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The March Hare

Like Alice's adventure down the rabbit hole, The March Hare in central Guildford is a delight. I can't recommend it enough

THE LOCATION

You’ll find The March Hare on South Hill in Guildford, overlooking the stunning Guildford Castle. The name is of course taken from Alice in Wonderland whose author Lewis Carroll had strong ties with Guildford in his later life. While Carroll never actually lived in Guildford, he set up a home here for his six unmarried sisters, and visited often.

The March Hare is a relatively new pub, replacing the ill-fated Italian restaurant Como only a couple of years ago. And yet, everything about it feels right.

THE VIBE

From the outside, it looks like a traditional urban pub. But beyond the charming bar area, it’s a chic restaurant with its polished dark timber flooring and stylish colour palette of cool blues and greys, with nooks of deep aubergine. It’s part of the White Brasserie Company, the little sister to Brasserie Blanc, Raymond Blanc’s more accessible answer to his Oxfordshire restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

When I visited for lunch on a Thursday, the place was buzzing. There was barely a free table, with a mix of business people, lunching girlies and some retired folk. There’s a small area for alfresco eating, but in sunny weather you’d have to be pretty lucky to nab one of these tables. Inside though, huge glass bifold doors can be opened which I’d imagine does a pretty good job of creating an alfresco feel.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Like Le Manoir and the Brasserie Blanc restaurants, The March Hare stays close to the French influences. And it does them well. Head chef is Albert Ciurca, who has come from within the Brasserie Blanc family. His menu changes monthly and includes the traditional French classics – Slow-cooked Bœuf Bourguignon, Bouillabaisse, King scallops Provençale – but with a twist, as well as British favourites like pie of the week and alow-cooked shoulder and leg of roast suckling pig. There’s something to suit the tastebuds and wallets of anyone who dines here; as well as the a la carte menu, there’s a set menu, offering two courses for £11.95. That’s brilliant value!

For starter, the goats cheese salad caught my eye on the specials board, so it was all go for that. What I hadn’t expected was for it to be served on a baked apple, with walnuts. This could have veered into pudding territory, but the dressing (which I think was a combination of caramelised onions and balsamic) kept it completely savoury. It was gorgeous.

I’m a sucker for a Bouillabaisse, and this one was gorgeous. This one, with monkfish, red mullet, seabream, gurnard, squid and mussels, also included braised fennel, saffron potatoes and garlic croûtons. I was in French eating heaven. And really just a starter and main was plenty for lunch.

But – there’s always a but! – one of the waitresses had recommended the pistachio souffle, so there was nothing for it but to head straight to glutton territory. And, oh, she was so right. The combination of chocolate and pistachio is a match made in heaven, and when it’s a light as this it almost – almost – feels like it’s also light on calories. (I’m sure it’s not!)

KID-FRIENDLY?

It was lunchtime on a Thursday when I visited, so there weren’t many kids at The March Hare, but the entire staff, including the manager, Joao Goncalo, were all super-friendly and attentive. So I’d imagine families would be well-looked after. There outdoor area is small though, so it’s not somewhere your kids are going to be able to run around. There’s a kids’ menu, and a half-price, half-portion offer on a selection of dishes from the main menu.

OUT & ABOUT

Being a centre-of-town pub, Guildford’s fab shops are an obvious diversion before or after lunch at The March Hare. But it’s position in the shadow of Guildford Castle means you could combine a visit to the castle with lunch or dinner.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: I’m hard pressed to find anyone who won’t like The March Hare, though if you’re after a country pub in a rural setting, it’s central Guildford location won’t suit you.

Not for: The food is definitely on the gastro scale so if you’re after a ciabatta or soup, it may not be your bag. Energetic toddlers might find it hard to last the course without a large garden to run around in.

The damage:  Good value for what you get. Entrees between £6-8.50; mains from £12 for gammon steak through to £23 for 8 oz fillet steak or grilled lobster tail; sides between £3.10-£4, and desserts starting at £4.50.

The March Hare, 2-4 South Hill, Guildford GU1 3SY. marchhareguildford.com

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