The Inn at West End GU24 9PW - restaurant review
- Credit: Archant
Ranked as the best dining pub in Surrey by a certain national pub guide, The Inn at West End has a long-standing reputation for its top-quality food and drink offering (particularly its wine) and convivial atmosphere
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2016
Need to know
The Inn at West End,
42 Guildford Road, West End GU24 9PW.
Tel: 01276 858652 Web: the-inn.co.uk
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What we ate
Cured and torched mackerel, dashi jelly, red meat radish, charcoal and yuzu mayonnaise, £7
Crab bon bon, brown meat emulsion, pickled samphire and sorrel oil, £8
Stone bass, smoked bacon and clam chowder, kale and string potato, £17
Duo of venison (seared loin and braised faggot), pomme purée, smoked plum, turnip and jus, £22
Camomile & White Chocolate Parfait, grilled peaches, granola and honey, £7
Selection of British cheeses, chutneys and biscuits, £9
Labradouro Tinto 2013, £21 a bottle
REVIEW: There’s nothing quite like eating out in the West End – and, while you may find a lack of neon lights and theatre glitz at the GU24 9PW version, this is a location with a story to tell.
Neighbours include Gordon’s School, where the patron is none other than Her Majesty The Queen, and Bisley, home to the National Shooting Centre. You may also ramble into the likes of Brian May and Brian Blessed in the surrounding countryside, but those are tales for another day...
Found in the middle of a triangle roughly made up of Woking, Camberley and Sunningdale on the Berkshire border, the reason we find ourselves in Surrey’s West End village (just to confuse things further, there’s another one near Esher…) is a visit to county pub royalty.
Recently named Surrey’s dining pub of the year by the 35th anniversary Good Pub Guide 2017 (where they were also named among the top 10 pubs for wine in the country – more on that later), The Inn at West End is celebrating a year of dramatic change, with new bedrooms added and a complete makeover, while still clearly retaining its very individual identity.
During the 16 years or so it’s been under the ownership of Gerry and Ann Price, The Inn has steadily built its reputation as a haven for those looking for top-end but ‘proper’ – as some would describe it – pub dining (in fact, it’s been named county pub of the year seven times since 2003!).
While it’s dog-friendly, reflecting its rural associations, it’s most definitely an adults-orientated place – so make sure to book in the babysitter if you’re thinking of a visit. It would be remiss of me, as a parent, not to say that I love a few establishments like this – it’s great to have a night off sometimes.
For those new to The Inn, the owners also happen to be experienced wine merchants. Indeed, their boutique shop is found right next door to the pub (and, for a corkage fee, any bottle bought in the shop can be consumed in the pub or restaurant). So they know their stuff, and the wine list is, unsurprisingly, highly rated.
On our visit, we feel inclined to opt for one of the unique offerings from their exclusive Labradouro range (a choice of red or white). Developed in partnership with Lavradores de Feitoria, a community of top growers from across the Douro Valley in Portugal, the red we go for is a tasty little number – we’ve had it before but it’s always worth checking the latest vintage, right? Fear not beer-drinkers, they do have a well-kept selection on tap too.
Rewind a little though, as before we’re happily sampling their wine, we’re walking into this cosy haven from the noticeably changing seasons outside. We’ve visited The Inn a number of times over the years, and it always seems to have a certain bustle to it – I imagine it’s a second home to many. General manager Nicky Hutchens greets us and sweeps us through into the restaurant section of the pub, past a private dining area where the occupants are already well into their evening’s celebrations. It’s all crisp linen tables, walls dotted with the occasional rural-life scene and the atmosphere of chatter rather than lounge music. My take on it: it’s a place to eat with people you actually like… a place that encourages conversation, rather than smothering it in a blanket of distraction.
There’s a finesse to my first dish of cured and torched mackerel, dashi jelly, red meat radish, charcoal and yuzu mayonnaise. The main ingredient is well cared for, with splashes of excitement working hard to complement.
Sylviane’s crab bon bon with brown meat emulsion, pickled samphire and sorrel oil is one of those ‘pack-me-up-and-take-me-to-the-autumnal picnic’ dishes. Gorgeous, heart-warming and packed with flavour.
While the fish and crab don’t come from the local pond, of course, provenance is important here. Fruit and veg usually hails from Guildford’s Cheesman Brothers (who buy daily from New Covent Garden), Tenaker Farm Shop in Chobham and their own gardens, as well as swaps with growers from the local allotments. Meat that isn’t caught by gamekeepers is from Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards 2016 butcher of the year finalist George Arthur in Lightwater or Quality Meat from Windlesham.
It’s that game that has helped them make their name though, and there are few places better to eat it in the county than the Inn. Gerry is friends with the head keeper from Windsor Great Park, so you (and indeed the chefs!) never quite know what tasty morsels will make it onto the menu.
As such, I opt for the venison, which has travelled this route – from just a few miles down the road. Melt-in-the-mouth pink loin is served with a moreish braised faggot, pomme purée, smoked plum, turnip and jus. The smoking on the dish is just right to leave the flavours singing with background notes in harmony. The smoked plum comes as a slight surprise at first, masquerading as a faggot, but definitely adds a needed sweetness to the dish. Very pleasant indeed.
Sylviane’s stone bass, smoked bacon and clam chowder, kale and string potato is another wonderful plate – the clams offering an extra delicious little touch. The cooking here is very much a celebration of the best this island has to offer.
To finish, I opt for the camomile and white chocolate parfait with grilled peaches, granola and honey that would have been absolutely perfect with a touch less granola, but I’m nit-picking here – the parfait is sublime.
True to form, Sylviane puts the selection of British cheeses, chutneys and biscuits to the test – no complaints there.
Settling back with the last drops of that delicious red, there’s an overriding sense of The Inn feeling like an old friend – you may not have caught up face-to-face much recently, but when you come together it’s as if nothing has changed. Conversation is relaxed, laughter is easy and by the end of the evening, you wish it didn’t have to come to an end.
13 more surrey pubs...
...included in the Good Pub Guide’s inspected list
• The Bailiwick, Englefield Green
• The Blue Ball, Walton on the Hill
• The Flower Pot, Sunbury
• Marneys Inn, Esher
• The Mill at Elstead
• The Percy Arms, Chilworth
• The Pheasant, Buckland
• The Red Lion, Shamley Green
• The Refectory, Milford
• The Running Horses, Mickleham
• The Swan Inn, Chiddingfold
• The White Hart, Chipstead
• The White Hart, Chobham
For Surrey Life’s top pubs, for cosy or al fresco dining, explore surreylife.co.uk