The Anchor, Ripley GU23 6AE - restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 17:47 27 September 2016 | UPDATED: 18:36 27 September 2016

The beautiful Anchor pub is bang on Ripley High Street

The beautiful Anchor pub is bang on Ripley High Street

Archant

It’s been all change at Ripley’s restaurants recently, but in a few short years, the latest incarnation of The Anchor has become a much-admired and comforting part of the village furniture. Matthew Williams visits the historic gastropub and finds a relaxed eatery, confident of its place in the grand scheme of things

This dish packed in summer on a plateThis dish packed in summer on a plate

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2016

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Need to know

The Anchor

High Street, Ripley GU23 6AE

Tel: 01483 211866

Web: ripleyanchor.co.uk

What we ate:

Starters

Rabbit cannelloni, pancetta, mushroom, peas, pea shoots and grain mustard sauce, £9

Grilled south coast mackerel, apple and vanilla purée, fennel salad and lime, £9

Main courses

Pan-fried bream, escabeche, basil butter sauce and crispy parsnip, £18

Stuffed rabbit saddle, toasted almond, lentils, onion bhaji and garam masala sauce, £18

Afters

British raspberries, lemon curd, raspberry sorbet and baked meringue, £7

British cheeses, pear and saffron chutney, £7

***

REVIEW: A couple of years ago, when The Anchor had just been taken over by the owners of Drake’s, the Michelin-star restaurant in Ripley, Surrey Life popped in for a quick lunch – but we had been meaning to return for the full evening experience ever since.

At the time, we noted that “the rules of the ‘pub’ have been obliterated, somehow reassembled and are now taking on a life of their own…” This was not a specific comment about The Anchor, but more a general observation on how pubs are changing with the times (you can read more about that elsewhere on this website).

Now, with the news that after 10 years of Michelin stars at Drake’s, co-owner Steve Drake is moving on from the restaurant, it seemed a fitting time to revisit his pub and discover how it has developed under his tenure. While it may be all change at the restaurant, the much-lauded chef – a two-time winner of Chef of the Year at the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards – continues to part-own the pub (and news about his latest project is expected in the New Year, if all goes to plan. Watch this space...).

Anyway, we digress, as, despite Steve’s celebrated shadow, it’s always been his protégé Michael Wall-Palmer, a former Drake’s chef himself, who has run the rule over the kitchens at The Anchor.

“We’re not trying to be Michelin star here and it took us a while to find the right balance between pub and fine dining,” he tells us. “But we’re pretty happy with where things are at right now.”

It’s unsurprising then, that what you get here if you delve into the menus, is confident, delicious and creative cooking.

Fascinating history

With parts of the building dating back as far as the early 16th century, when it was built originally as an almshouse, The Anchor may have taken on some of the more modern pub stylings but still retains comforting nods to its history and local heritage, with cycling paraphernalia and artworks depicting Surrey cycling hot-spots etc.

My wife and I arrive a little early on a Friday night and are invited to relax in the courtyard garden by bubbly manager Edit Farkas. Don’t mind if we do. We settle down at a table and order a pint and cocktail from the bar, which are promptly delivered with snacks (black pudding scotch eggs; smoked salmon, horseradish cream and watercress blinis; and puffed pork skin and baked-apple sauce). At this point, the sun is eclipsed and a friendly voice from the looming shadow comments, “Fancy seeing you here!” It’s Daniel Britten from The White Horse in Hascombe (which we reviewed last month), enjoying a quiet evening out with friends and family. Small world but a positive sign as to the quality that can be expected – that black pudding scotch egg, in particular, was utterly moreish by the way.

Suitably relaxed, we’re eventually led past low-beamed ceilings, cosy-looking snugs and the bar, and into the restaurant section itself. Tables are fairly closely spaced, but not so much so that you feel that you’re joining your neighbours for the evening. A bottle of Fleurie is opened and poured, and our starters arrive.

Sylviane opts for the rabbit cannelloni, a delicately-handled dish balancing those rich gamey flavours with peas so fresh they pop in your mouth. You really do taste every ingredient, which are so fresh they could have been gathered in the garden a few minutes before.

Now, maybe I’ve been living under a rock all these years, but it’s the apple and vanilla purée that first catches my eye and then my taste buds with the mackerel dish. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but I was intrigued, and in the event it brings a beautifully sweet yet subtle component to the plate. Never overpowering; never threatening to turn a fish starter into dessert; always helping to raise each mouthful to an unexpected level. It’s a winner to my taste buds and definitely a combination I’ll look for again.

On to the main courses and a fish/rabbit swap, as Sylviane opts for the pan-fried bream escabeche (word of the day that, as nearby diners frantically google the term). The brief bite I manage to steal suggests a continuation of the evening’s theme: simple, bold flavours. It is certainly well received.

I go for a generous portion of stuffed rabbit saddle. A classic enough dish with toasted almonds and lentils, but then thrown a delicious curveball in the form of an onion bhaji and garam masala sauce. Big flavours just waiting to come to the party at the opportune moment, rather leaping onto the table to steal the show. Enjoyable stuff, although I’d have liked a tiny bit more of that lovely sauce.

The perfect pub

Surrounded largely by other couples – well, it is a Friday night I guess – there seems an easy interaction between staff and their guests – everything just seems, well, very relaxed. We’ve always found Ripley to be that kind of village, and The Anchor seems the perfect kind of pub for the area: there’s places to settle down for a quick drink (they’ve an expansive gin and mixers menu and the wine list is great) or for a top bite to eat. You won’t find ham and eggs or scampi here, but what you will find is top-level cooking at very reasonable prices.

We finish with Sylviane running the rule over the cheeseboard (approved!) and me opting for the summer-sounding British raspberries, lemon curd, raspberry sorbet and baked meringue. It’s everything you might hope for from a dessert: beautifully presented; fruits that zing around the mouth; a moreish lemon curd; and clever little baked meringues to bed things in. It is indeed a lovely plate of summer sunshine.

So, in summary then, Michael really has got The Anchor firing confidently on all cylinders. It’s the kind of place you could find yourself returning to all too often if you lived nearby – and it’s among a very exciting group of pub/restaurants (if you like that sort of thing). It may be a very different animal from what he and Steve worked on at Drake’s, but a quick catch-up with the Michelin man himself after our meal suggests he couldn’t be prouder of what Michael and the pub have achieved to date.

***

3 OTHER GREAT GASTROPUBS

The Grantley Arms

With the hugely-talented chef Matt Edmonds in the kitchen, this is a relaxed country pub that takes its food very, very seriously.

• The Street, Wonersh GU5 0PE. Tel: 01483 893351

The Onslow Arms

Set in the swanky countryside surrounds of Clandon, the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards 2015 Pub of the Year has some delicious treats in store.

• The Street, West Clandon GU4 7TF. Tel: 01483 222447

The White Horse

Winner of best local menu at the 2015 Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards, chef Daniel Britten has found himself a new countryside project that’s well worth a visit.

• The Street, Hascombe GU8 4JA. Tel: 01483 208258

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