Let's do lunch!
PUBLISHED: 17:26 17 December 2007 | UPDATED: 14:57 20 February 2013
Taking time out of her Highclere Castle office, the Countess of Carnarvon eats out at The Hare Restaurant, near Hungerford
Who did you take? Jo Walsh, who has worked with me in the clothes business here at Highclere. We have spent many days working and travelling together, having adventures setting up fashion shows and presentations in London and around the country. She has become a wonderful friend, we share a lot of laughter, good suppers, and very importantly she bred our Labrador!
First impressions? The Hare is easy to find, there is plenty of parking, and it looked like it had a lovely garden for the summer, (if a proper summer ever reappears). The Hare feels like a warm traditional pub to walk into, with a nice area to sit down, have a drink on comfortable sofas and a proper bar. There are lots of notched wooden beams and a sense of space.
Tell us about the menu? We both loved the approach. It was clear that you could pop in and just have one course (£13), or 2 courses for £18 or 3 for £23 which we both thought was excellent value. The menu is all on one page and changes with the season, or every week depending on what the chefs choose to buy. I like a limited choice. Jo and I are often having to make decisions and I don't want to struggle with too many at lunch.
What did you both choose? Jo leapt in quickly, opting for the Carrot velouté with roasted foie gras. I chose the moules marinière. Jo's choice was outstanding with a great contrast of colours (naughty richness and healthy carrot) and quite rightly she did not offer to share it! My mussels were also very tasty with a nicely balanced sauce and mopped up with fresh warm bread. I continued with a fishy theme: sea bream, with fennel and a herb risotto, which was excellent. Jo chose the lamb which was cooked to pink perfection (with a bittersweet sauce) and a tower of aubergine and courgette, which looked very pretty and, given the speedily emptied plate, was obviously delicious.
What did you drink? Each of us tried a glass of different white wine, (Sauvignon and a Chablis) as neither of us usually drink at lunch time. We asked to see the wine list however , and liked the way it was set out. It has clearly been created by a sommelier of some distinction, but the wines were grouped into 'aromatic whites', or 'intensely flavoured reds' etc. I could enjoy reading and choosing with wines from £16 a bottle to the odd one at £13 a bottle.
How did you rate your starters and main courses? Both of us thought the quality of the food was excellent, especially at these prices. It was slightly unusual and tempting. The one criticism we both had was that the style of plates was very modern and our knives and forks kept sliding in. They wouldn't stay balanced on the edge of the plates. So we had three choices: become French and put them on the table, pick them from amongst the food, or never stop eating... and the problem with women at lunch is that we also never stop talking.
Were you tempted by the desserts? The puddings looked quite scrummy but we window shopped only, and opted for coffee. I might have chosen the lemon possett with blood red orange granite and Jo quite fancied the English cheeses and homemade chutneys but we resisted and had a cappuccino each.
What was the service like throughout the meal? Bruno and Catherine looked after us very well and the service was just the right speed for lunchtime. Bruno is very knowledgeable about all the dishes and the wine. He was interesting to talk to and would recognise and look after regular customers. It was a chatty, fun lunch.
Would you recommend it to your friends? We have already recommended it to some friends. It was definitely a find for us, and not far at all from Highclere. So talking as ever we drove back to the Castle to sort out what really had to be done in the office and what could be out off for another day. I feel out of duty, that I should return with my husband to sample Jo's first course...