We walked into the bar of the Whippet Inn about 20 minutes before our table booking and were immediately asked what we would like to drink: ‘A gin and tonic?’ Why yes. How did you know? What made the offer even more inviting is that the Whippet Inn boasts a collection of over 30 different gins (the gin club meets here every Monday) and the Whippet’s gin expert picked a different variety for each of us to try.
Mine was a strawberry and black pepper gin called Monkey 37, served over giant chunks of ice and freshly cut strawberries. The others were an orange and lavender gin, a Hendrick’s with copious amounts of fresh cucumber, and one of our party was an ale drinker so, with it being an ale house, he had an equally grand selection to choose from and was suitably impressed.
As we sipped our drinks (and tried each other’s) a look around the room provided a glimpse into the past of the Whippet Inn. Once a brothel, then a gay club, the Whippet Inn in its current guise has now been open for a year and you might think it has retained some elements (look closely at the risque wallpaper) while adding touches such as vintage wine buckets, modern booths and elegant tall candles, creating an eclectic decor that contributes to the comfortable yet intriguing atmosphere.
As happy as we were in the bar, we were eager to see the menu. As it’s a self-proclaimed steak house, meat was on our minds, but we were pleasantly surprised by a menu offering a much more varied selection of dishes. So much so that it felt like we ordered half the menu. Whilst deciding, we were served a glass of British sparkling wine. The Nyetimber from Sussex was a delightful way to begin, and it’s always nice to try something British.
For the first course we shared three starters and a vegetarian main: twice-baked cheese soufflé with a trio of leeks, game terrine with boozy prunes, sugar-cured trout with pink grapefruit, as well as the pithivier of Bosworth Ash cheese and red peppers with sweet potato croquette.
I’m not usually a soufflé fan, but maybe the fact that it had been baked twice made it an exception. It was light but not too spongey, creamy but not thick. The game terrine was chunky and rich – delicious both with or without the sweet tanginess of the prunes. The trout came as an oblong of flakey and salty-fresh fillet with crispy skin topping it. The fish and citrus flavour created something special. Our ‘main’ starter was exceptional and our gin-expert-turned-sommelier recommended an accompanying Argentinian wine – Santa Rosa Viognier – which made the dish even more enjoyable. The goats’ cheese was offset perfectly by the textured sweet potato and I would have been happy with the pithivier as my ‘main’ main.
Instead, I went for the 40-day-aged fillet steak with the peppercorn sauce, with the other diners opting for the ribeye and choosing whisky and mushroom sauce, blue cheese hollandaise and good old garlic butter. All came with either homemade chips, mash or sweet potato fries, with extras including pub classics such as onion rings, to not-so-classic green beans with sun-dried tomatoes.
Predictably, my steak was cooked to perfection; succulent and soft. And I didn’t hear any complaints from anyone else. In fact, we were all so contented with our food that I didn’t hear much at all. To accompany our mains we chose the house red wine (a Chilean merlot) which we thoroughly enjoyed. Probably a bit too much.
Upon remarking on the sommelier’s good choices and evident knowledge he replied, ‘If you enjoy something you have to be passionate about it, otherwise what’s the point?’ We certainly appreciated his passion; it made our evening an experience, rather than just a meal. We’ll definitely be back to try the other half of the menu.
01904 500 660 www.thewhippetinn.co.uk