The first of the Meon valley pubs to be visited in this way is The White Lion, at Soberton, just a few miles from our base in Bishops Waltham, and not very expensive to get to with us all sharing an 8-seater taxi.
We were given a warm welcome by Alan, the new landlord who took over from Andy about a year ago, and his staff, one of whom can be seen above, cleaning the entrance way especially for us. Once inside, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the place had been given a bit of a make-over and was looking very smart, especially in the eating areas, but of course, never mind that, we headed straight for the bar in the drinking area.
The ales they had on included a selection of always-excellent Bowman Ales, and another of our favourites, Doombar 4%. Most of us opted for a pint of Swift One 3.8% to start with, but after the first few pints had been drawn the barrel ran out. Oh no, we thought. So we moved on to Wallops Wood 4%, and all agreed that this was a very acceptable substitution.
Unsurprisingly, we all ordered Pie of the Day, which we were informed was a Chicken, Ham Hock & Leek Pie served with vegetables and a choice of saute potatoes, hand-cut chips, or mash.
We didn't have to wait long for the food to arrive. The saute potatoes (above) were overdone, but some of us like them that way. They were certainly very tasty. The mash potato (below) was smooth and creamy, just the way it should be.
We each had an individual pie, which had a short-crust base and sides, and was topped with flaky pastry. Inside, it was packed with meat and leaks. The sauce was served as it should be, in a separate jug, and was delicious. It was a creamy mustard and tarragon sauce, which was very tasty, and made a welcome change from the usual (unimaginative) gravy. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the pie.
At first glance the portions looked not over-large, but as it turned out, they were probably just right. The landlord may have noticed the looks on our faces as we saw the size of the portions because later, in a clear and brazen attempt to influence our judgement, he presented us with 2 free side-dishes of chips (which were very good). We needed the extra chips to help mop-up the left-over sauce. We were well satisfied by this meal, but some of us still had room for pudding.
Puddings are not taken into account when assessing our meals out, but these puddings were clearly up to the same high standard as the main course, and very enjoyable.
We still like the look of this pub. It's traditional style, recently refurbished, with no music or dartboard or other unnecessary distractions suits us very well. It's clean, the service was good, and the staff were friendly. Value for money was reasonable too, with the pies at £9.95 each, and the ale at £3.40/pint. We should have come on a Monday, because Alan tells us that all ales are £2.50/pint on Mondays. As Alan presented the bill to us there was another clear attempt to influence our judgement when he offered us each a glass of port on the house. We don't have any objections to having our judgement influenced in this way.
Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
- Pastry 4.179
- Filling 4.636
- Beer 4.186
- Ambience 4.386
- Value 3.857
- Overall 21.24
And so The White Lion leaps into 1st place out of 6 pubs visited so far this year. This pie is a worthy contender for the Pie of the Year 2013 award, but, of course, there's a long way to go yet, as we still have another 4 pubs to visit. The only problem we have with this pub is that it is relatively inaccessible - we suggested to Alan that he should provide a free shuttle bus service for people like us, but he didn't seem keen.