Review: The Watership Down Inn
A destination gastropub with fabulous food, boutique bedrooms and cute countryside vibes? Muddy's in clover at the Watership Down Inn.
Dating back to the 1800s and named after one of the nation’s most beloved novels, you’ll find the red-brick Watership Down Inn in the tiny hamlet of Freefolk Priors in the beautiful Test Valley.
In case you were wondering about the unusual name and brilliant bunny mural, Richard Adams, who wrote the story, lived just a couple of miles down the road in Whitchurch. And yep, we bawled like babies at the film, too…
Voted Muddy Destination Pub in 2018 and 2019 and a finalist for boutique stays in the 2021 Awards, The Watership Down Inn is known for it’s gorgeous rabbity exterior, top-notch dining and, increasingly, boutique bedrooms that just happen to be within *staggering*, errr, we mean walking distance of the brilliant Bombay Sapphire Distillery.
Arriving on a hot summer afternoon for a ladies luncheon with Muddy’s Robyn, the garden looked spectacular, with the distinctive, huge mural of a rabbit covering one wall of the pub peeping out above the colourful flowers. Très tranquille…
Whitchurch is close enough to the big smoke to be a commuter destination, yet far enough to ensure that not all the rural romance has been lost from the area, the pub retaining a distinctly, pleasingly rural vibe.
There might be glamorous white sheepskins over the back of most chairs in the restaurant and a touch of Scandi-inspired, stripped white wood interiors, but there’s also a cosy wood-burning stove for winter – and a very warm welcome for doggies. Aww.
Look out too for bunny-style touches that pop up like little surprises around the building, like this super-sweet table decoration.
Word has spread fast recently about the gorgeous rooms here and there’s been solid bookings following lockdown. Named after characters in the book (of course) all are doubles/twins and ensuite. Three are above the pub and four are generous modern garden rooms, including one large family room.
Located in separate annexe right outside the main building, the external rooms feature stone floors, a huge bathroom with power shower and crisp, cotton sheets on the beds. There are some sweet and rather civilised details too, like a pretty W monogrammed on the pillows and tea and coffee making facilities that include a proper teapot.
Sad it’s a school day and we can’t escape the mudlets and claim sanctuary for the night, we have a sneaky look around and head back to our table for the serious business of checking out the summer menu.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Aware that much of the produce here is sourced locally, I was instantly drawn to a vine tomato and mozzarella bruschetta, thinking the mozzarella was probably made less than four miles away at Laverstoke Park (one of my absolute fave Hampshire producers). I was right. And it was delicious.
Wanting something equally light, delicious and summery, Robyn ordered a whipped French goats cheese with beetroot, walnut and parmesan pastry – a balanced flavour combo that got the thumbs up.
For main, Robyn chose a crispy fried chicken flatbread with pickled slaw, baked cheesy salsa verde and nachos from the pub favourites end of the menu (above). She happily confirmed it tasted as good as it looked, although was a bit defeated by the portion size. A good one to order if you come for date night/weekend escape and your partner has a penchant for picking at your plate. Cheeky…
My main was the fabulously fresh-tasting fish of the day from the specials board, a parmesan-crusted sole fillet served with green beans and superbly crunchy, indulgent triple-cooked potatoes. On request, the chef made the accompanying white wine sauce sans bacon and thoughtfully placed it in a small pot on the side. Top marks.
Sitting on the terrace outside the pub, enjoying a couple of glasses of dry, chilled Sauvignon Blanc and several icy jugs of water on a very hot afternoon, neither of us really wanted to leave. With a longer trip home, Robyn reluctantly zipped off, leaving me with a full belly and a pudding menu…
Finding out the ice cream here is homemade, I lingered a little longer over a refreshing sorbet-like scoop of orange and creamy apple. That, it transpired, was a good decision.
In the spirit of adventure, I decided to take the sat nav’s suggestion of a more scenic route home. One teeny wrong turn and I had to navigate turning around on a tiny track down a steep camber in a hot car overlooked by field of cows that were chewing the cud right in front of the windscreen (I swear they were rolling their eyes at me). So not such a good decision, although a true Muddy Stilettos Hampshire moment if ever I had one…
OUT & ABOUT
The home of one of our absolute favourite gins (and gin bars!), the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is literally just up the road . We make the most of it with a pre-lunch tour and super-refreshing tailored cocktail (keep an eye on the newsletter, dear reader, for a full account of what happened when Muddy was let loose here – coming soon!).
If you’re here for a mini-break would be rude, really, to visit the Watership Down Inn without exploring a bit of the pretty countryside around it. For a lovely walk with a good chance of finding bunnies, head to the nearby Beacons Hill.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A Bombay Sapphire weekender with the girls, cheeky night away for a frazzled couple looking for some R&R in a lovely garden setting or just a lovely lunch a bit off the beaten track.
Not for: The countryside and brilliant Bombay Sapphire Distillery is right on your doorstep (win) but if you’re here with the kiddos, the remote-ish location might not suit for more than a night or so.
Rooms start at £110 for a double with breakfast. Starters are £7 – £11, mains £14.50 – £26.50 and puds £5.75 – £8. All up, the higher end of average but about right for the area, the quality of the produce and the execution.
www.watershipdowninn.com The Watership Down Inn, Freefolk Priors, Freefolk, Whitchurch, Hampshire, RG28 7NJ. Tel:01256 892 254