The Surrey Hills are a little known and beautiful part of an often maligned county. Local Andrew Morris shares his favourite places to eat and drink in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Breakfast and brunch
The Surrey Hills is a timeless rural hideaway, a mere pebble’s toss – or short South West Trains journey – from central London. As well as its beauty, the area also boasts a great food scene. Where better to start than with breakfast?
The Speckledy Hen is a recently hatched deli and café in the heart of picturesque Shamley Green. The lady owners' mantra is simple: “We are passionate about good quality, delicious food. We believe it should be freshly prepared with love and using locally sourced produce”.
An unfussy breakfast menu is served until noon – try the bacon & egg butty on brown toast, or the healthier homemade granola, with Greek yoghurt & honey. Or push the boat out for a celebratory brunch of Bucks Fizz, a pastry, scrambled eggs with bacon or smoked salmon, and tea or coffee… all for £14.95 and served until 2pm. (Note: The Speckledy Hen is currently closed until early September 2014)
Tillings in Gomshall serves more traditional fry-up breakfasts – see ‘afternoon delights’ below for their later fare.
Peaslake village sits peacefully at the epicentre of the Surrey Hills, adjacent to the 3,000 acre Hurtwood forest and burrowing in a bowl ‘twixt Holmbury & Pitch Hills.
It’s a mecca for walkers and mountain bikers, and they worship at the altar of the delightfully friendly and quirky Peaslake Village Stores. Their home-baked or locally produced goodies are the stuff of legend. Grab a china mug of coffee, a couple of cheese straws, and a pork & leek plait made with sausage meat from renowned local butcher John Murray and loiter around the bus stop.
Lunchtime in the hills
Head to the Stephan Langton in Friday Street for good posh pub grub. Named after the Archbishop of Canterbury who played an important role in the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, this hostelry lies in an idyllic secret location down a remote dead-end, near Abinger Common.
A starter of crispy pork belly with parsnip purée and brandied apples, and a main of scallop, king prawns and monkfish brochette with a saffron and pea risotto illustrates that this is not a pint and ploughman’s pub. Although the beer is still good.
The owners Matt and Marissa strive for fresh ingredients and local produce, including pheasants shot on the nearby Wotton Estate.
Fantastic farm shops
If you’ve experienced fine dining in London, chances are you’ll have seen Secretts leaves crop up on a menu. Secretts is a long-established family-owned farm shop and delicatessen in Milford, near Godalming (one of their bikes is pictured left), offering luscious fresh fruit and vegetables as well as the eponymous salad leaves, and a cheese counter with over 200 varieties. You can even have a cheesy wedding cake made here (pictured below left). A place not to be sniffed at.
Another farm shop worth a visit if you’re down this way is Kingfishers in Abinger Hammer. Tucked modestly away just off the A25 between Dorking and Guildford, its speciality is watercress, grown on site in natural spring water since 1854. It’s become an increasingly important part of the business since the family started selling fruit and vegetables in 1971, and the watercress shed became the present shop in 1999. The shop provides high quality food, sourcing as much local goodies as possible.
Tillings sits in Gomshall on the A25 between Dorking and Guildford. Named after the nearby Tillingbourne river (more a trickling stream), you’ll find a spacious, welcoming café offering spectacular homemade cakes. If you’re a traditionalist, the full Afternoon Tea extravaganza is available from 2:30, at £11.95 per person for sandwiches without the crusts, cakes, scones with the works, tea or coffee. After that calorific cramming, collapse on the cricket green by the Tillingbourne or browse the comforting Cuckoo Junction shop upstairs.
The dinner gong
Remember that cheesy rom com The Holiday, where Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz house-swap and fall into unlikely romantic liaisons with Jack Black and Jude Law respectively? The impossibly dreamy English scenes were largely played out in the Surrey Hills village of Shere.
That script may have been a tad far-fetched, but you can find some real-life romance in the village’s Kinghams restaurant (pictured left). The beauty of the 17th-century building is matched by Paul Baker’s food, lovingly prepared using only the freshest local produce. If you’ve got Jude Law’s deep pockets, splash out on the à la carte menu, offering the likes of breast of jumbo quail and leg of quail filled with apricot and herb mousse, with pomegranate cous cous and pomegranate molasses, or char-grilled rump of lamb served with goat’s cheese mousse and rich tomato basil sauce. Jack Black might just go for the £17.95 two course set menu.
In vino veritas
On the fringes of the Surrey Hills AONB, Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking is a perfect stopping-off point to fill your boots with surprisingly excellent English wines.
Established in 1986, Denbies is England’s largest single estate vineyard, with 265 acres of vines, and many awards to its name – particularly for its white and sparkling productions. You could spend most of the day here if you’re an oenophile. Indoor experiences include a 360° virtual vineyard, a walk through the production environment, and a cellar tasting. The outdoor tour is a scenic 50-minute train ride around the estate with expert commentary. Eat at two on-site restaurants, explore the gift shop, farm shop and Surrey Hills Brewery, and if you’ve sampled too many vintages you can always collapse at their suitably tasteful Denbies Farmhouse B&B.
And so to bed
Other overnight options after all these Surrey Hills shenanigans include Rookery Nook, a 15th-century Grade 2 listed house in the heart of Shere. Owners Chris and Jill Capstick run a small successful B&B from this striking, quirky property. Chris and Jill refuelled us in the middle of a long walk through the Surrey Hills in training for an assault on Kilimanjaro, so I can personally endorse their breakfast and hospitality.
Or try my favourite countryside local, The Merry Harriers in Hambledon, near Godalming. Rescued in 2008 by Colin and Julie Stoneley from a place openly advertising ‘warm beer, lousy food’ in a non-ironic way, they now preside over a real community pub serving quality food sourced within 25 miles (more distant fish excepted), great real ales, ciders and a vibrant social calendar of events. You can rest your fuzzy head in their recently converted barn-style B&B rooms, or pitch a tent in the field on the other side of a quiet lane. Breakfast is served in the pub or garden and can be delivered to your room in hampers if you have a very early start, or prefer to take it with you… possibly even on one of their highly popular llama treks!
On the piste
Somewhat unexpectedly, you can attend a renowned five-day chalet catering course at the Abinger Cookery School in Abinger Hammer, run in rural Surrey by the highly regarded gourmet ski company Fish & Pips. There is also a wide range of more conventional courses at the school, and how can you not be inspired by the local foodie surroundings?
If you need some exercise to alleviate the guilt of all this food and drink, my wife Gill leads guided walks in the most picturesque parts of the Surrey Hills. Let justpoppingout.com tailor-make the perfect adventure for you and your friends, stopping off at as many of the cafés, restaurants, tea shops and pubs above as you want to cram into one day.
Main image with thanks to justpoppingout.com
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