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Eating out with Freddie

The Piddle Inn Piddletrenthide Nr Dorchester DT2 7QF 01300 348468

I have an irrational dislike of the road through the Piddle Valley: it’s narrow and winding, with a 30 mph limit for most of its length, and the villages which line it are not especially attractive. But we have discovered that it does have one consolation in the Piddle Inn, for which it would be worth braving much worse roads than the unloved B3143.

The point at which a pub becomes a pub-restaurant or even a restaurant is a moot one. We have had terrible meals in pubs which claimed to be renowned for their food and we have eaten in restaurants whose pretence to being a ‘local’ was sustained only by an aged villager propped up in one corner. The Piddle Inn gets it about right, though. At one end it is unquestionably a village pub, home to the local cribbage team, with a pool table and darts boards and historic pictures of the village on the walls. At the other end are two rooms which make up a smart but unpretentious restaurant. Because the whole place is open-plan, there is a constant buzz of conversation and a lively atmosphere which for us added greatly to the enjoyment of a meal there.

In between the pub end and the restaurant end are comfy sofas into which we sank to enjoy our pre-dinner drinks and to examine the menu and the two specials boards, one for curry and one for fish. The dishes are well chosen for the type of restaurant – nothing wildly exotic or surprising but, with seven starters and ten main courses, a good range of choice and some interesting sauces.

One of the latter accompanied my main course of pan-fried strips of chicken breast. It was a blue vinny, cream and walnut sauce which worked very well as the cheese didn’t overwhelm the chicken, while the walnuts provided an unusual consistency. This aspect of a dish is sometimes neglected – after all, the mouth is a very sensitive part of one’s body and can enjoy unusual experiences in texture as much as in flavour.

I had begun with a hot dish of crab meat, garlic, tomato and breadcrumbs with melted cheese on top which also had a successful consistency that enhanced the delicate flavour of the crab. Mrs Freddie started with goat’s cheese accompanied by a sharp but sweet dressing of honey, balsamic and sesame seeds which, she said, was ‘really nice’ with the strong flavour of the cheese.

At the beginning of the evening, Mrs Freddie had declared that she felt our vegetarian readers were ill-served, so she continued the non-meat theme with a mixture of roasted and smoked vegetables in olive oil on a bed of mashed potato. We identified mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, olives and red peppers in the attractive-looking dish, which was rich enough in itself hardly to need the olive oil.

One of the things which distinguishes a pub-restaurant from just a pub is its puddings. We have sometimes had two decent courses and then been invited to choose from a list of obviously bought-in frozen puddings. The Piddle Inn trumpets with justifiable pride the fact that its puddings are home-made. Mrs Freddie chose a summer pudding which was well presented and solid with fruit. I was intrigued by the idea of a rose sorbet, which I don’t think I have tried before, and thoroughly enjoyed the sweet and refreshing but subtle flavour. I couldn’t place it until Mrs Freddie reminded me that rosewater is used in Turkish delight, which took me straight back to childhood and fighting my siblings for the Turkish delight in the Christmas box of Milk Tray (even committing the cardinal sin of burrowing down to the second layer before the top one was finished).

There were lots of touches that we liked in the restaurant: the large, well-spaced tables, the jug of iced tap-water brought without our having to ask for it and the toothpicks on the table – why is this feature of most European restaurants so neglected in this country? On the walls were photographs by Graham Bundy, whose work has appeared in Dorset Life, and paintings by Virginia Tuzynska Evans, but in pride of place was a large photograph of Rooster Booster, the much-loved grey steeplechaser who was bred in the Piddle Valley. It all contributed to a pleasant, relaxed setting for the meal, enhanced by friendly and efficient but unobtrusive service.

The prices are more restaurant than pub and the bill without drinks could average around £20 a head for three courses. But when the pub-restaurant concept works, the result is a good meal in enjoyable surroundings – and at the Piddle Inn, it works.

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