The Half Moon Pub in Kirdford: Putting ‘gastronomy’ back into the gastropub
According to The Lost Pubs Project, there are 34,255 pubs still in existence in England today, but four close every day of the week. One gem that has thankfully been saved is The Half Moon in Kirdford – a little village out Chichester way and a 45-minute drive from Brighton.
Restoring The Half Moon to its former glory
Model and Celebrity MasterChef runner-up Jodie Kidd (from Sussex) is the new owner of The Half Moon, making the purchase back in January 2016 when she feared it would be sold and turned into a house. It took her six months to renovate, but the hard work restoring it to its former glory has been worth it.
Every unique feature has been kept intact, with a few modern twists added. New French doors let more light into the bar and open out to the large pub garden, where there’s further seating with parasols in the summer, and a veggie plot planted by Jodie and her mum. The bar has had an upgrade too, now sporting a set of shiny new copper pulling pumps, a polished wooden bar and a log burning fire.
All the horsey details
In a nod to Jodie’s polo-playing days, equestrian details are dotted throughout the pub. Saddle leather is riveted to the bar stools, while leather straps attached to horse bits hold cushions in place on wood pews. On closer inspection, you’ll spot that even the wallpaper features huntsman on horseback.
There’s a separate dining area away from the bar, which feels very chic but still cosy. Here, tables are set with sparkling glassware and luxurious Robert Welch cutlery, the weight and curves of which feel beautiful in my hands. Thick cotton napkins, pressed and folded just so, indicate this is a pub that’s pulling out all the stops to impress. The big question is though: does the food?
Supporting local suppliers
The menu uses several local and premium suppliers like Cowdry Butchers, the Goodwood Estate and Brighton’s own fishmonger – Brighton & Newhaven Fish Sales.
To start, I ordered pigeon breast with parsnips and pickled redcurrants (£8.50). My mum (dining with me), chose the G&T cured chalk stream trout (£9), which we were advised is one of the pub’s signature dishes.
If you’re wondering what’s so special about Chalk Stream Trout, chef Yotam Ottolenghi goes into detail why in this extract from the Guardian:
“There are 210 true chalk streams in the world, and 160 of them flow through this island’s chalky hills. Thanks to that chalk, the water is alkaline; and thanks to the low levels of clay and silt in chalk, that water is uncommonly clear. As well as making the streams look Wind In The Willows-picturesque, the lack of sediment eliminates that “muddy” taste with which river fish are often associated. The fast flow of water also means the trout have to swim a lot, which keeps them very lean.”
Too good to share
My pigeon breast was exquisite: pan-fried for just a few minutes to seal in the juices and create a perfectly pink centre and rich brown exterior. Finally, it’s sliced and neatly placed on top of truffle puree, with sweet parsnips and pickled redcurrants. Eating this dish felt like wrapping myself in a fleece blanket.
Mum loved her starter too, to the point where I was only offered a morsel. From what I sampled, I found it had a lovely lightness and freshness to it, delicately flavoured to allow the quality of the trout to shine through.
Prior to the starters, we were also brought a small, dark wood box of bread and two types of butter. Not your typical knobs of butter, though; one was ever-so-lightly smoked, combined with pumpkin oil and had a crisp topping, the other infused with parsley and sprinkled with black salt. Both had been whipped and aerated, and were as soft as cake mix, making spreading over thick chunks of bread a breeze.
First class presentation and the flavours to match
For our mains, I went for a winter warmer: braised ox cheek with smoked mash potatoes, carrots and bone marrow (£16.50) and Mum opted for Loch Duart salmon with a crab & fennel salad (£19). Now, looking at the photographs of both of these dishes, my ox cheek is ostensibly the tastier option but this is one of those occasions when the less attractive dish actually trumps the other.
Wrapped up like a present in dark green savoy cabbage leaves, alongside piped, creamy smoky mashed potato – the oxtail was a very cleverly presented dish. The braised meat was tender and devilishly rich and flavourful but unfortunately, the chef had been over-zealous with the salt/celery combination, and midway through the meal I had to request a glass of water to quench my thirst. The salmon, on the other hand, was perfect: refreshing, sweet and silky. I had food envy from the first bite.
Carefully considered desserts
In many places dessert is an afterthought, but the selection on offer at The Half Moon is quite something. Mum chose a lemon curd, clementine and ginger parkin (£8) and I went for the rum and raisin crème brûlée (£7.50).
Ginger parkin is a traditional Yorkshire cake and this one was stunning – warm and peppery with a sticky chewy texture that balanced beautifully with the fresh tanginess of the sorbet and sweetness of the curd. The piece de résistance was a garnish of intensely lemony, tiny lemon balm leaves. My brûlée was enjoyable too; generous in size, packed full of fruit, crispy on top but slightly gelatinous. The rum was obviously there, too.
PRICE: £65.50 for two (not including drinks)
RATING: Must Go | Give it a Miss | Worth A Try
The service was formal but not snooty, the surroundings are cosy and comfortable and the menu is tantalising with plenty of originality. Yes, with mains averaging £17, it’s going to cost you, but if – like me – your hobby is eating, you’ll want to add this to your visit list. I loved it and I’ll be heading back as soon as my wallet affords it.
Need to know
The kitchen is closed on Mondays and lunch is served between 12pm and 3pm (extending to 4pm on Sundays). Dinner is served from 6pm to 9.30pm the rest of the week.
The Half Moon Pub
Glasshouse Lane, Kirdford, Billingshurst RH14 0LT
*Disclosure: I was invited to review but this does not have any bearing on my review, which will always be an honest account of the whole experience.
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