The Plough Inn, Brewery and Village Shop, Coldharbour, Surrey RH5 6HD
The upside: A historic pub bought back to life in a thriving community
The downside: Purely selfish; but its a hike from where I live
The flipside: A perfect feel good destination in the heart of Surrey
A 17th century Inn with its own brewery, a local food menu and a carefully stocked village shop, may sound too good to be true. But read on and be prepared to put this venue on your ‘to go to’ list.
The Plough Inn is located in Coldharbour, a small village with 250 residents; it has one bus a day, which leaves at 10am and the nearest shop is 5 miles away. Dating back to the 1700’s The Plough Inn had by 2015 had lost its shine and most of its reputation and was in dire need of some tender loving care. Put up for sale the pub was bought by local entrepreneur Richard Eshelby who used the pub regularly during the shooting season and didn’t want to see it close. Forming a company to manage his new asset he bought in John (an IT consultant and his wife Becky to run the business) a great plan as they are also shareholders and have a vested interest in making this business a success.
The new team started in mid September 2015 and traded whilst they formed a refurbishment plan. As part of that, they had, a vision to re-instate the village shop and keep the onsite Leith Hill Brewery open too. Today the inn has had a complete refit with six attractively furnished rooms, a new kitchen and landscaped garden and addition of a village shop. Its heart warming to see how much detail and attention has gone into the reinvention of this business, which today is central to village life.
This is a story of three parts; the Inn, Leith Hill Brewery and the village shop. Intertwined of course but each lending additional purpose.
The Inn was already on the radar of CAMRA who say this is the only pub in the South East who brew their own beer exclusively for their customers. Made on site in small batches twice a month they produce 10 firkins (around 400 litres). This process takes around a month to brew, ferment and condition in their cellars before its ready to sell. There are three beers made on site by Antoine Josser from Westcott and local resident Mark Chapman. Not all are available all year round but the day I visited Crooked Furrow and Surrey Puma (a seasonal stout) were on tap. They also have a an American pale ale called Smilers Happiness, named after a much loved local John Steele who died of cancer in March 2016. In dedication to him the Inn conceived the idea of a beer in his name.
In addition to their own brews, this free house sells beers from other local breweries such as Fools Gold from Tillingbourne and a selection from Hogs Back. Whilst as a free house they don’t have to buy any national branded beers they have found that lager drinkers are more fickle so you’ll find Carlsberg and St Miguel on tap plus one from a more local brewery Firebird. They also have an eclectic range of new wave local gins such as Silent Pool, Brighton & Gutsy Monkey (made in nearby Dorking).
On the pub menu the focus is on local and seasonal food. The core menu changes four times a year but is supplemented with a specials board. This John stressed, really is for specials and they often test run dishes here before placing them on the new seasons menu. Much of what is on offer here is made on site. What isn’t comes from suppliers such as local artisan bakers Chalk Hills of Reigate, and meat from award winning Rawlings of Cranleigh. Eating lunch with a friend recently we shared a starter of game, apricot and gherkin terrine served with home made chutney and warm (great attention to detail here) Chalk Hills fig and walnut bread (£7.50) .
For mains I went for local producer Ravi Ollies beetroot and feta ravioli pasta with a fresh cream and dill sauce (£10.95) while my dining partner opted for home made chicken pie, gravy, mash and vegetables (£11.95). We loved the food, it was full of flavour, carefully prepared and with sensible portions. The pie was served with a selection of fresh vegetables and we felt the food represented good hospitality at a fair price. Although we were fairly stuffed we felt it would be rude not to sample a dessert and chose the coffee crème brulee served with shortbread and Caroline’s Dairy chocolate ice-cream (£6.50). This combination was a huge hit and so delicious that we ate the lot. All made on site apart from the ice cream (from local producer Caroline’s Dairy) this was a brûlée to remember for its presentation, taste and texture. After coffee from local roaster Coffee Real we went to take a look around the shop.
The shop, which was the final element of the business to open in October 2016, was envisioned for both locals and visitors alike. The last village shop in Coldharbour closed its doors in 1982 forcing locals to shop in nearby Dorking. Sadly over the last few years Dorking has become so busy that parking at certain times is a challenge if not impossible. This, locals say, makes having a shop on the doorstep again all the more appealing. It’s amazing how much stock a small shop can carry. Stocking a wonderful range of products from basics (toothpaste and washing up liquid) to gourmet artisan cheeses, chocolate and seaweed mayonnaise is all down to thoughtful curation.
Becky’s mum Sue, who clearly has, a natural affinity for food retailing, is at the helm here. Energetic, lively and clearly passionate about her new venture she has filled the shop with a superb range of complimentary food and ingredients. Surrey Cheese, Norbury Blue is here (and on the pub menu) as is Burwash Rose from East Sussex. In the freezer you will find ready meals from Surrey Spice, Pasta from Ravi Ollie and ice cream from Caroline’s Dairy. Gourmet pies come from Toms Pies in Devon and meat stuffed sausage rolls and pasties from Rawlings Butchers in Cranleigh. Bread comes from artisan bakery Chalk Hills and a craft bakery in Cranleigh.
For cyclists and walkers a couple of stools in the shop window are a great place to sip a Barista Coffee and enjoy a homemade cake if you don’t fancy a full meal in the pub. While I was sitting there a local smallholder arrived with a tray of free-range eggs from his chickens. I also met some walkers from Holland who were committed to coming back for another visit. The positivity that this business has given to the village and wider community is evident and another good reason to veer off the high street and into the Surrey hills.
This review first appeared in the March Issue of Essence of Surrey Magazine. I was invited to dine at the Plough by the owners on the understanding that I only publish reviews if I can really recommend the experience. I loved everything about it!