Restaurant Review: Halfway by name but no half measures
On the neighbouring table a party of four were celebrating an 18th birthday.
Coincidentally, we knew the Dudmans but hadn’t seen them in some years.
Now daughter Emily had reached the first key milestone in her life and had persuaded family and friends that she wanted to mark it with a lunch at the Halfway Bridge.
What made the choice the more remarkable was that for more than a year, Emily has worked there serving at tables.
Most youngsters would rather celebrate a birthday anywhere but the place of work. But clearly Emily knew quality when she saw it - and had an ambition to enjoy a taste of it as a customer too.
New head chef Luke Gale had made her a stunning cake with a handcrafted and rather cute little elephant on the top.
She was thrilled.
But then, Luke is something of a culinary wonder. A rare find in a country pub.
His plates are not merely packed with local produce, they are presented with a certain creative elegance.
We chatted to him as we left. A trained pastry chef he is as unassuming as he is talented. In his six months since he arrived, he’s made a number of changes to the menu.
For him it’s about preparing everything from scratch.
He’s good. The food is excellent. It aims to focus on seasonal dishes with a traditional English and Mediterranean flair.
When we visited on a Saturday lunchtime, there was a choice of the set menu - two courses £18; three courses £22 - or the a la carte. Some daily specials increased our options.
The prices are dearer than you would find in city centre chain restaurants. But this is unpretentious quality dining.
For those wanting something more akin to pub grub, there are the classics. Beer battered haddock, hand cut chips, pea puree (£15.50) or chargrilled burger with all the trimmings (£14.50).
This is, after all, a country inn and is proud of the traditional drinking area even though the restaurant is an increasingly vital part of the economic mix of places to which most customers must drive.
It’s an old pub - standing for some 250 years. And as the name suggests, it’s located half way between Midhurst and Petworth.
Originally a watermill it became a coaching inn in the 17th century and now offers six en-suite rooms and one suite housed in Cowdray Barns, the inn’s former stable yard.
The young team is led by general manager Billy Lewis-Bowker, a man with a warm smile and a reassuring sense of calm.
Sophie served us. But I guess on any other day it could have been Emily.
Fish of the day and roast loin of pork followed starters of homemade soup, and gin and tonic cured sea trout.
Strawberries and cream with a twist and warm triple chocolate brownie with honeycomb and lime ice cream completed the meal.
It’s a beautiful location in the heart of the South Downs for an inn.
On the day of our visit, the weather was mixed. Sunshine one moment, rain the next.
But there was nothing mixed about the quality of the visit. The service was pleasant and the food was excellent. A real cut above pub grub.
It was all in the detail. The slight bitterness of the tonic gave a real edge to the sea trout.
The triple chocolate brownie oozed temptation.
Although we were invited guests of the AA rosette restaurant, there was no link to a commercial arrangement with them. We were there to write an honest opinion.
We raised a glass of Upperton sparkling rose to celebrate the chance meeting of Emily and her family.
And - having checked out other diners’ meals to ensure no favouritism - vowed to return and enjoy a little more of Luke’s cooking when we were off duty too.
There were no half measures at the Halfway Bridge.