It takes more than a few antique fishing-rods and some raw-log furniture to create a great country pub. And the Greyhound in Stockbridge proves it

A Michelin inspector once told Andrew Pern, chef and owner of the Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, that he had to make a decision about what sort of establishment he was running. It could be a pub or it could be a restaurant, but not both.

A Michelin inspector once told Andrew Pern, chef and owner of the Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, that he had to make a decision about what sort of establishment he was running. It could be a pub or it could be a restaurant, but not both.

As Diana Henry tells it in her appetising Gastropub Cookbook (Mitchell Beazley), Pern kept the pub a pub, turned out some damned good food, and won a Michelin star regardless. But the story underscores the dilemma facing the British country pub. Crisps or braised rabbit? Scrubbed pine or starched cloths? Real beer or Gruner Veltliner?

The Michelin man may have given the same advice to Darron Bunn, the chef/owner of this pretty 18th-century inn next to the River Test in Stockbridge. In this case, however, Bunn chose the restaurant route to stardom.

Granted, the recently one-starred Greyhound Inn still looks like a pub - low-roofed, broad-beamed, with fire a-roaring and Chesterfield sofas awaiting. But unlike the other pubs on the high street, there is no welcoming light outside, no groups of regulars standing at the bar and no wish-you-were here pubby hubbub.

There is, in fact, a distinct stage-set feeling about the place, as if the set designers had just dragged the wing-back chairs and raw-log tables out of storage, and dusted off the framed antique fishing-rod above the fire with its little plaque reading "My proudest possession, 1913."

The cast starts coming in soon enough, however, distributing itself around the spacious wood-floored, wood-tabled, wood-beamed wood-themed dining-room lined with fishy prints. Tonight, tables for two are shunted down the back - like kids at a grown-ups party - to a charmless and cold annexe with rickety chairs. Goodbye warmth, heat, light and noise. All I can say is, the food had better be good.

Bunn used to cook for Marco Pierre White at the Criterion, and the menu reflects this with a very MPW/ Modern British list running from pressed guinea-fowl terrine and traditionally garnished smoked salmon to Scotch fillet, seared foie gras, and turbot with queen scallops, confit bacon and sauce lie de vin.

Am I in Stockbridge or South Ken? I see no gastropubbish list of trusted local suppliers and there's no real attempt made to identify the source of ingredients apart from a risotto of Dorset crab.

A distinct lack of appetiser is offset by the proffering of a basket of good warm bread rolls, and I move straight into a pea soup with Alsace bacon (£5). It is a discreet puddle of soup in a flamboyant white bowl. Pastel green and velvety, it is very refined, but a bit too creamy for flavour, with tiny strips of bacon being there more for decor than flavour.

The menu lists sautéed chicken livers "on toast" (£7), the inverted commas suggesting some sort of gastronomic irony, as if the kitchen is too posh to do anything on toast and has to upgrade it to being "on toast".

A dark little pile of crusty slivers of livers mixes with red onion and bacon on a raft of politely crustless toast, topped with a runny quail's egg. It is small and refined and in no need of the accompanying artful splodges of thick bearnaise, but there is a faint glimpse of something rustic about the livers that makes them welcome.

Displayed wine cradles hint at a serious wine list and sure enough, it is a copious roll-call put together with character and variety. I like the bright cherry tones and structure of a Benton Lane Oregon Pinot Noir, but it is a bit steep at £39, when the same wine at the Bell at Skenfrith is £25.

What I want to know is why I am feeling so irritated by the place, when the setting is a 200-year-old country pub next to a trout-fishing river, and the food is pleasant enough? Perhaps it's the joyless service, or the fact that the kitchen appears to be operating from Islington. Main courses start off well then lose the plot - generally a sign of lack of strong personal style. A crumbed leg of rabbit (£15) is pensioner-tender, the crumbs crunch-city. So why team it with more crunch in the form of golden straw potatoes? It feels like "rabbit and chips", complete with inverted commas.

Equally, a crisp-skinned fillet of roasted wild sea bass (£17.50) sits on an atoll of soft linguine in a frothy, salmony cream. Stop right there, and you have a good dish. Add a strange "Polonaise" of broccoli florets, hard-boiled egg and funny little worms of smoked salmon, and you turn it into a vulgarity.

A small pool of vanilla rice-pudding with bits of poached Bramley apple and a caramel sauce (£6) is, again, too creamy to be convincing. Nothing comes with coffee except coffee.

This is a country pub that has picked up some bad city habits. Not the crack-dealing and congestion charges, but the simple forgetting of those basic human transactions and gestures that connect people, not to mention a general lack of joy. But you're dealing with food! Food is good! It makes people happy! Spread the joy!

The kitchen, too, is city-skilled and hard-working, but not, I feel, especially caring or inspired. As a consequence, neither am I.

13 The Greyhound Inn 31 High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire, tel: 01264 810 833. Lunch daily; dinner Monday to Saturday. Around £110 for two with wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: More Michelin-rated country pubs

Trouble House Cirencester Road, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, tel: 01666 502 206 Historically, this pub has had its troubles, including two deaths, a fire and all-out riot, but things have calmed, especially since ex-City Rhodes head chef, Michael Bedford, took over in 2000. There is nothing like a good smoked-haddock and whisky soup, Gloucester Old Spot sausage or roasted black bream - and a new Michelin star - to help put your troubles behind you.

The Star Inn High Street, Harome, North Yorkshire, tel: 01439 770 397 This picturesque cruck-framed longhouse has everything you could ask for - low wooden beams, flagstone floors, a roaring fire and good range of hand-pulled beers. It also has Andrew Dern's inspired Northern take on British cooking. Locals love the bubble-and-squeak soup, oxtail terrine with Yorkshire pud and the Nawton-bred Middle White pork, and so does Michelin, rating it a star once again.

Walpole Arms The Common, Itteringham, Norfolk, tel: 01263 587 258 Co-owner Richard Bryan was producer of the Masterchef television programme, partner Keith Reeves is a wine merchant, and chef Andy Parles cooked at Norwich's Adlard's and Conran's Le Pont de La Tour. Together, they have turned a village pub into an East Anglian foodie destination, winning Michelin's Bib Gourmand (good food at moderate prices) Award for such stuff as paella, duck confit and local venison.

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