The Running Horses, Mickleham, Surrey RH5 6DU - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 12:30 20 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:36 20 December 2015
Once an important coaching inn on the route from London to Brighton, The Running Horses is more of a hidden gem these days, perched on the side of Box Hill at Mickleham. Matthew Williams visits to try out their winter fare
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2015
The Running Horses
Old London Road, Mickleham, near Dorking RH5 6DU
Tel: 01372 372279
Need to know
What we ate
Wood pigeon Wellington, hot pickled red cabbage, £9
Twice-baked cheddar soufflé, grain mustard and spinach, £8
Rump of lamb, grilled vegetables, tomato, rosemary and olives, £21
Grilled breast of chicken, button onions, cauliflower, girolles, garlic and tarragon, £15
Creamed spinach with nutmeg, £3
Buttered new potatoes, £3
Hot chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet, £7
Bramley apple and summer berry crumble with vanilla custard, £7
One bottle Rioja Crianza 2011, El Coto, Spain, £21
REVIEW: Picture the scene: having spent the early afternoon walking some of Surrey’s most pristine countryside, and breathing in spectacular views along the way, you return to your place of rest for the evening. Dating back to the 16th century, the pretty inn sits in the middle of a peaceful little village, and the bar is already bustling with good spirit, with a log fire roaring in one corner. You postpone the convivial atmosphere, however, to drop off your coats, hats and scarves in your character-packed room upstairs: all low ceilings, jaunty floorboards and picturesque churchyard scenes out the window. You settle for a moment, make yourself a coffee and get your bearings for the evening ahead. Life is good and there’s no need to rush.
Whilst this may sound like some long-forgotten rural idyll, it’s the reality we find at The Running Horses, in Mickleham, when I visit with my wife and daughter on a cold, late-2015 evening. It almost feels like I should be writing these notes with a quill and ink or on a vintage typewriter, rather than just a slightly dated laptop.
Once upon a time, the Old London Road was the main route from London to Brighton and, as such, The Running Horses had an important role as a coaching inn and post house. We follow in the footsteps of merchants and gentry, and possibly a few less savoury highwayman too (a tiny ladder leading to the roof space was discovered when the bedrooms were added, and it was thought to be a highwayman’s escape route). The name itself stems from the famous ‘Dead Heat Derby’ at Epsom in 1828, and today the inn’s rooms take on the horse racing theme: our shelter for the night is Sandown.
We head back downstairs to find our table and are led through to a booth in the dining room, which is evocatively designed as an old-fashioned train carriage – complete with suitcase on the overhead luggage rack. Candles light the tables, atmosphere bubbles out of the bar without intruding and, having ordered a bottle of Rioja and water, we settle down on the red leather sofa seats.
The food fits the bill perfectly. There’s nothing here that will have Heston Blumenthal quaking in his boots, but I’m sure you’re all fairly pleased to hear that. What there is, is really solid, hearty fare – home-from-home cooking that is perfect for a winter’s escape. From start to finish, our dishes are faultless – and our waiter Morgan is an absolute gem, becoming a firm favourite with our one-year-old daughter.
While Iona attempts to network in the bar area (!), our starters arrive and I know I’ve made the right decision with my wood pigeon Wellington. Served with pickled red cabbage, it’s of light-lunch-worthy proportions and a great introduction to the kitchen’s cooking: unfussy and delicious. Rather than going for her usual cheeseboard at the end, Sylviane opts for a twice-baked cheddar soufflé for her starter that disappears as quickly as it cools. I chance a spoonful and understand why it’s among their more popular choices.
Our main courses are both dishes that live or die by the quality and cooking of their meat, and my rump of lamb is melt-in-the-mouth moreish. There are no complaints from the other side of the table about the grilled breast of chicken either. Both dishes come with beautifully deep gravies, moistly-cooked and well-presented meats and flavoursome accompaniments. We also get some extra-creamed spinach with nutmeg, which somehow feels a little decadent.
Throughout the evening, surrounding tables fill and empty with a mix of diners – from friends meeting over a glass or three to couples clearly enjoying a romantic escape.
The warm glow continues with dessert, as I dip into an old favourite, Bramley apple and summer berry crumble with vanilla custard (feed me more!) and Sylviane opts for the hot chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet. The latter appears as almost a fondant, but that only wins brownie points in my wife’s eyes – and it is all she can do to battle off our daughter’s occasional spoon attacks.
Full to the brim, we head upstairs for a restful night’s sleep in our beautifully appointed and peaceful room. Breakfast is a relaxed affair. No buffets here; everything is cooked fresh to order and it’s the perfect way to set up another day exploring the local area.
Suffice to say, The Running Horses is the kind of place that helps to create memories that are well worth writing about.
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3 more great Surrey inns
The Crown Inn
Found in the beautiful village of Chiddingfold, The Crown Inn has earned a place as one of the nation’s top-rated inns. A journey back in time, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to lose yourself among with a fine meal and drink.
The Green, Petworth Road, Chiddingfold GU8 4TX Tel: 01428 682255
Not one for the kids this, but The Inn @ West End remains a firm favourite for adults looking to escape it all. A more modern take on the ‘inn’ than our other recommendations, the food is great – and the wine list hard to beat.
42 Guildford Road, West End GU24 9PW Tel: 01276 858652
The Richard Onslow
A young buck on the Surrey ‘inn’ scene (there is one now…), The Richard Onslow has an easy style that is perfect for intimate breaks or a quick drink. It offers the kind of hospitality that makes you want to return again and again.
113-117 High Street, Cranleigh GU6 8AU Tel: 01483 274922