Muddy eats: The Running Horses
Yup, it’s pretty chilly at the mo, but if anything can lure me outside it is a scenic stroll with the promise of a warming gourmet pub lunch with a girlfriend I haven’t seen in a while. And it was on one of those gloriously clear, yet crisp, days that I discovered this perfect combo at The Running Horses in the pretty village of Mickleham.
Standing at the foot of Box Hill – the favourite National Trust walking route offering spectacular views across the North Downs – the Running Horses is a traditional country inn oozing history and charm.
Horsey and history types will be interested to know the pub gained its equine name in 1828 when two horses passed the post at exactly the same time in the Epsom Derby. The two nags are still remembered fondly today in the names of the pub’s two bars.
The pub underwent a renovation only a couple of years ago, but has retained much of its cosy, period charm and character. Exposed beams and timber wall panelling remain, floors are a mix of warm timber parquet and tartan carpet, and on a cool winter’s day lamps and lanterns lend an intimate and relaxed feel. It’s really quite lovely.
The kitchen is focused on traditional, rustic dishes using local and seasonal ingredients when possible. The lunch menu offers all the pub classics you’d expect (rib-eye steak, a Runner’s burger, fish and chips) with some more unexpected dishes (pan-fried calves liver, roasted duck). At lunch there’s also a selection of gourmet sandwiches (overnight roasted beef and horseradish; prawn smashed avocado, crab and chilli mayo; smoked salmon with dill creme fraiche).
Things move up a notch in the evening with the additions of things like crisp belly of pork with a black pudding croquette, beef Wellington and scallops of the day. And on Sunday there’s the traditional Sunday roast, with choices of beef, Welsh lamb and pork, plus the usual pub classics of fish and chips.
I went for lunch on a Friday and there was a buzzy vibe about the place. We ate in the wood-panelled dining room, which has a feeling of country manor dining room about it – and yet there’s nothing stiff and formal about it at all. If you can, book one of the cosy booths with stylish zinc tables and wonderful lantern lighting. I was having a long-awaited catch up with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen for weeks, so this was the perfect spot after a brisk jaunt around Box Hill.
For starters, my friend went for the hot soft poached egg on a toasted muffin, with smoked salmon and haddock, spinach and hollandaise (£7), and I went for the devilled Isle of Man crab on toast with lemon and rocket (£10). My girlfriend has no qualms about me nibbling from her plate for research purposes, and I can confirm that both starters were gorgeous. The egg and smoked fish combo could easily be a light lunch on it’s own.
But not if you’ve just worked up an appetite on those Surrey Hills, so we poured another glass of wine (a nice drop of Sauv Blanc from the French Loire Valley) and ventured onto our mains. I went for the superfood salad, a veggie offering of kale, broccoli, quinoa, spring onions, avocado and goats cheese (£13). My friend chose the panfried sea bass, which came with olive crushed potatoes, grilled fennel and sauce vierge (£17) (a French sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and chopped basil). Both meals were delicious, and all that good stuff in the salad meant it was quite filling.
Moving on to desert, I went for a hot chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream (£7) and my friend went for the traditional creme brulee (£5). Nothing to complain about here folks – both were divine, and gorgeously presented.
The Running Horses is a fab country pub, and well worth a visit. It’s the perfect spot to refuel after a wander up Box Hill, and it’s worth mentioning that dogs are welcome throughout. Denbies Wine Estate is also just down the road, and worth popping into if you have time.
For those looking for somewhere to rest their head after a day of walking or cycling in the area, there are five rooms upstairs, plus the gatehouse cottage which is a short walk away. There is also a bike shed that’s free for the use of guests. And guest or not, breakfast is also served daily (Mon-Fri until 9.30am and Sat until 10am) with all the usuals including full English (£10), eggs Benedict (£7.50) and even a healthy option of roasted mixed nuts with raisins, yoghurt and apple slices (£7.50).
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Relaxed diners, groups of friends, drop-in thirsty types wanting a pint and nibbles, those wanting a good value quality place to eat and rest their heads, dog walkers, cyclists and day-trippers.
Not for: I’m struggling to think who wouldn’t like this place. I guess if you’re looking for a super formal and starchy outing, this might not suit.
£££: very reasonable. I like the different menus, from breakfast through to dinner. Starters are from £5 for soup of the day to £12.50 if you push the boat out and go for scallops of the day. Mains range from £12 for the risotto of cep mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, Parmesan and thyme to £26 for beef Wellington. Desserts are from £5-£7.
The Running Horses, Old London Road, Mickleham, Nr Dorking, RH5 6DU. Tel: 01372 372279. therunninghorses.co.uk