Dinner At The Chilworth Arms

Superb service, a mediocre main and a perfect pud.

Rating: ★★★★★

On Thursday I had an all-day client meeting in Southampton. Having left home at 5am and knowing that I'd be far too tired to drive back that evening - it is a 4 hour drive, despite what Google Maps would have you believe - I stopped in a hotel. In the evening, I'd booked a table at The Chilworth Arms which, surprisingly enough, is in the village of Chilworth, just outside of the city. I'd done my research (i.e. glanced at Trip Advisor), and it all seemed positive. Everyone raved about the location, the atmosphere and the food. All this despite the fact that it's a chain pub. A small chain, but a chain nonetheless.

I arrived slightly early, and fully expected to have to wait a little while for my table. After all, the reviews had made it seem like it was always really busy. It was not. In fact, it was very quiet and I was seated immediately. I ordered my drink - a pint of Pepsi, as I was driving - which was delivered promptly. Shortly after, the waitress arrived and asked if I still wanted my pre-ordered choice or something different. WOW! This is the first time in a long time that I've pre-ordered and that they were actually made aware of this! On top of that they were double-checking that I hadn't changed my mind. So far, so good it seems.

As I was waiting for my order, I looked around, observing the other patrons (more people had arrived while I was waiting.) This is obviously an area that is considered upmarket. So everyone was dressed smartly. The men had clean polished shoes, carefully ironed shirts, pressed trousers and far too much aftershave on. The women had a mixture of dresses, and trousers with blouses, all matching and well presented, with far too much perfume on.

I on the other hand had been sat in a car for exactly 4 hours and 11 minutes, and for most of which I had used cruise control, so I barely moved. I'd then been in a meeting for just over 6 hours. I had returned to my hotel, showered and changed, but I looked rough! Jeans, a worn t-shirt, my big boots, slightly messy hair, and a heavy five o'clock shadow. Needless to say there were more than a few people looking down upon me in this establishment.

I found it amusing though because, as I observed them throughout the evening, I noticed something. Not a single one of them had any manners whatsoever. They were talking with their mouths full, eating with their mouths open, putting their elbows on the table, and being abrupt and ignorant towards the staff. I on the other hand was doing none of those things. I was polite and friendly towards the people serving me, and had my usual impeccable table manners. And I was being called Sir.

I'd ordered the battered halloumi, twice cooked chips and pea purée, with tartare sauce. I suppose it's their attempt at a veggie fish and chips... This arrived:

Now, I'm no Gordon Ramsay, but on what planet are those big lumps in the middle supposed to be chips? They were in fact a bizarre cross between roast and fried potatoes. The battered halloumi was a lot to eat. It's simply two blocks of halloumi (the kind you'd see in a supermarket) battered and fried. That's it. There was no seasoning, no flavour of any description really. I like halloumi. In fact, it's my favourite cheese - when it's a quality product cooked with skill and care. This was neither of those things. I dread to think how many calories were in those two pieces...

The accompaniments weren't any better either. The tartare sauce lacked the zing you'd find even in cheap packets at a Wetherspoon's pub. The pea purée wasn't a purée at all, but more of a mash. Neither had been seasoned at all. They were as bland as middle-of-the-road teeny-pop music. But not quite as irritating.

So, why on earth didn't I complain? Well, after a drive which took over 4 hours - thanks to the A34 around Oxford - and a full day in a meeting with powerpoint, I was absolutely exhausted. I couldn't muster up enough strength to be annoyed by this.

After this, I was craving something sweet. Not knowing anywhere else nearby that would satisfy that craving, I decided to have desert. I ordered the sticky toffee pudding with bourbon (as in American whiskey, not the British biscuit!) ice-cream. Even if it wasn't brilliant, I anticipated sugary stickiness!

This desert is why The Chilworth Arms got three stars instead of the two I'd originally planned to give it following my main course! It was delicious! And such a generous portion too! It was warm, gooey, sticky and sugary. The ice-cream was soft and creamy, with a very delicate hint of bourbon. I ignored the mint leaf, as it was mainly a decoration and I thought the taste would just be an annoying distraction. It took me about 90 seconds to demolish this perfect pud!

Once I'd finished, it didn't take long for the bowl to be removed. In fact, I'd say that everything was timed very well. There never seemed to be a long wait for food or service, even though I'd now been there for an hour and a half. The bill arrived shortly after I'd requested it. In total it came to marginally below £21. Now from where I'm from, that would seem like an incredible amount of money to pay for a main, desert and a drink - but remember, I'm 200 miles south at this point. It was actually quite reasonable given the area!

On the whole, it wasn't a bad experience, but it was nowhere near as good as the Trip Advisor reviews made it out to be. One wonders what the competition is like...

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