The Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley: Restaurant review
16:05 12 January 2017
It won the Pub of the Year category at the 2016 Celebration of Sussex Life Awards. But how would The Duke of Cumberland Arms, in Henley near Midhurst, deal with a hungry editor at Sunday lunch?
Our trip to the Duke of Cumberland Arms had been in the offing for some time. Last year a reader called to tell me he’d recently been with his daughter and grandchildren and enjoyed the food and views so much he felt compelled to tell us about it. That doesn’t happen every day, so I bookmarked it for a visit.
Then the pub received a tranche of nominations in our 2016 Celebration of Sussex Life Awards and ended up carrying off the trophy for pub of the Year. I wanted to see what impressed our independent judge.
An initial visit was unsuccessful as we’d stupidly failed to book for Sunday lunch. The tiny bar and restaurant area were heaving so we hauled ourselves home unsated. So by the time we finally made it there one bright, crisp winter Sunday, expectations were high. The charming 16th century building and beautiful views extending as far as Surrey’s Leith Hill certainly didn’t disappoint, even by the standards of this outrageously beautiful part of West Sussex. A cheery group of dog walkers were huddled around the outdoor woodburner – a lovely touch for the muddy boots gang.
Inside was all low ceilings, beams and interesting knick-knacks – a tiny jar labelled ‘Opium’ and posies in old medicine bottles. Wall space was limited due to the number of certificates and press cuttings.
Again, it was busy – which did mean we waited quite a time for our first course – but the atmosphere was very jolly. A large family group nearby had ordered the special roast option. These must be ordered in advance and there’s a choice of four rib of beef, leg of lamb or loin of pork or a whole free-range chicken (priced at £19.95 per person). Their table was groaning under the weight of the meat, vegetables and all the trimmings and we were very envious. When they’d finished the bone was wrapped up for them, which must have made a dog somewhere very happy.
Now it must be stated that the prices are steep for pub food, but then this isn’t pub food at all – it’s more akin to a high-end restaurant. I started with salmon cured in local Black Down vodka (£9.95). it was beautifully soft, buttery and subtle and set against gin compressed cucumber. Served with generous crab crostini and dotted with juniper berries and horseradish, it looked a picture. Following the lead of many other diners, my husband indulged himself with a portion of oysters (£12.95) and pronounced himself very happy with them.
There were a couple of (single serving) roast options – confit pork and lamb shank – but after enjoying our starters so much we stuck with fish. My fillet of gurnard (£21.95) was superb: delicately spiced and with a deliciously crispy skin, it came with pillowy gnocchi; the best shell-on king prawns I’ve eaten since some superlative specimens in Australia; and not-too-salty samphire with spinach. Accompanying it all was a lemon and caper butter so good I would have gladly bathed in it. On the other side of the table the pub’s signature crab linguine (£19.95) was a million miles from the insipid pasta option sometimes presented. The sauce had just the right level of fiery kick, but remained unctuous and devilishly creamy.
I regret to report that on this occasion the desserts went untasted – portions are generous here – but choices included crème brûlée with lemon doughnuts. At the sight of that description I had to prise my husband’s fingers from the menu. There is a comprehensive drinks list with plenty of local options and the chef proprietor, Simon Goodman, seems passionate and innovative: it’s served him well so far, so let’s raise a glass to future success.
The Duke of Cumberland Arms, Henley, near Midhurst GU27 3HQ; 01428 652280; dukeofcumberland.com
Sussex Life visits anonymously and pays for meals to ensure a fair review.