Or the curious case of the disappearing waitress…
A summer’s day in England and traffic jams and a torrential downpour force a detour and a sudden change of mind.
That’s how we ended up at the Shepherd and Dog in the tiny South Downs village of Fulking in West Sussex.
We’ve visited this well known walker-family-and-dog-friendly pub on a number of previous occasions but can’t ever remember eating there. That seemed a good enough reason to abandon our plans for a trip to a country fair and get our Saturday back on track with a hearty pub lunch instead.
Fortunately we were early enough to grab one of the few remaining tables and sat and watched as others caught in the aforementioned downpour, scurried in to join us.
The restaurant space is small with low beams, plain tables, an inglenook fireplace and a second smaller log fire (essential in the winter months). It smells very slightly of soot.
The modern LED sunken ceiling lights make it easy to read the bill of fare, but have a strange intermittent flickering which is eerie and a little unsettling.
The menu, printed pages presented on a clipboard, offers a variety of tapas which you can either have as starters or select several for a main meal. There are also more traditional main dishes and the standard is a cut above the usual country pub fare.
Dairy free, vegetarian and gluten free options are clearly marked (nothing vegan though) and our smiling and tentative young waitress assured us that if we wanted anything else to meet any dietary requirements to just let her know. Most of the food is freshly prepared on site and adaptations can be made to many dishes.
We began with melted camembert for Pork Belly and a rabbit-and-shitake mushroom spring roll for me. The starters arrived swiftly, although we didn’t get any side plates, but we were hungry so just tucked in. Pork Belly’s camembert oozed delectably and my spring roll was hot, crisp and its salad bed delicately dressed.
Next came fish and chips – served on a bread board with a mock newspaper cutting lining. Pork Belly’s inclined to support the “We Want Plates” campaign and did wrinkle his nose up a bit, but had to concede it wasn’t too way out. The line caught cod was excellent and the hand cut chips humungous.
I chose a salad, which seemed a bit steep at £14.50 but our waitress highly recommended it. It came on a plain white plate and looked like a heap of rocket leaves, interspersed with strips of carrot and the occasional crouton. But once I delved inside there was a treasure trove of warm duck leg confit, some delicately flavoured beetroot and a lovely honey mustard dressing which didn’t overpower the rocket and pea shoot leaves.
In fact I think I got better value as I was totally stuffed after my salad – a most unusual feeling, while Pork Belly could probably have gone another round with the fish and chips.
When our waitress returned Pork Belly admitted he was keen to peruse the dessert options so off she went. And this is where it got a bit weird.
The lights continued to flicker, Pork Belly sipped his beer, tables beside us filled up, were served and cleared by other attentive staff. And we waited. And waited. And waited.
Our waitress had completely disappeared.
Trade was brisk, but not overly busy. The rain shower had scared off customers from the beer garden and the newer part of the restaurant – a family room extension out back – wasn’t packed.
We sat and chatted a bit. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes.
Still no sign of the smiling waitress and the pudding menu.
20 minutes. 25.
Pork Belly was keen to sit it out and see how long it would take for anyone to notice, but I felt that was a little unfair and finally, after 30 minutes, I caught the eye of a passing waiter.
He couldn’t have been more apologetic and said that our waitress had simply disappeared.
No-one knew where she had gone.
Presumably taking our pudding menu with her.
Oh well, we weren’t in any hurry and by now my salad had settled enough for me to consider eating again!
Pork Belly opted for the dense, rich, chocolate ale cake served with proper clotted cream.
I discovered three lovely goat and sheep cheeses – Quickes goat cheddar, a ewe’s milk Berkswell and a delightfully creamy Flower Marie, made in East Sussex. Served with cubes of quince paste and what was described as greengage chutney but more closely resembled candied fruits, it was a fine ending to a hearty meal.
We didn’t leave a tip this time – because our waitress wasn’t there!