REVIEW: The Surrey Oaks near Newdigate
PUBLISHED: 14:56 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:56 29 January 2020
Is there any better way to start a new year than with a bracing winter walk through the countryside to a cosy pub? Matthew Williams visits The Surrey Oaks near Newdigate
An eye-catching mix of classic cars and hardworking 4×4s (adorned with the mud to prove they're used for more practical purposes than the school run) greets visitors to the postcard pretty Surrey Oaks pub near Newdigate.
Found down the kind of country lanes where the hedges are almost architectural during the winter, offering glimpses of the North Downs through their bare branches, it's a real slice of old England.
This 16th century hostelry is very much a traditional (or "proper" as some might say) pub, with all the dark wood and regular drinkers to prove it. Inside, it's a charming and higgledy piggledy mix of nooks and crannies but it is a pub that also moves with the times.
While they've won Surrey's CAMRA pub of the year so many times that the group might be thinking of retiring their shirt now in celebration of the pub's real ale legacy, you'll be hard pressed to find a more exciting mix of modern craft keg beers outside London.
Handily, for our purposes, the food is also grand too. There are no Tom Kerridge-style flourishes but this family-owned country pub concentrates on tasty grub at reasonable prices. That's only a part of the experience, however.
If you were to settle in for long enough, you'd learn an awful lot about life in the neighbouring villages and community - it's a place where everyone mixes, and that's part of its charm.
We visit at the height of the Christmas party season, so it's a little difficult to rate things on our traditional spectrum - but the welcome and service are as warm as ever, despite the many lively obstacles that so many party groups can present.
This low slung building was built at a time before our national growth spurt, so watch your head; beer mats and memorabilia line the ancient wooden beams; notes for the petanque club and nearby Parkgate Pottery are on the wall; drinkers prop up the bar while families settle around the tables; and there's laughter, a constant babble of noise and a wonderful atmosphere for our Saturday evening visit.
Settled down at a candlelit table in the middle of the thriving throng with our young daughter, we feel at home.
For starters, I have the Cheddar and scallion rarebit while Sylviane delves into the chicken liver pâté with caramelised onion and garlic ciabatta crostinis.
The pâté, in particular, is moreish. No frills, just flavour. Iona happily tucks into a kid's size wood-fired pizza, which is named after the nearby Hill House Farm and its rare breed pigs.
The staff are remarkably calm, lovely and helpful while dealing with what must be one of the busiest times of the year. There's little standing room to spare.
In the summer months, people would be flowing out into the fantastic garden and its undercover wooden dining area.
Next up, with a pint of Surrey Hills Brewery's award-winning Shere Drop, my game and red wine casserole with cheesy dumplings is a decent winter warmer.
Sylviane's smoked haddock and salmon crumble is another winner - the mature cheddar and paprika crust addictive with the chunky fish.
Too happily stuffed for desserts, we breathe in the atmosphere a little while longer before setting off on the country lanes home.
If you want a quiet evening in the countryside then the Surrey Oaks may not be for you, but if you want to dive into a little slice of rural England with decent food, great drinks and a lively atmosphere, then it's somewhere you really should experience at least once.
It's also a perfect launch pad for exploring countryside footpaths that are a little off the beaten track.
Muddy boots - and dogs - welcome.
The Surrey Oaks, Parkgate, near Dorking RH5 5DZ
What we ate
Starters: Cheddar and scallion rarebit served with a rocket and watercress salad and real ale chutney, £6 / Chicken liver pâté served with caramalised onion and garlic ciabatta crostinis, £6
Mains: Smoked haddock and salmon crumble with seasonal vegetables and new potatoes, £13.50 / Local game and red wine casserole served with cheesy dumplings, £14 / The Hill House bacon, mushroom and onion pizza, £6.75
Drinks: Shere Drop from Surrey Hills Brewery, £3.90 a pint / Vidal Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, £8.50 for 250ml glass / Dark & Wild from Northern Monk, £4.65 for a half