Review: The Old House Inn, West Sussex

Old House Inn May 2016-13

Whether you’re heading to Gatwick airport or just looking to explore the West Sussex countryside, Good Things editor Zoe Perrett says that The Old House is the perfect pub-with-rooms

I can’t imagine why anyone needing an overnight hostelry on their way to or from Gatwick would stay anywhere other than The Old House. In an area long on bland motels and soulless chains, it’s a characterful, friendly gem set in some very beautiful West Sussex countryside.

With higgedly piggledy, low-ceilinged rooms typical of its 16th-century pedigree and its rather brilliant food, the pub alone is reason to stop here. But The Old House also offers half-a-dozen rooms which, as we discover as we’re shown to ours, are a pretty lovely prospect to return to after a hearty dinner and a bottle of wine.

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Spread over two levels in a converted barn flanking the pub’s pretty, extensive garden, each one is named for a local wood and feels a bit like a self-contained  – and seriously stylish – chalet. We’re on a work trip and, with a generously-proportioned bed, a desk and chair, ample storage for all our glad rags and a telly for those rare non-staring-into-a-laptop-screen moments, we’re all set.

After a rainy day spent standing in a park event managing our gin festival, The Ginpourium, a long steamy shower in our matte-grey-tiled wetroom is just the ticket. In all honesty, the temptation to crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads for a log-like slumber is strong, but we’d be folly to miss out on the dinner hinted at by a brief glance at The Old House’s menu earlier.

Comfort and joy
The dining room is packed, and not with a specific type of customer. On the way to a table tucked into a cosy corner of the Snug, we pass families, couples, businesspeople and mates out for a Saturday night jolly-up. It’s busy, it’s buzzy, and it’s a thoroughly pleasant place to be.

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And the staff are delightful. One suspects that it’s part of The Old House’s recruitment policy to employ only jolly, chatty, genuine individuals, and boy have they stuck to it. You’d happily sit down over a pint and a board game with any of them.

In keeping with our professional MO, LB samples a g&t made with local Silent Pool gin whilst we  try and decide what to order faster than we want to because we are suddenly both faint with hunger.

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Thankfully, a selection of home-made breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar keeps the proverbial wolf from the door until our starters arrive. In times of need, throw all carb caution out of the window. And, should you happen to be here, order a bottle of white from a list prepared by Master of Wine Tim Atkin.

‘Locally sourced’ is value intrinsic to The Old House’s menu, but the dishes themselves are cherry-picked from around the globe – evidenced by my ‘Indian thali’ starter which comprises loose tangles of light, crisp vegetable bhajis, plus a sort of spiced hummus called channa pyooree, and aubergine chutney and raita, which we scoop up with triangles of buttery, flaky paratha bread.

For LB, it’s the warm crispy duck and watercress salad, in which the bitter leaves provide the perfect foil to the rich meat. He’d kind of gutted he didn’t order the larger size as a main, but no matter – there’s more to come and, glancing around, it doesn’t look like mains will let the side – or indeed The Old House – down.

Simple and superior
Steak always sounds so deceptively simple, but it’s amazing how many chefs can ruin a marvellous piece of meat. Not so here, and thank goodness – where a 32-day dry-aged ribeye’s concerned, it’d be nothing short of sacrilege. Served medium-rare as requested, it comes with chips whose triple-cooking has rendered them as crisp as you’d hope, plus tomatoes, mushrooms, and watercress whose truffle dressing reminds the tastebuds of Nobu’s famous spinach-and-dry-miso-salad.

Slow-roasted belly of pork has all the right qualities in all the right quantities – fatty, tender, crisp. Again, it’s a cleverly balanced plateful – the meat set against earthy black pudding mash, sweet-sharp caramelised apples, and a boozy cider sauce.

We already know we’ll sleep well but order a good pud each to ensure the fact. Wobbly-silky vanilla panna cotta and sharp raspberry sorbet are perfect partners, whilst LB’s tummy is warmed by the pub’s signature crumble, blanketed in reassuringly thick vanilla custard.

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It’s dumping it down outside, so we engage in our own version of the 100-yard dash back to our front door, dry off, and hit the hay until the alarm sounds far too early for either of our liking. Bags packed and stomachs rumbling for the Old House breakfast we’re going to have to miss, we hand our room key back to yet another smiley staff member, promising to take full advantage of a Full English the next time round.

Make it happen
Where: The Old House Inn, Effingham Road, Copthorne, West Sussex RH10 3JB
Price: Bed & Breakfast rates from £80 to £150. See more here.

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