires 2005 is a steady seller.
It's early days for the Anchor, but there's no doubt that Clark and Townsend seem to be on the way to replicating their success at the Peat Spade Inn. The fly in the ointment is the lack of a full kitchen brigade. "I need another three chefs," Clark says. "Do you know any?"
What's on the menu
- Whole globe artichoke, poached egg, hollandaise sauce, £7.50
- Crispy mackerel, onion tart, gooseberry relish, £6.90
- Steak tartare, £8.90
- Confit lamb shoulder, pepper relish, anchovy sauce, £17.50
- Whole rainbow trout, watercress, lemon butter sauce, £11.50
- Skate and scallop turnover, hollandaise sauce, £15.90
- Fig and almond tart, clotted cream, £5.95
- Eccles cake, Lancashire cheese, £6.50
- Plum crumble, vanilla ice-cream or custard, £5.95
The Anchor Inn, Lower Froyle, Alton, Hampshire GU34 4NA. Tel: 01420 23261 www.anchorinnatlowerfroyle.co.uk