A new standard in pub dining

WHEN Horsham’s Green Dragon was reborn as the Olive Branch at the start of the summer, the impact of its huge refurbishment was obvious at a glance.

Thursday, 25th November 2010, 9:01 am

The controversial change of name signalled a total transformation in the town centre pub – and every aspect of it was for the better.

With great style and an enormous sense of subtle chic, it set a new standard in pub dining.

But, as I observed then on my first visit, its prices were at the top end of what people would expect to pay.

In layman’s language, that means it was a bit expensive for albeit exceptionally fine pub grub – especially in such a difficult economic climate.

In the swift six months that followed, it has built on its new-found strengths and learnt the lesson on price.

When I returned this week, I was delighted to find a set price lunch menu had been introduced for Monday-Thursday.

Two courses come in at £12 and three courses at £15.

Given the quality of the food and the delightful surroundings, this represents excellent value.

A Christmas celebration menu at £20 for three courses plus coffee and mince pie emphasises the point. It has proved hugely popular.

Of course, you can still eat a la carte at lunchtime – with starters and sharing dishes, sandwiches, main courses, sides and some great puds.

The mains are much better priced ranging from £9.50 for the baked butternut squash tart to £17.50 for a wonderfully tender and succulent rib eye steak, char grilled and served with béarnaise sauce and fries.

The chips come in what at first appears to be a slightly squashed plastic coffee cup from a dispensing machine.

But appearances can be deceptive. In reality, this is a unique and finely crafted piece of ceramic.

The evening offers a more extensive a la carte – but it still represents better value.

The Olive Branch may be set in one of Horsham’s most historic buildings at the Bishopric – but in every sense it is keen to be at the cutting edge of modern dining.

This point is never better made than its new website www.olivebranchhorsham.co.uk

This has all the menus to download along with photos of the Olive Branch – and general manager Ben Dalton said they were offering a free bottle of wine to couples booking online for a meal.

But they are also keen to adapt to modern living.

They have tapped into the coffee culture – offering coffee and cake for £4 any time of the day.

Keen to attract early diners as well, they are open from 9am for breakfast every day except for Sunday.

Its location is a mixed blessing. It is right in the heart of the town centre, near the Shelley Fountain – but it is away from the new restaurant quarter in East Street.

Is this a problem?

Ben is confident that they have one unique selling point over so many of the other restaurants – the food is British; and not just that but British ‘done well’.

He is right.

The Olive Branch has a real eye for detail when it comes to sourcing fresh local produce and cooking and serving it to best effect.

When we dined, we started with one of their already famous Pantry Plates (£15.50) to share. We opted for the meat version – although there are also fish and vegetarian varieties.

This is a tremendous starter for two – or even more! – and great fun. Offering a mix of cured ham, duck and herb pate with fig relish, duck bruschetta, grilled and roast vegetables it also came with breads and dips.

For main, my colleague tried the steak – medium rare. It was full of flavour and as tender as we have known a rib eye.

I sampled the roast organic salmon with basil mash and white wine sauce from the lunch special menu – to check it offered as good value as the a la carte. It passed with flying colours.

Finally the puds. What a treat. Again we tested a sharing dish – with treacle tart, raspberry and white chocolate crème brulee, chocolate brownie, and some of the best ice cream ever.

There were only two minor criticisms of the meal – the side of carrots was served a third of the way through the meal, and the crème brulee would have benefited from a crisper, harder crust.

But that apart, the Olive Tree goes from strength to strength – illustrated by the huge number of bookings for its Christmas celebrations menu.

There are still some places available on Christmas day – with four very seasonal courses plus coffee and mince pie very competitively priced at £65.

Six months’ ago, when the newly created Olive Branch opened its doors after ditching the Green Dragon identity, there was some concern locally about the change of name.

But the new venue is an enormous asset to the town. It’s stylish, classy – and its food is excellent traditional fare with a modern twist.

Changes to the menu and prices mean it also offers exceptional value.

If you haven’t tried it yet, the time has come to branch out.

Olive Branch, 12 Bishopric, Horsham RH12 1QR 01403 252286 www.olivebranchhorsham.co.uk