Noses of spinach and foie gras

EATING OUT: THE WHITE HORSE AT CHILGROVE; Near Chichester, on B2141 between Chichester and Petersfield. Tel: 01243 535219 Open daily, lunch 11-3; dinner 6-11. Set menu, lunch, three courses, pounds 17.50, dinner, four courses , pounds 23. All credit cards except Ameri

NESTLING in a valley in the West Sussex downs, 15 minutes from the A3 but with no other habitation in sight - apart from a picture-book brick-and-flint cottage b&b - is the White Horse at Chilgrove. It was a wild, freezing and slippery night when we approached - cars skidding off the road left, right and centre - but we were enchanted the minute we emerged, shaken, from the car. An hour-and-a-half earlier we had been in central London, yet here we were in the blackness and silence of deepest countryside, with the smell of wood smoke and the twinkling lights of the inn and cottage inviting us in. We did notice that the inn sign featured a wine glass instead of the eponymous white horse you would have expected, but thought little of it.

Inside, there were no flagstone floors and tables hewn from solid oak trunks. Instead, we found the sort of soft furnishings you might expect in your Auntie Jean's front room - a fitted carpet in crushed raspberry, and frilled floral curtaining. But fires were blazing, the welcome was warm and we settled down for a restorative drink. "Would we like to look at the menu first?" came the suggestion, "and perhaps ... the wine list?"

When the wine lists - for there were two of them the size of encyclopaedias - appeared, we began to notice something of a wine theme in the little inn, many bottles and racks, glasses on the table mats and a competition to guess the year, region and grower of the week's house wine. But when, in a mood for splashing out, we asked our host to suggest a 1982 claret for pounds 20-pounds 30, he stared, then barked: "An '82 claret? I don't know anything about '82 clarets," and strode off as if offended.

We looked at each other, bamboozled. Had we committed some hideous gaffe? The landlord strode past again, discoursing with one of the waiters about "Chateau la Clotte", laughing uproariously and ignoring us. Next he reappeared with a tatty periodical which looked like Dalton's Weekly, chucked it dismissively on to the table and said, "You see. There's something wrong with all of them."

We glanced at the publication, which turned out to be Parker's Wine Advocate.

"What about a Graves?" said my companion, encouragingly.

"Oh you say that," said our host with a bitter laugh. "You say that. But look at Parker. Cough tincture. Fruit pastilles."

Forty-five minutes later, he was still cross-referring the wine list with Parker, going, "Yes, you see, 'vegetably nose', but then he says, 'moist and damp'. I mean..."

It was as if the excellence of the vintage had induced a state of panic and mental paralysis in our host. For a time it seemed hopeless. We thought we were going to have to forget the whole thing and go back to London. Then suddenly - a gap in the clouds! An '82 Chateau Carbonnieux Graves, at pounds 28 with "a textbook Graves nose (tobacco, minerals, herbs)" was deemed to fit the bill. Our food order was added, as if as a tedious afterthought, and we made our way over to Forge Cottage to spruce ourselves up.

Forge Cottage - co-run by the White Horse's chef, Neil Rusbridger - is the sort of place you cannot imagine remaining so cosy, tasteful and generously- run at the price (pounds 70 for two, b&b) for very long. The mood is Lovely Old Sussex Cottage done up by people who've spent an awful lot of time in the Conran Shop: pigmented plasterwork, fine white cotton sheets, Mediterranean- style crockery, trays made out of wood and distressed wrought iron. I think we had the nicest room: on the ground floor, small but with a brick bread oven and its own entrance. It's what you always hope to find when you end up with an avocado bathroom suite, polyester sheets in peach, and a wood-effect tray bearing a plastic kettle and cartons of UHT milk.

Once back in the inn we were offered a glass of sparkling wine with our canapes and subsequently our claret, beautifully decanted. Our host declared it a triumph, lush and seductive, though stressing, noticing our slightly startled faces, that he had only sipped the dregs. I think it might be true that the more fuss you make about wine, the more indecision, decanting, peering, sniffing and swilling around large, beautiful glasses that goes on, the more fabulous it is going to taste - and it certainly did.

The food was delightful: it was a set menu (with extras) from which we selected goat's cheese salad and terrine of foie gras as starters, followed by supreme of pheasant on a celeraic cream, and breast of Gressingham Duck with leaf spinach. Above all it was tasty - unexpectedly, the star item we were left cooing about was the spinach with nutmeg sauce, a goddess among spinach dishes.

As my companion remarked, the White Horse isn't so much a restaurant, as "an alcoholic frenzy with a kitchen attached". As the evening wore on, more and more empty bottles were placed, offering-like, in front of the log fire. A young couple opposite us appeared to be on their third bottle of red and were leaning toward each other slurring "jammy tobacco mocha", "unctuous truffle cedar" and "consistently chewy notes". A smartly dressed elderly couple paid their bill, rose to their feet, then the gentleman crashed into the wine rack. A middle-aged foursome - the ladies coiffed, and dressed in floral two-pieces - made their goodbyes, then overshot the exit, giggling like Beavis and Butthead. Dessert wines, more than fairly priced at between pounds 2 and pounds 5, seemed only right and proper.

By the time we were back in Forge Cottage, seated opposite an orange- faced couple called Pam and Bill, while Neil the chef made us a bedtime drink by melting the finest bitter-sweet chocolate on the Aga and whipping it up with creamy milk, it was hard to believe the good time we were having was real: especially when Pam took one sip, hiccupped, and dec-lared she preferred Cadbury's cocoa. 8

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain