The Greets Inn, Warnham
Published on 6th November 2014
When AAH last reviewed The Greets Inn in Warnham in 2011, the magazine was just a few months old.
We were working every hour of the day trying to carve out a reputation of our own, yet in all honesty struggling to make ends meet.
Duncan Entwistle was in much the same situation. It had been 18 months since he had taken on the pub with his wife Natalie, and the couple faced an uphill struggle to turn around its fortunes. Only a handful of customers were there, and as we left Duncan was sat in a quiet corner (he had his pick, to be fair!) looking through slips left on tables to entice diners to join the Greets' VIP Club.
Whilst the food was very good that night, we wondered if they had any more hope of surviving than AAH!
Three years on, we arrive on a Thursday night and there's cause for optimism before we even walk through the door. There's no space in the car park...
Upon entering, we're hit by music being played by a folk group in the bar area (three hours later, the fiddles and accordions are still playing as we leave) and find a seat. The Greets is bustling, with only a couple of tables available. It's clear that The Greets in one of those restaurants that has earned its high ranking on Trip Advisor through genuine reviews, rather than the owner having lots of Facebook friends with the time to write a fabricated
critique! You never can tell really...
Duncan said: 'When you were last here, Natalie and I had only been open for a year and a half, and we were in the middle of building the business. It was tough going. We tried hard to pick up an email address for everybody who came in, and now we have a VIP Club with about 1500 members.
"The hard work has been worth it, as it brings back customers all of the time. Even tonight I have a customer using a voucher sent to them on their birthday.Between our second and third year, we saw quite a dramatic jump in terms of turnover. It has settled down in terms of the rate of growth, but we are still growing. We've slowly built our reputation.
"If you provide something good, where people can enjoy the food and the atmosphere, then they will tell other people about it. The pub still has that rustic country feel about it, and without a doubt our food has helped us be very successful. In those early days, we were perhaps doing 150 covers a week, and now we are regularly doing 550 to 600 covers a week.
"The Sunday lunches are probably busier than ever and we regularly have four settings during the day. When we started, we had a clear strategy of what we wanted to provide in terms of food and that was simple, traditional, good quality country pub dining, and we stuck to that.
"Even during the early years, when it was very tempting to compromise on the food to bring in more volume, we stopped ourselves and stuck to what we originally wanted to be. Many times, when Natalie and I were in the depths of despair, I would go home and think 'have we made the right decision?' Natalie was always very tough and said 'let's hold our nerve, we are doing the right thing.'
"This being our first business, it was all new to us, and it was tough just to stick to what we believed in but that has paid off. You can see how busy it is now, even on a Thursday night. Most evenings now we are really quite busy so there is a much better feeling here."
The Greets has firstly won over the locals. Warnham is a village with three venues for eating or drinking, with The Sussex Oak at the opposite end of the village and the village hall also being a popular social venue. The VIP club has helped Greets attract vilalgers, as have events such as has the recent Halloween pumpkin growing competition. Outside, the Entwistles keep chickens and ducks which prove a big draw for children.
Soon, the pub will be bringing in some pigs too. Duncan has bought an animal ark for two pigs, and is attending a pig keeping course in Storrington before settling on the kind of pigs to bring in!
From a perspective of aesthetics, little has changed at The Greets. The folk band, which meets at the pub once a month, seem as much of a perfect fit as the oak beams, the fireplace, the horse brass and even the miniature model of the pub which sits by the front door.
The drinking area has been retained, and whilst small, local drinkers appreciate that at least a part of the pub hasn't been eaten up by dining space. Not a great deal has changed on the food side, although Paul Lowe, who has been chef at the pub for four years, has grown a rather splendid, chappish moustache.
Starters include baked whole camembert with sticky red onion marmalade (£9.95), vine tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella bake (£6.95) and forest mushroom and tarragon pate served with that same red onion marmalade (£5.95). We opted for The Greets' own chicken liver pate served with apple and chutney and rustic bread (£5.95). The pate, nicely presented in a latch lid glass jar, carried a smooth, savoury meatiness and was also soft and mildly luxurious in texture.
We also tried the grilled mackerel fillet with artichoke heart and tomato confit (£6.25). It was immaculately laid out, and the only possible negative is that the deliciously sweet, moreish tomato mildly overpowered the distinctive, rich aroma of the fresh fish.
The top price main is the sirloin to share, a prime British 24oz steak served pink with hand-cut chips (£49.95).
You can also pick the charity burger (£16.95). Last year, The Greets put hot chicken wings on the menu, with £1 from every order going to charity. The initiative eventually raised about £750 for Macmillan Cancer Support.
This year, the menu is supporting The Springboard Project in Horsham.
Duncan said: "Diners have always been able to create their own burger. One of the locals said 'I'm going to have a burger with all of the fillings' and that gave us the idea of creating the charity burger with everything in it.
"For every one that we sell, we raise £1 for charity. Two months ago we hit £500 and we hope we will raise about £900 eventually."
Other options include the classic fish pie with salmon fillet, smoked haddock, prawns, boiled egg, dill béchamel and cheesy mash (£12.95) and the chargrilled 10oz rib eye steak with roasted field mushrooms and hand cut chips (£19.95) However, we kept things simple and went for the braised steak and kidney pie with hand cut chips (£11.95).
It looked simple yet delicious, with a lovely golden colour, and inside we found a generous filling of high quality meat, all coated with a smooth, flavoursome gravy. The hand-cut chips were equally tasty. From the specials board, the local venison casserole was tempting, but we went for the fillet of sea bass with coriander and lemon pesto, spring onion mash, chargrilled baby leeks and buttered carrots (£14.95)
The flavours combined elegantly, with the pesto in particular bringing to life the somewhat mild, clean taste of fresh sea bass, and the lightly oiled vegetables add some extra flavour to the dish. We couldn't leave without trying a couple of dishes from the 'Sweet Tooth Heaven' section of the menu.
We dismissed the warm double chocolate and pecan nut brownie (£5.50) and banoffee tart (£5.50) and chose the milk chocolate crème brulee with ginger nut biscuit (£5.25) and the zesty lemon posset with warm winter fruit compote (£5.25) Again, both were presented win a way that demonstrated much care and forethought.
The lemon posset was served in a simple glass hitching a ride on a slice of tree, whilst I appreciated the thick caramelized sugar coating of my beautifully flavoured crème brulee.
Duncan said: "I work very closely with Paul on all of the dishes we produce, and we talk about how the food is cooked and presented. Paul is very creative and presents the food fantastically well. What we essentially provide is good, traditional pub food, but you can still present these dishes with flair and Paul does provide us with that flair and creativity.
"That has been one of the reasons why people keep coming here. One of the ladies here tonight, who comes regularly, told me that the thing she likes about The Greets is that it is consistently good. I think that is one of the secrets of our success.
"Every time the customer comes through the door, we try to deliver this consistent product in terms of the food and the service. People want that consistently. They want to know that if they come and have the fish pie today, and again next week, it is going to be the same both times. That is very important."
Toby and I enjoyed the food during our last visit in 2011, and it has only been polished and improved in the intervening years. In terms of food-focused pubs, The Greets is now firmly established as one of the very best in the district, and now it is busy on any night of the week, it has the atmosphere to match.
Whilst admittedly, the sound of the accordion can grate a little after three straight hours, The Greets was warm and welcoming, with efficient and friendly service, and I have no doubt I'll be back soon with my family in tow!
For more visit the webnetthingy at http://www.thegreetsinn.co.uk