For this foray into the countryside, there could be only one choice of dining partner: our illustrious publishing director, Gatsby himself, Peter Robinson. This ensured four of the most critical eyes present, and both some great observation and conversation.
Arriving in the village of Kirdford, we find ourselves in some disbelief of what we are seeing. We seem to have been transported to a place that bears a startling resemblance to a 70’s episode of The Avengers or Doctor Who. At any moment you expect to hear the whine of John Steed’s 6.5 litre Bentley, as they trundle past the manicured telephone box and Saxon church, on their way to solve a conundrum. There is something very British about this village and its surroundings.
The Half Moon is a modestly presented long, tile-fronted building, giving no hint that it dates back to the fifteenth century. Its grounds show great attention to detail and are presented as both leisure and working spaces. Tasteful tables and umbrellas cajole you to dine or enjoy a drink outside. There are also some great surprises to be found, such as the geometric wave of hand-laid fencing at the rear boundary, raised herb garden and model potager complete with architecturally thrusting artichokes.
The interior hints at quiet satisfaction, quality, and that our host clearly has a keen eye for detail, as well as a great sense of humour. Said host, Jodie Kidd, greats us warmly with ‘whaddya think?’ There is clearly a genuine sense of pride and immense enthusiasm behind the question. The transition from supermodel to racing driver and polo player has clearly been sprinkled with subtle references throughout the interiors of The Half Moon. Cushions are held in place by bridles and bespoke bar stools are studded and shaped like early racing seats. The original wallpaper, featuring wine regions, has been painstakingly recreated adding an authentic feel.
Styling her village pub has clearly been a labour of love and, in later conversation, you can sense how she has revelled in the challenge. Jodie is rightly proud of the fact she has self-styled the interiors, rather than using an interior design team, even selecting all glassware and cutlery herself with input from her hostelry team.
The restaurant itself is comfortable and relaxed. Jodie herself is characteristically hands on. During our lunch, she doesn’t seem stop for a second, serving drinks, taking orders, and leading by example.
Our table is set with chic but practical glassware, and the Robert Welch cutlery is well weighted and both ergonomically and aesthetically pleasing. Both beg you to pick them up and cradle them in anticipation. Again, Kidd’s attention to detail shines through. Now it is time for chef to step up and justify the excellence of our surroundings.
Having been eyes-down over the menu, we sense that this may have to become four courses. The menu is cleverly planned and has locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. Proof, indeed, that this is not just a restaurant, but still a pub functioning as such at the heart of the village. Robinson and I hit the snacks menu first, not being able to resist stalwarts like pork and black pudding scotch egg with homemade brown sauce; pork scratchings with beer emulsion and burnt apple sauce; and crispy pheasant with garlic mayonnaise. All are well-presented, portions are generous, served with seasonal garnishes. These in isolation, after a brisk country hack, would sit perfectly with a pint of Half Moon Eclipse, the pub’s own brew.
After a brief pause, we turn our attention to the wine list, which is remarkable in its variety, and unique its approach (it’s influenced by Jodie’s own travels around the world, she tells me after lunch). There is a great showing of English sparkling wine from the nearby Bolney Estate, and also a generous selection by the glass. For aperitif, we opt for the purity of Champagne Drappier’s Zero Dosage by the glass. It is light, lemony and cleans the palate wonderfully (due to having no added sugar after disgorgement). We follow with a fresh, mineral and slightly saline Sardinian Vermentino ‘Silenzi Bianco’ to follow, and a velvety Malbec ‘Lo Tengo’ to balance Peter’s main course.
Presentation is to the fore again with the delivery of our starters. The plate is not over-fussy. Everything has relevance and feels right, proper and in its place. The Selsey crab is sea-fresh, retaining just the right hint of saltiness, having only travelled thirty miles. It is expertly picked, lightly dressed and sat amongst a salad of grapes, tomatoes and nasturtium flowers. With a similar mileage provenance, the charred day boat mackerel is accompanied by molasses yoghurt, fennel and hazelnuts – the latter proving chef’s textural flair and complementing the charring of the fish. Both starters were excellent, with great understanding of ingredients.
Main course is always a bone of contention when assessing a kitchen’s skills. Do you let chef show his mastery of technical ability? Or choose a traditional benchmark instead? We are so blown away by the our starters that we opt to go both ways. Robinson selects the sirloin steak with peppercorn bone marrow reduction and skin on chips; I opt for the hay-smoked pork fillet with turnip, carrot and cumin purée, black pudding and pommes Anna. Hay-smoking is an artform. Get it wrong and it can impart a bitter flavour and infuse the dish with acid tones; cooking steak again gives no point of refuge. The first porcine mouthful is firm but juicy, the black pudding having been selected to balance the meat with more earthy, spiced flavours. Presentation again scores highly, and there is nothing on the plate that shouldn’t be there. Each element complements the other. Portion sizes are the right side of generous; you will leave replete, not overly full. Robinson is strangely quiet, his Malbec lovingly warming in his hand. He finally summons a raised eyebrow and smile to confirm his dish exceeds expectation, as he greedily coats his chips in homemade béarnaise.
Dessert in such indigenous surroundings doesn’t fail to deliver either. Again, the strength of The Half Moon’s menu is that it offers a good selection to suit all tastes. Sometimes a plethora of choices can detract from the overall experience. Gluten free selections are highlighted, and dietary issues dispatched without drama.
Of the four desserts on offer, we decide to explore the local cheese selection and the milk chocolate crémeaux, coconut sorbet, crisp lime and coconut meringues. The cremeaux is smooth and rich parried by the fresh, not over-sweet coconut sorbet. The meringues deliver the texture required to bring aural and tactile pleasure, the lime fizzing deliciously on the palate. The cheeses are firm, at correct temperature, displaying further thought with an assortment of artisan crackers and homemade chutney, best shared between two.
Our coffee arrives steaming hot, with acidity and smoky chocolate notes combining into a final delicious curtain call. Even this has not been left to chance, as the house blend is made for The Half Moon by Surrey Hills Coffee in their artisan roasting house.
There is clear vision in all that is presented at The Half Moon. Nothing appears to be too much trouble and service is delivered with genuine enthusiasm. The respect with which ingredients are treated by our highly talented chef is obvious; nothing that arrives on the plate is superfluous. The food presented on the plates is driven with real purpose, pleasuring both the eye and the palate. Venues with a celebrity connection are bound to produce some skepticism. However, this is a great place with a real passion for hospitality driving it.
In a rural location, your neighbours are your judge and jury, and for longevity you really need to deliver. The Half Moon certainly does this. Indeed, Gatsby and myself agree that we can’t wait to return to The Half Moon – and detours when in West Sussex or Goodwood-bound are now a certainty for The Review.