Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Half Moon - Warninglid, West Sussex

We are lost. The night is black as pitch, we seem to be moving down a country lane that winds through a forest. I say 'moving' but 'careering' perhaps would be a better choice of word. The tight packed indistinct blur of tree's just visible through the twilight veil of mist enclosing us. We are really shifting, we hit a bump in the road and I feel myself momentarily lifted from my precarious perch, lighter than air, before slumping back again heavily at a crazy angle. I frantically tighten my grip, and swallow down the acid taste of bile rising in my throat, fighting the wave of nausea that's threatening to overcome me.

I look around in the darkness, just able to pick out the features of my fellow passengers in the feeble glow offered by the sat-nav up front. They don't acknowledge me. They're all grim faced, eyes fixed forward, fighting their own solitary battles against the sickness, enduring this ride from hell. We drunkenly swerve around a tight bend, I can feel the G-force pressing me hard against the side of this, my tomb. I seriously might throw up, it passes... but only just.

Suddenly out of the darkness ahead I see the glimmer of lights, habitation and hope. Momentarily dazzled by this glimpse of apparent salvation and almost punch drunk from nausea I'm thrown forward as we come to a crashing halt, braking hard and skidding on the gravel. I'm thrown back again hard with a final jolt. The internal light comes on, illuminating the carnage in the back and adding to my disorientation. The taxi driver turns unruffled, smiling and says in broken English "Twenty five pounds please" we pay thankfully... desperately, practically tumbling out of the cab into the cold autumn night. We say nothing at first, survivors shock perhaps. Our tormentor abandons us in a spectacular display of revving engine and wheel-spinning, tearing off into the gloom at breakneck pace, two crimson dots rapidly sinking into the inky cloak offered by the forest at night, which seemingly surrounds us completely.

It's Halloween night, and we stand at a crossroads in the small village of Warninglid, the brightly lit and attractive Half Moon pub stands before us, practically a beacon in the gloom. I can hear muffled laughter, the clinking of glasses, an occasional guffaw. At this moment, It's the best sound I've ever heard and all four of us stumble crazily towards it, like survivors from a shipwreck.

The heavy oak door closing behind us, we step from the night chill into the cosy glow of a really rather nice, good-looking, very old but obviously renovated pub. A fire glows in the grate, It's buzzing and very busy with diners, belying it's seemingly remote location. We catch glimpses of another attractive bar area as we are greeted and shown to our table in a newer and loftier dimensioned dining room beyond the bar. I step carefully around a very interesting feature in the floor, an extremely old well, glazed over with glass and lit. I can see water at the bottom. It's obviously fine to walk across it, but I have an irrational, almost primal fear that the glass will crack and I'll plunge down and drown.

There are four of us dining tonight. The long suffering Girlfriend or "GF" as she is known. We are accompanied by friends Ron and his wife Lyndsey.

The menu is interesting offering a mix of good hearty British gastro-pub classics such as Beef suet pudding, calves liver and beer battered cod punctuated with the odd 'off-piste' dish such as lamb tagine. We pick at some rather nice olives and study the menu. So far, so good.

Myself and Ron order starters, our respective partners holding off for now. These arrive quickly. My 'celeriac and white onion soup with bread' is a rather large portion, it's good and hearty but fairly unspectacular.
Ron has chosen a much better dish, 'king prawn scallops, pea cream and black pudding' it looks fantastic, the massive scallops surrounded by a lurid green sauce. I try some, and it's very good, the scallops meaty and perfectly cooked and working well with the rich black pudding and the more subtle flavour of the pea cream.

On to the mains, and my first choice of 'Steamed beef suet pudding' has unfortunately been popular this evening and sold out. I order 'Confit belly pork, mustard sauce, dauphinoise potato, green beans' instead. The GF and friends order variously 'Lamb tagine, lime cous-cous and mint creme fraiche', Beer battered cod and chips with tartar sauce' and 'Calves liver, smoked bacon, bubble & squeak, savoy cabbage and Madeira jus'.
We don't wait too long for this to arrive, and it all looks fantastic. My piece of Pork Belly is absolutely massive, with perfectly crisp puffed up skin it hasn't been messed about, simply cooked with the mustard sauce and offered dauphinoise potatoes and green beans it's exactly what you want from a decent gastro-pub really... Classic, uncomplicated and filling. I'm happy.

In fact, all of the portions are whopping. The beer battered cod on Lyndsey's plate is huge, with a mound of very nicely cooked chips, again as with my Pork Belly dish, competent assured cooking, nothing fancy -but solid.

On the other hand, a quick sneaky fork full of Ron's Calves liver dish confirmed that it tastes as good as it looks, liver cooked just so, complimented well by the other ingredients and the rich Madeira jus. It's probably the best dish ordered.

The weakest is the GF's Lamb Tagine, it's very nice but tastes a bit too 'safe' lacking any real punchiness or stand out qualities.

Sitting back and composing ourselves after the seriously huge portions consumed, we have to wave away the waitress proffering dessert menus, asking that she try again in ten minutes or so.

At last, recovered... but only just; on the waitresses recommendation I order a 'Citrus trio - lemon cheesecake, mojito sorbet, orange sponge pudding'. Ron and Lyndsey decide to share a classic sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. The GF goes for the more savoury delights of cheese and biscuits.
My dessert arrives, and I'm impressed. It's basically three, almost full size desserts. My dining companions are aghast and seriously doubt my capacity to eat it all. Happy to prove them, I adopt a workmanlike attitude and dig in. The Mojito sorbet is v.nice and refreshing sitting in its brandy snap basket, out of the three desserts on the plate its probably the best. The cheesecake is also good, well made, but doesn't stand out. The orange sponge pudding is the weakest, needing much more of an orange hit to impress.

Lyndsey and Ron are happy with their sticky toffee pudding, I try a bit and it's very good. Excellent in fact, I love this classic dessert and have eaten them all over the place. This one is a very good example, rich and sweet.

The GF's cheese and biscuits contains a fairly generous selection of British cheeses, and the owner did pop over to describe what they were in detail, but by this point being half cut on the incredibly reasonable wine, for the life of me can't remember what they were, apart from one which was the very moreish Blacksticks Blue.

At this point, before coffee's, myself and Ron decided that a glass each of LBV Port would round off the meal nicely. I mention this, as when the bill finally arrived I couldn't believe how good value the whole meal was. Drinks when we arrived, two bottles of Wine, Port, desserts, coffee's....£77 per couple....including tip!! Seriously good value the food was very good, extremely competently cooked with glimpses of brilliance. As I mentioned before, it's exactly what I'd look for in a decent gastro-pub. If your ever in the Gatwick area. I recommend the Half Moon strongly. Visit.

A strange end to the evening unfolded. The village of Warninglid, being a little remote from the nearest habitation offered by Crawley and Gatwick, and being a Saturday night meant we had to wait 30 minutes for a taxi to arrive from civilisation. Whilst waiting, we wandered outside. It was well into the witching hour, and as the last guests left, the pubs door locked behind us and the lights that had welcomed us so warmly earlier flickered off, extinguished. All was now still, dark and quiet, the sound of the wind rushing through the surrounding tree's the few houses in the village dark. Kind of creepy, especially as it was Halloween. Headlights suddenly approached in the distance down the forested road and our taxi emerged. Offering silent thanks that it wasn't the total lunatic from earlier, and getting the impression that at the very least this driver was in the possession of a driving license, we drove off into the night and home.

The Half Moon

The Street.
West Sussex
RH17 5TR
Telephone: 01444 461227


The Ample Cook said...

Great description of your journey Dan!

Food sounds very nice, and looks very well presented. Shame it's not nearer eh?

Nora said...

Dan, what a great, atmospheric post! And it sounds like just the way to spend Hallowe'en - a winning combo of a bit of a fright and some restorative, yummy food!

Dan said...

Jan - Thanks. You know, we could do with somewhere nice like this in the Southend area. Nothing flashy, just good classic gastropub food competently prepared. It's exactly what we were talking about.

Nora - Cheers. Strangely enough, found it easier to write about the taxi journey from hell (truly horrendous) than the actual meal.
We had a real fright earlier - we'd been to Tulleys Farm Shocktober fest for the evening (great Halloween fun) and went for the meal afterwards.

Stephen Plume said...

Nice review. I don't suppose you noticed any sausages on the menu did you?

Many thanks


gastrogeek said...

This is so beautifully written! Love the sound of that pork, must get myself over to West Sussex one of these days

LexEat! said...

Drama queen much!? - I love it!

Replication Ronnie MCP,MCTS said...

Nice one big man, I have to say I'm glad it wasn't just me cowering with the girls in that cab. Can't believe that after 10 minutes darting around those lanes our 'drive' turns to us and says..."do you know where we are going?". Glad I managed to hold back some of that 25 for investment in our Port. What what?

Marcus Shingler said...


I thought I'd stumbled into a crime novel at the start and was waiting for the Warninglid Murders! :) Nice piece but probably a bit too far to trek unless heading for Gatwick. Time for a beer!


Dan said...

Stephen - no sausages on the menu if memory serves.

Gastrogeek - Thanks, what a great thing to say :)

Lex - total drama queen! thanks!

Ron - hahaha Thanks dude, and good work dealing with the 'driver'. What a terrible journey eh? good night though.

Marcus - hahaha yep, But pefect if your ever in the Gatwick area and looking for somewhere decent to eat.

Graphic Foodie said...

Sounds great. Must give it a look in if I fancy a jaunt out of Brighton. May drive myself though!

Browners said...

What a great trip. If we land up going it will be via bike so we'll miss out on the psycho taxi, but instead have a 4 hour bike cycle on our hands.

I love the illuminated, covered well and the food sounds pretty good. If you were Diana Henry, would you feature this in the 3rd installment of the Gastro Pub Cookbook?

Dan said...

GF - yeah it's not that far from you really is it.

Browners - yep, agreed - dont get the taxi, it's not worth the risk of getting that psycho driving.
I've eaten in another gastropub featured in Diana Henry's Gastro Pub cooking recently (The Bell - West Horndon) and I'd say The Half Moon had the edge. So yes, I'd feature it.

Alex said...

I love the Pub sign! And glass over wells always freaks me out too... I can't walk over them!

Uma said...

Excellent post Dan. Loved your vivid description of the taxi drive to the restaurant, I had a similar experience some years ago. Too bad the Half Moon is so far away. The food sounds pretty good and who doesn't like a nice big portion?

Dan said...

Alex - agreed the pub sign is cracking isn't it. Glad to hear we suffer from the same anxiety concerning glass covered wells!

Uma - Thanks for saying so. Ha! very 'Carry On gastro-pub' - yes agreed, who doesn't like big eh? oh - you are talking about the food right?