Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vacation! The Buck's Head

The Buck's Head
Buck's Head Hill
Meonstoke, Hampshire

Situated in the picturesque Meon Valley in rural Hampshire County, The Buck's Head is a 16th century inn and public house serving delicious country fare that is locally sourced and made predominantly from scratch every day.

The building has a very storied history and until a few years ago was the staging area for traditional Boxing Day fox hunts, which I'm pleased to say have since been banned. This doesn't stop the monied class from continuing their tradition of gathering at the pub for a pint and a meal on Boxing Day - the pub landlord informed us that they served meals to over one thousand last year and are already completely booked again for Boxing Day this year.

It was in the 13th century church next door (yes you read that correctly- it was built in 1230, and I'll have more on it in a later post) that my husband's parents were married some 55 years ago, and The Buck's Head was the site of their wedding reception. It hasn't changed much over the years, barring the 13 months it was under the woeful mismanagement of a chav landlord who nearly ruined the stellar reputation of this wonderful, historic pub. Luckily the current landlord has reversed the ill effects and brought it back to an agreeable state.

The building is blocked into several sections: there is the inn accomodation, part of which used to house stables; the landlord's quarters; the bar; and the dining room. There is also a lovely outdoor beer garden with sturdy picnic tables dotting the grounds, perfect for sipping a pint while the clear, shallow River Meon ripples by a few yards away.

The river can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. Usually less than a foot deep and a few yards wide, in particularly wet seasons it can creep its way into the low-lying pub, to devastating effect. We visited one year just after the inn had reopened following a flood and found ourselves teetering over wooden planks to get to the slightly elevated area of the dining room; the carpeting in the lower section was still squidgy and damp.

The lower section of the rustic dining room

Even though The Buck's Head serves traditional English meals, their menu does not neglect those of us who do not eat meat. They offer six light meals on their pub menu geared toward vegetarians, which include a cheddar or stilton ploughman's, several baguette sandwiches with your choice of filling, and several jacket potatoes (baked potatoes stuffed with a variety of options like cheese, baked beans, coleslaw etc). On their main entrée menu there are three vegetarian options: veggie pasta, lasagna, and something called a vegetable bundle. On top of this they offer a variety of daily specials which are advertised on a chalk board above the fireplace. On the day we visited the vegetarian offering was tomato-onion pie.

I opted for the vegetable bundle, which the landlord described as locally grown vegetables baked inside filo pastry and served with new potatoes, and cooked vegetables, topped with Béchamel sauce. It was very tasty indeed. The pastry was filled with chunky slices of corgette, tomato and mushroom, interspersed with leeks and slivered onions, and the boiled new potatoes were melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The side of vegetables consisted of cooked cos(romaine lettuce), steamed carrots and mashed swede. I'm not much of a fan of swede (known in America as Rutabaga) and could have done without, but since it was there I managed to choke it down with the help of the Béchamel.

The vegetable bundle with a side of tender veggies

My father-in-law chose the meat lasagna with a side of chips.

Steve chose the cottage pie with a side of chips

I'm fairly certain that those chips were of the frozen variety, which is surprising since most if their other offerings were fresh. After the meal the landlord tempted us with a half dozen after dinner treats spelled out on a hand-held chalkboard. We chose...er, I guess I should come clean and admit it - I chose - the chocolate-caramel-toffee-crunch. I had no idea what it was, but I knew from the ingredients that I was onto a winner. It was sinfully rich and indulgent, but luckily we were provided with extra spoons so that everyone could have a taste. As I ate the majority of it, I'll probably be working it off on the elliptical machine for the next month, but it was worth every creamy, decadent mouthful.

Chocolate caramel toffee crunch

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