Restaurant review: The Plough Inn in Coldharbour
PUBLISHED: 10:48 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:48 17 July 2018
A community-spirited pub with its own microbrewery, The Plough has long been a haven for people venturing into the Surrey Hills. Matthew Williams visits
Surely among the highest pubs in Surrey, The Plough at Coldharbour is the perfect launch pad for walks and rides into the surrounding countryside and up to the expansive views from Leith Hill Tower. With its own village shop found next door, this pub is about as community led as it gets in the modern day without offering shares to villagers.
Landlady Becky Hopper first started working at the pub at the age of 13 as a pot washer. Her family still live in and around the village and when the opportunity came to take over the running of the pub in 2015, she and husband John couldn’t resist. The neighbouring shop is even run by her mum.
Found via winding country lanes and ancient woodlands, we pass the Leith Hill Protection Camp on our route from Redhill via Dorking. The Plough and Coldharbour village have been supporters of those ‘protecting’ Leith Hill against oil drilling since the exploration was first muted, and to that end the pub has hosted art exhibitions, concerts and meetings in the past year or two. But that’s a story for another day…
To tie themselves even further into the countryside they love, The Plough runs a Love Local menu every Tuesday night with ingredients sourced from local food and drink producers, the kitchen garden, neighbouring estates and woodlands, and talented villagers. Their beer is about as local as it gets too, as they’ve got a microbrewery, Leith Hill Brewery, in the pub garden.
While my wife, Sylviane opts for a glass of Denbies Wine Estate’s Rose Hill, I can’t resist trying a pint of Leith Hill’s evocatively named Surrey Puma stout. It’s a beer with a little local mythology at its heart.
When it comes to the food, they don’t have any pretensions here. They know their market, the quality of their ingredients and they clearly have confident chefs, so what you get is good, solid cooking with few frills. It’s the kind of comforting food and flavours that conjure up fond childhood memories.
I feel compelled to go for the full Love Local menu. I’d probably be sacked if I didn’t, right? The day’s ingredients are sourced from the likes of Dorking Food Float, Chalk Hills Bakery, Wotton Estate and the local woodlands. One look at their normal day-to-day menu, however, indicates that this nod to local food and drink producers is by no means exclusive to Tuesday nights.
My wife Sylviane, meanwhile, decides to test their range by picking out a couple of the fish dishes – though you can source trout and crayfish in Surrey, the flavours of the sea require a bit more than a super-long rod to catch them.
My starter is a celeriac soup with grilled focaccia and wild garlic oil. It’s the kind of dish you want to cuddle around with a big smile on your face when it’s chilly and lashing down with rain outside. The bread is heaven – Chalk Hills Bakery supply the book ends of my weekend bacon sarnies, so I’m already well versed in their quality. Sylviane’s mackerel ballotine on sourdough toast with a romesco sauce is a lovely little plateful of fresh flavours.
The venison bourguignon with pomme puree and roasted parsnip reminds me of my nan’s cooking in the best of ways. Again, it’s full of flavour and satisfyingly indulgent. Another pub grub favourite that’s seasoned with a little love, their fish pie plays a similarly enjoyable game. It’s unfussy and unapologetically tasty.
To finish, my Love Local dessert is a rhubarb fool with shortbread. It’s not really the kind of dish I’d necessarily rush to pick off a menu, but it’s a perfectly pleasing way to end what’s been a genuinely relaxing evening. I thoroughly enjoy it and will think twice next time I see it on the board. You’ll all be shocked to hear that Sylviane heads straight for the cheese board. It shows the same care and attention obvious throughout our meal and includes Surrey staples, Norbury Blue and Dirty Vicar.
From the time you walk through the door to the time you leave, The Plough feels like a home from home and the team couldn’t be lovelier. In the year that the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty marks its 60th anniversary, this gem is the perfect advert for everything we love about this beautiful corner of England.
The Plough Inn, Coldharbour, RH5 6HD; 01306 711793; ploughinn.com
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