Dining Out: Popular for good reason

The Fox and Hounds Harlestone
The Fox and Hounds Harlestone

It is the ambition of many a restaurateur to achieve the satisfying sight of a steady flow of hungry customers throughout the day.

Relatively few can pull it off, however.

Often the bustling lunchtime trade can melt away when the office workers go home.

Other times, the perfect spot to catch the post-drink crowd is entirely the wrong place for the ladies who lunch.

Few are the eateries that can balance the equation, but The Fox & Hounds in Harlestone is making a pretty good fist of finding the solution.

We were lucky enough to visit the pub-cum-restaurant twice recently, once for dinner and once for lunch, and we noted its steady popularity.

One reason is that its location off the busy A428 not only makes it simplicity itself to get to, but generates the kind of free advertising most establishments dream of.

Another reason for its large customer base is the truly huge range on offer.

The A4-sized lunch menu, for example, has all of one side taken up with possible mains dishes. On the other, starters, nibbles, sharers, pizzas and sandwiches.

Something for whatever mood you’re in, in other words.

And that’s just lunch. Dinner offers still more options.

Highlights included smokey oak-flavoured chicken liver parfait (£7.95), not particularly unusual in itself, but enhanced to a near-perfect degree with plum and balsamic chutney.

My wife chose the melusine goat’s cheese crottin (£6.50) and was impressed by the accompanying beetroot ‘carpaccio’ and borage honey that tasted like plated-up summer.

A chunk of chicken, ham hock, wild mushroom and Madeira pie (£13.95) - although containing perhaps a touch too much pastry - had outstanding texture and flavours and a large portion.

The pork belly with seared scallops (£18.25) was if anything too generous. If the dish had been restricted to a couple of the half dozen flavours offered it may have been even more of a hit. But the meats were given a legion of accompanying bits; ginger beer glaze, Bury black pudding, mash, apple and vanilla ketchup and salty crackling. Beautifully cooked but it could perhaps have been simpler.

Whereas the Saturday evening (which coincided with a charity event) was busy with drinkers, most customers - mums and daughters or retired couples - had come for the food on Monday lunch.

With slightly fewer people around, it was easier to appreciate the modern pub-restaurant decor and the light-touch but friendly service.

This time we had gorgeous pan-fried gnocchi and poached egg with asparagus and toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

I also had a pair of generous cod, sloe gin smoked salmon and spinach fishcakes with great crunchy texture and a sweet chilli-style salad. This time the portions were all well-judged and every flavour chimed rather than jarred.

It taught me that, providing you choose sensibly and read the menu diligently, it’s hard to go far wrong with The Fox &Hounds’ dishes.

The cosy and modern interior inside a traditional stone-built pub adds to the feel of authenticity too.

And, the restaurant aside, the pub section is small but stylish, supplemented in the summer months with ample outdoor tables.

Some may raise an eyebrow at the prices, but I honestly think you get what you pay for here.

At some restaurants, you pay extra for the view or to be seen; here you pay for the quality of the food and service. Personally, I think that’s a fair exchange.

And judging by the numbers of bums on seats at lunch or dinner alike, many others would not disagree.

Food: Generous and imaginative

Value: Fair

Service: Friendly, professional

Disabled access: Some split levels

Parking: Large free car park

Cost: £110.30 for four people

Rating: 9/10