On our best behaviour, we ventured inside, to be met by a very welcome sight:
In no time at all we cast aside our inhibitions as we surveyed the choice of ales and settled into our first pints of Itchen Valley Belgarum 3.9%, except for Tall Paul, who, as usual, preferred Guinness. As we enjoyed our Belgarum, we checked out the other ales that were available: Andwell's King John Ale 4.2%,
the ever-popular Bowman Ales' Wallops Wood 4.0%, Ringwood Ales Best Bitter 3.8%, and the ubiquitous Sharp's Doom Bar 4%. All in all, a fine selection of ales which some of us did our best to sample, but others were content to stay with the Belgarum for the whole session as it was such a fine ale and in very good condition.
Eric had already discussed the menu with his friend Jimmy (current owner of the Kings Head), so we knew in advance what we would be getting. Jimmy explained to us that we weren't in the pie season so he'd had to provide something special for us. No complaints there! We had a choice of Beef Bourgignon Pie or Rabbit & Prune Pie. This put us all in a bit of a pickle as we'd never had either of those pies before on any of our outings. After some discussion we realised that "Beef Bourgignon" means "Beef with Mushrooms and Red Wine", which we all agreed sounded rather good. On the other hand some of us have digestive systems which have seen better days (it happens to men as they get older) and were rather concerned about the effects that prunes might have on them*. In the end, after a lot of discussion, 2 of us decided to try the Beef Bourgignon, 4 of us decided to live dangerously and try the Rabbit & Prune, and none of us was disappointed. The pies all came with "greens and mash" - no choice - but the Beef Bougignon pies were served with plain Mash and a red wine gravy, and the Rabbit & Prune pies came with Mustard Mash and a mustard gravy. The "greens" were broccoli.
At first glance the portions looked to us to be a bit on the small side, but in fact they were ample. The pies were individually made, with a rich shortcrust pastry that literally melted in the mouth. The pie fillings were full of tender moist meat, and just the right degree of moisture. Even the prunes tasted good. In fact rabbit & prune is a partnership made in heaven. The sauce/gravy was served separately, in a jug, just the way we like it, and complemented the pies perfectly. The mash and greens were done very nicely. After we had all (without exception) cleared our plates, some of us found that we still had room for a pudding. The pudding menu lacked any of what we would call the old school favourites (which gentlemen of a certain age seem to relish), but the puddings that we tried were presented very nicely and were very tasty.
This is a very clean and tidy place to eat. Dining here is a very pleasant, refined experience, quite outside what we usually experience on other outings. We ate in a separate dining room, away from the bar, and the room was less than half full, so it was quiet and we had very few distractions, although when we first sat down we found ourselves sitting directly beneath a loudspeaker from which musak (one of our pet hates) could be heard loudly enough to make it difficult for us to hear what others were saying, but when we mentioned this to a nice waitress it was turned down (not off!) straight away, so it wasn't really a problem. The service was excellent - actually maybe a little over-attentive at times, as we were asked several times if we were ready to order our puddings.
Our final bill for the food came to £38 each, (The pies were £12.50 each, puddings £6.50 each, ale £3.80/pint), so it wasn't a cheap meal (compare with our previous outing, to the Brewery Bar, where the final bill was only £28 each), but the quality of the whole experience was outstanding, .
Scores for The Kings Head, Hursley (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)
Pastry - 4.42
Filling - 4.48
Beer - 4.26
Ambience - 4.22
Value - 4.23
Overall - 21.59
These scores are in some ways quite curious as the pastry and filling were rated less good that those at the Brewery Bar, but the Beer and Ambience were scored much higher. As it is, the overall score of 21.59 is just high enough to nudge The Kings Head into first place in our rankings of pubs visited this year, ahead of the Brewery Bar by a mere 0.04 points. It just goes to show that we gentlemen appreciate a bit of class from time to time. Congratulations to Jimmy and the staff at the Kings Head, who looked after us very well, and thoroughly deserve this high score.
* Regarding the prunes, at the time of writing, no ill-effects have been reported.