FOOD MONSTER: The Hare & Hounds in Fulbeck
Twisting through the Lincolnshire countryside among the beautiful palette of late autumn, I had enough time on our half-hour drive to ponder the country pub we were due to visit.
The Hare & Hounds, in Fulbeck, dates back to the 17th century but a glance on their website revealed an interior that, like the glut of gastro pubs which appear to pop up with alarming regularity nowadays, had been "modernised".
It dawned on me: could we have been sold a lie?
Were the recommendations which persuaded the Food Monster to take a pleasant journey south merely an elaborate cover story for another depressing restaurant with a convincing aesthetic but average food?
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First impressions, of course, are crucial and despite entering the grade II listed building through what appeared to be its back entrance the welcome was cosy and inviting, a friendly hello for those bursting through the door to escape the biting cold on this particular Sunday.
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There was a pleasing buzz in the Hare and Hounds. A birthday party occupied one corner of the main bar, an older couple guffawed uncontrollably at a story which perhaps included more than a few embellishments, while another man clasped a pint of ale with the familiarity of a hardened regular.
What was most notable initially was the staff's attentiveness. They neither kept us waiting too long nor rushed us into our seats, a commendable quality sadly lacking in some restaurants.
My dining partner chose the soup of the day, roasted red pepper and tomato. Well spiced and full of flavour, it was a cut above what at times, passes by as a bland menu addition.
I opted for sautéed chorizo and black pudding salad and, although the black pudding had been swapped for pancetta for reasons never entirely made clear, the overall effect was still a delicate dish of contrasting tastes.
Between courses the birthday party ambled through to a large table, accompanied by a large dose of chatter and a birthday girl who looked a couple of years too old to be carrying the large balloon she carried in a polite, if uncomfortable, manner.
Happily, the atmosphere during this lunchtime remained lively but never overbearing. People arrived, others left once finishing their pints, and our fine mood continued.
It then brightened further when our main courses arrived. I've seldom seen gurnard on pub menus but perhaps this was a little pointer that our initial fears over gastro-pub nightmares were ill-founded.
Served with new potatoes and accompanied by a mussel and saffron cream sauce, the flavours balanced beautifully.
My more traditional choice was roast rib of beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. This was a healthy portion fit for a proper country pub, but there was no compromising on quality.
A vanilla crème brulee had a proper top which needed a good, hearty crack with a spoon, revealing a generous helping of vanilla through its creamy contents. It was perfect.
The chocolate brownie with white chocolate ice cream, was beautifully presented with an intense flavour.
A three-course meal, accompanied by a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc amid a friendly atmosphere, eliminated any thoughts that this might be a pub that puts show above substance.
It may require a little drive to get there, but the Hare & Hounds – for its food and its wonderful welcome – is worth it.
THE FOOD: Two three-course Sunday lunches £43.90 (£2 supplement for beef main course); bottle of white wine £16.90.
FINAL VERDICT: A fabulous venue with beautiful food.
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