Two magnificent stone greyhounds greet us at The Greyhound Inn at Sydling St Nicholas on a cold, dark, wet evening. Inside a cluster of locals with their dogs are chatting by a log fire in the bar at this former coaching inn set in the valley of Sydling Water, a chalk stream tributary of the River Frome. The village, a mile off the main A37 Dorchester to Yeovil road, is a lovely slice of deepest Dorset, with thatched cottages and the Dorset Downs beyond.

A chalkboard offers ‘Proper Homemade Biltong’ hinting that this is the domain of a South African. Durban-born Chris Maingard, with his wife Kimberley, took over in June 2022 and his menus have got foodie tongues wagging.

We settle Rosie our dog in her crate in Nellie’s Room, one of six comfortable bedrooms in the former coach house across the car park, all named after a former owner’s dogs. On the way to the spacious, softly lit dining room we peer into the Perspex-covered well, set in the floor, where coins are exchanged for wishes. As we browse the menu, we enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail - Porn Star Martini for me, Negroni for Stu.

My starter of crisp ham hock croquettes with spicy corn and nduja salsa and cooling pea puree had notes of liquorice from chervil and tarragon, nicely balancing the sweet, salty pork. Stu’s starter of tender stem broccoli, with smoked vegan yoghurt, crushed peanuts and a citrus dressing excelled in texture – creamy, chewy and crunchy – with plenty of contrasting flavours.

The Greyhound’s menu is driven by Chris’s passion for high-quality local seasonal ingredients. He knows the provenance of everything that comes into his kitchen including which cow provided my 35-day dry-aged sirloin steak - a rare breed White Park cow from Lyons Hill Farm up the road, a breed closely related to the aurochs – a wild prehistoric ancestor of modern domestic cattle. Chris uses their silverside for his biltong. The steak came with a rich peppercorn sauce, roasted rosemary potatoes and creamed spinach. I nearly went for Pie of the Day – steak, Guiness and wild mushroom - but a steak dinner cooked superbly, as this was, cannot be denied. It was accompanied by a glass of Embrujo Tempranillo Organic Bodegas Verum – a fruity Spanish red delivered in a wine glass etched with a greyhound in silhouette. A stylish touch.

Stu was wonderstruck by his main of Mediterranean-style gnocchi. A knock-out vegan main with sweet squash, salty olives and basil with umami note from sundried tomatoes and vegan Parmesan-style cheese. He declared he would happily have it again for dessert! Instead, he had Purbeck Ice Cream’s passionfruit sorbet – pretty much the only dish on the menu not made from scratch. I polished off a dark chocolate and Cointreau tart with buttery biscuit base - a grown-up Terry’s chocolate orange in dessert form. What’s not to love?

After a comfortable night in Nellie’s Room, Saturday dawned with a beautiful wintery surprise as the surrounding downs were dusted with snow. Breakfast was in the dog-friendly bar area, in front of a roaring log fire, where Rosie polished off her own breakfast sausage. The excellent coffee (from the Eco Coffee Company in Wimborne) was accompanied by a hearty bowl of porridge with berries for Stu, and a bacon roll for me.

The Greyhound Inn is a brilliant destination dining venue that also appeals to locals who swing by to pick up fish and chips every other Friday and to walkers (in summer it offers light bites and sandwiches). Then there’s their incredibly popular Sunday roasts with all the trimmings. They’re already getting bookings for Christmas!

Good honest food, using carefully sourced local ingredients, made by a chef that knows how to pack depth of flavour into every single dish is what makes this a diamond of a Dorset pub.

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