'Can We? Shall We? One day very soon, let us go away together just you and me. Can We? Shall We? Call in sick one day and travel to the sea and hold hands all day. Can We? Shall We? Eat our sandwiches on the train, get drunk on fresh air and come home tired and never tell anyone.... Ever.'
There is something so indulgent about taking an impromptu day off and heading off somewhere you know you won't bump into someone you know. So when The Earl of March invited me down to their countryside coaching inn, near Goodwood, it seemed a perfect opportunity to do that.
There are many places to explore and walk en route or near The Earl of March but my recommendation would be a refreshing visit to the amazing West Wittering beach (an expanse of sandy beach) or an explore of the neighbouring Kingley Vale - a national nature reserve. There's also any of the walks listed here.
We opted for a stop off in Arundel and a walk along the river before heading back to the A27 to complete our journey. You'd be forgiven for thinking the areas around the A27 might be slightly bland as the journey along it is just that but actually as we pulled off and past Goodwood we were really quite blown away by how gorgeous it was.
The Earl of March itself sits just before Lavant, a small village which is the gateway for the southern side of the South Downs. What was so nice about it was the unbroken link to the countryside - the only thing separating you from the field of high grass is a minimal fence so you really get a sense of English countryside which is only heightened by the biplanes taking off from Goodwood airstrip. You can see how William Blake was inspired to write the words to Jerusalem sitting at the back window of the pub in 1803. We chose to eat our meal inside despite the weather being rather wonderful, but instead decided to move outside after the main for coffee and dessert. I'm not sure what it is for me with eating hot food outside, unless it's barbecued it doesn't seem right somehow! The staff were really accommodating and jiggled a few things around so I was able to have the dog sat with us while being near a window (for both photos and views purposes).
The Earl of March is owned by Giles Thompson, a charming countryman who was previously the executive chef at The Ritz and has 2 AA rosettes and an RAC award under his belt from his time at Danesfield House. On chatting to Giles, you get the sense the local area is held in his heart and the pub being a hub of the community is really important to him. The pub still has such a sense of the traditional coaching inn of it's former life at the bar but with a comfortable, light dining area also.
The food at The Earl is incredible - fine out dining where the portions are actually generous! And there was a real sense of the countryside about all the food we ate - they source everything locally and the food also reflects the seasons. I could really imagine coming here in the winter and hunkering down in front of one of the fires with a haunch of venison.
But this time I chose a starter of Pan Fried Pigeon Breast, Braised Chicory, Beetroot and Horseradish Pistachio Pastille. I'd never eaten pigeon before but it has definitely got me hooked - rich and deeply pink it melted in my mouth and was perfectly complimented by the other elements of the dish. My fellow diner (Suzanne) chose Steamed Mussels in Cider & Parsley Cream and the gorgeous bread left over from before our starter was appreciated by both of us as we mopped up the remaining sauce once all the mussels had gone - it would have been a crime to leave it, it was buttery, creamy and delicious.
My main, with my weakness for samphire and salsify, could be no other than South Coast Stone Bass, Roast Salsify, Sweetcorn, Warm Samphire Potato Salad and Cockle Butter. The skin of the bass was ohh and ahh inducingly crisp and the sweetcorn was an unexpectedly brilliant addition to the meal. My companion chose Pan Roast Breast of Duck, Thyme Poached Carrots, Pickled Pear, Wild Mushroom Polenta with Kale & Chestnut which really was quite incredible (we of course tasted each others dishes!) - a forkful of beauty!
We both commented on how the food felt really down to earth (especially on the stoneware plates) while being very cleverly crafted for flavours that perfectly compliment each other. I also had a great chat with the assistant manager about the local wines and gin - he was clearly very passionate and even bought us a glass of the Blanc de Blanc from Tinwood to try which really was pretty special. It was all topped off by a slice of sticky toffee pud with salted caramel sauce and a coffee in the garden which was the perfect end to a wonderfully indulgent few hours enjoying the view from this brilliant countryside gem.
Had we more time we perhaps would have considered what was on at the close by Chichester Festival Theatre (for which the Earl offers a pre theatre menu) or even picked up the Centurion Way which the pub sits right on for a post lunch ramble or cycle (I have my eye on this circular ride) but it's solidly on the list of things to do as I can't wait to return.
So, whether you go this weekend, or you treat yourself to a cheeky day off, the Earl of March is a perfect retreat that encompasses amazing food, excellent staff, gorgeous location and an honest interior. If you have kids there's plenty of room for them to roam and dogs are welcome in the bar and garden. Go check out the menus on the website and get planning a visit to Lavant.
The Earl of March // Lavant Road, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0BQ // 01243 533993
Formally Emma Gutteridge