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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum