There’s a scene towards the beginning of When Harry Met Sally where Billy Crystal’s character explains that he has never dropped his girlfriend off at the airport at the beginning of a relationship because inevitably then he won’t one time and she’ll take it a loss of affection or attention. I have a feeling that the couple who were staying at The Halfway Bridge at the same time as me and for what seemed like their first trip away together have inadvertently put themselves in that same position. The bar has been set. Now this is the kind of place they stay at. One where all the simple elements of what goes into a good country-pub-with-rooms are totally smashed. But how too rare a thing that is.
The location is the first important element. A country pub is ideally, you know, in a pretty lovely bit of the country. The Halfway Bridge is certainly that. It is actually set in a funny little turning between two villages. You come off the main road, wonder if you’ve got it right, and then see the slightly higgledy-piggledy (but in a good way) 250-year old pub and you know you’ve made it. In one direction is Petworth – home to great antiquing, a country house and a deer park. The other way is Midhurst – home to the international polo. Chichester is barely half an hour away. And all around is the gorgeous South Downs National Park. Even in the immediate area of straight outside the pub door we had a perfectly lovely walk through lanes and bracken. Being in a beautiful part of the country? Tick.
Which is all well and good, of course, for when you are out and about. But what about if you want to stay in the warm? Then you are going to want a cosy, welcoming pub with some interesting local drinking options and good simple food. Tick, tick, tickety-tick for The Halfway Bridge. It isn’t too big and has lots of enticingly secluded nooks and crannies you can hide away in to whisper sweet nothings (or get competitive at one of selection of games available in the bar). There are beamed ceilings, interesting fireplaces and wooden floors but all in a way which makes it clear this place has been fairly recently taken over and given the most loving attention. All the interior is top notch.
Head to the bar to order a drink and things get even better. Local ales include Arundel brewery, and the Langham micro-brewery in Lodsworth just a couple of minutes away. There is an impressive gin selection and Fever Tree tonics to go with. Lovers of English sparkling wines will know there are a few Sussex options but the favourite here is from the Tinwood estate which you will drive past if heading to Chichester.
The bar food at The Halfway Bridge is ridiculously good if the whitebait we had is anything to go by. Crunchy with a lovely deep flavour. The restaurant – set in a couple of larger nooks and crannies – niftily treads the tricky line between rustic simplicity and ambition. Starters include poached monkfish tail with cauliflower couscous, cucumber and radish; or the poached fillet of lamb with hay-smoked artichoke, broccoli and sorrel. Mains range from pan-fried hake with oyster mayonnaise, salsify, mussels, kale and truffle couscous to calves liver with savoy cabbage and onion mash. The achievement lies in doing that spectrum of dishes well; without pretension but with skill.
More ticks being handed round, then, for The Halfway Bridge’s pub (and restaurant). Which leaves the rooms. Often where the wheels come off. I think sometimes places assume you are going to be out so much – or in the pub – so maybe it matters less what the rooms are like. No such lazy thinking here. The old stable block has been turned into their six bedrooms. They are set a short stroll away from the pub giving the opportunity for a welcome breath of fresh air and a look at the stars after dinner.
It is hard to get across just how gorgeously the rooms are furnished. These are not places you’ll want to leave. South Downs Country Park, blah, blah, blah. There’s much to said for staying in and enjoying the large rooms, enormous windows, incredible bathroom, and fabrics of a quality I can’t remember seeing in anywhere that is ‘just’ a country pub. The owner told me his wife was in charge of furnishing the rooms and I tell you there is a lady with exquisite taste – and probably expensive too, if his rueful smile is a gauge – in understated, rural, luxurious chic.
As sorry as we undoubtedly were to leave after only one-night that was mollified by knowing we were off to Sidlesham’s Crab and Lobster which is under the smae owner. Our hopes were justifiably high but as we smiled a goodbye at that courting couple it was hard not to think that the next place they had a weekend away at would really have to go some to match The Halfway Bridge.
The Halfway Bridge, Lodsworth, Near Petworth West Sussex GU28 9PB. Tel: 1798 861281.
Valid throughout February until 30 March 2017, the offer is 30 percent off the rack rate including bed & breakfast. The deal is available on Sunday – Thursday stays excluding 14 February 2017. Standard Room including breakfast is £98 per room per night based on two sharing, including the discount of £42. Deluxe Room including breakfast is £112 per room per night based on two sharing, including the discount of £48. The Suite including breakfast has a lead-in price of £147 including the discount of £63.
For more information, including details of dining options and rooms, visit www.halfwaybridge.co.uk.