On its website the Downe Arms invites you to sample its restaurant, “perfect for a relaxed lunch” and then “transformed in the evening to a cosy venue for an intimate candle-lit supper with friends, family or that special someone”.
We – three of us, that is – were tempted.
But cosy, intimate and candle-lit certainly weren’t on the menu when we went, on a Monday evening.
Yes, there were smartly dressed couples, young and old, enjoying smartly dressed food in fine surroundings ... but seated just yards from a fairly boisterous party, where the dress code seemed to include shorts and flipflops.
I can’t be sure, not having sampled them, but I don’t suspect much intimacy, either, amidst the poppadums and basmati of the Thursday curry nights, nor the Tuesday grill nights (steaks, gammon, chicken etc).
And therein, I think, lies the Downe Arms’ contradiction; on the one hand a smart Georgian country inn with mouth-watering evening menu to match. On the other a smart roadside hotel-pub with a menu (lunchtimes and evenings) akin to a high-end bar meal. All things to all men, flipflopped or not.
Fair play to the Downe Arms for trying to cater to all, with its varying menus. But if you want candlelit and cosy you might need to ask for it in advance.
On arriving, we were shown straight to our table in the crisp, clean, purple-and-cream restaurant, and the drinks order was taken.
The evening menu has a choice of six starters, from which we chose the Crab and Prawn Cocktail (£5.95) and the Smooth Chicken Liver and Wild Mushroom Paté (£4.95).
The cocktail featured an unpeeled prawn, shrimps and crabmeat on crisp lettuce, topped with lemon mayonnaise and a crevette; it was an appetising but unspectacular entrée.
For my tastebuds the paté was much too smooth – almost runny. I would have preferred more substance and texture. And the warm ciabatta was accompanied by an ungenerous helping of butter.
But our mains were, on the whole, delicious.
From the evening menu I chose the Pork Loin Steak Matador (£12.25), which was served with Spanish style patatas bravas – fried potatoes in a spiced tomato and olive sauce. The sauce had a tangy punch that contrasted the succulence of the pork, which itself was a lovely cut of meat.
Similarly, the Pan Fried Breast of Chicken (£11.95) was cooked to perfection, filled with goat’s cheese and asparagus, served witha creamy tarragon sauce.
From the ‘Classics’ menu the Steak & Theakston’s Real Ale Pie (£9.95) was a substantial creation, containing lean, chunky pieces of meat within a shortcrust pastry, handcut chips and veg alongside.
There was room at the end for just one dessert – the menu contained seven choices, all priced at £4.75.
We chose well – the Rhubarb Creme Brulée had tasty warm rhubarb nestling underneath the crunchy sugar topping, and the accompanying cardamom and ginger shortbread was gorgeous.
And a mention for the staff; efficient and friendly without being intrusive.
Menu choice 7