The White Hart in Bishops Caundle
Earlier this month, we made the scenic journey in the setting sunlight from Milton Abbas to Bishops Caundle to enjoy a rare Friday evening out and what we hoped would be a nice meal in the recently taken over White Hart Pub and Kitchen.
One of my favourite areas of the county has to be the very North. Pretty much where Dorset and Somerset meet. If you’ve ever spent any time there, or you’ve driven along any of the roads that run across the top of the county, you’ll understand. The views as you look south stretch for miles. Uninterrupted greenery and you’re never far from the next postcard perfect village.
Three months ago, Matthew Schofield relocated from Kent to Dorset and became the new Head Chef/Owner of the White Hart. So, for us, in addition to trying the food, we were keen to get a sense of what challenges Matthew had already encountered, what lay ahead for him and what he has planned for the pub in the future. I’ll come back to that as we had a chat with Matthew after we’d finished our meals.
The pub itself lies on the A3030, the main road between Sturminster Newton and Sherborne (and what a beautiful road it is). Ample parking and stunning views to the rear where there is a lovely beer garden with plenty of seating for those warm summer evenings.
The Pub Itself…
We walked in via the entrance at the side of the building and headed straight to the bar. We were offered a choice to sit in the dining area at the back of the pub or at the front in the room just off the bar. We opted to eat in there as it looked pretty cosy. We ordered our drinks at the bar and went and sat down. The waitress that brought our menus over was very polite and gave us a few minutes to decide what we wanted to eat.
The menu is very traditional. Plenty of choice, something for everyone but not so much that you would be worried there could be a lack of attention to detail, or a requirement for an overworked microwave. A stand out item on the Starters page had to be the “Popcorn Cockles”. I haven’t come across this before. I like cockles and couldn’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work as a dish if it was done right, so that was an easy decision for me. Sarah and I always find it hard to look past Calamari if it’s on a menu, which it was, so that was the second easiest decision. To take nothing away from the other items. We could have opted for several things.
We ordered and the starters took about 10 minutes to come out. This gave us a bit of time to assess the surroundings. Cosy as I said, intimate yet plenty of space too. First impressions were that the interior could do with a bit of a face lift as it was quite dark inside and a bit dated. However, given that Matthew has only been there for such a short amount of time and has already refitted the kitchen, I’m sure this will be on his to do list. For now, I get the impression that the regular patrons are just happy to have their local back and someone serving them good, locally sourced food.
We got off to a decent start when our food arrived. Calamari is one of those things that can really delight when it’s done well yet can be ruined so easily. No such issues here. Fresh, cooked nicely and presentation was attractive. The Calamari was served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce which is always a good combo.
The Popcorn Cockles were pretty much what you might imagine. If you’re thinking of popcorn chicken such as you might find in a KFC, then you’d be on the right lines. Again, cockles can be disappointing if over cooked and you can’t risk undercooking them, so the margins for error are fine. These were just right. A novel idea, but it really did work. I’d recommend to anybody who enjoys a cockle now and again.
It was around 10 minutes again between courses. I ordered a Steak and Prophecy Ale Pie and Sarah had the Butter Chicken Burger. I would describe the food as rustic, uncomplicated and as I mentioned previously, traditional. Both meals were served with Skin On Chips and mine came with a pot of vegetables while Sarah’s came with battered onion rings.
The pie was served in one of the old style oval dishes that we’ve all become so familiar with in pubs over the years. This means a decent sized pie for a single portion so no complaints over the quantity. The filling was tasty and there was plenty of the tender, locally sourced meat inside. It was topped with a puff pastry lid. I do love a good pie.
Sarah’s burger was also plenty big enough. I think I’d describe it more as a chicken sandwich than a burger as it was in essence a chicken breast, but that’s kind of what you expect with a chicken burger. It was nicely cooked, juicy and coated in a buttermilk batter. The onion rings were also very nice.
To be completely honest, we were pretty full by the time we’d finished our meals and dessert was going to be a struggle, but, and I can’t explain why as I wouldn’t normally look twice at one, the tiramisu really appealed to me. When my stomach makes a choice, I generally don’t bother questioning it and I’m glad I didn’t. We decided to just order one and share it, although half way through, I was sort of wishing I had a whole one to myself.
A bit more about the White Hart
Following our meal, we were spared a few minutes by Matthew so we could find out how he’s settling in and how things have gone since he took over the White Hart.
The first order of business was to replace the kitchen, This couldn’t wait. The pub is a freehold so Matthew is free to design his own menu and serve the beers he chooses. To our delight, he’s going local and this meant I had the chance to try a Palmers Copper. I’ve tried most of the Palmers range, but until now, not this one. I’m pleased to say that I would recommend it and I know where to get one if I’m in North Dorset.
Matthew gave us a brief history of the pub and told us the story of how it is said to be haunted by Judge Jeffreys, who was often better known as ‘The Hanging Judge’. I won’t give you a history lesson, but his table was the one directly behind where we were sitting. Sadly, I didn’t get any sense of there being anything paranormal or a bit eerie going on, but the guy’s been dead for over 300 years so may be a bit bored of messing with the locals. If you’d like to know more information on the suspected haunting, WikiNut provides an insight.
If you’d like to find out more about the White Hart in Bishops Caundle, click here to go to their website where you can also view their menus.
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