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Hen & Chicken serves dishes inspired by Indian cuisine (©AAH/Alan Wright

While many pubs may claim to be unique, The Hen & Chicken in Southwater’s assertion has more substance than most.  

It serves classic English dishes alongside authentic Indian cuisine, and bears all the hallmarks of a traditional inn while also embracing a younger clientele with live music events. This unusual combination ensures the pub attracts people from across the age spectrum. 

The building has been a fixture on Worthing Road for about 250 years and for the past 160 has served as a pub. Therefore, The Hen & Chicken holds memories for many locals. While there was initially relief that the pub wouldn’t be another lost to development, some expected the new owners to turn it into a restaurant, probably with a new name to accompany a fresh menu. Yet, two-and-a-half years later, the old sign remains, along with the architectural grey paint that received a mixed response when it was introduced by a previous tenant and remains a a touch unusual!  

Owner Belal Ahmed, who has a business interest in two other Indian restaurants in the District, said: ‘When we arrived, people in the village came to thank us for saving the pub, but assumed we had ideas to change its identity and become an Indian restaurant. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “why shouldn’t we keep it as a pub?” After all, that is what the people want. So, that’s what we did. We didn’t modernise the building at all, as contemporary changes didn’t fit with the low oak beams, exposed brickwork and fireplaces. We kept the old tables and chairs and the framed photos of local pubs and village life, with many of them showing Southwater back when it had its own station on the South Downs Line.’ 

‘Perhaps the biggest decision we made was to continue offering classic English pub dishes, such as fish and chips and steak and ale pie, alongside Indian cuisine. It has been very successful, as we find that we attract larger parties of families and friends. Often, there will be one or two people in a group who don’t like Indian food, so rather than them missing out, they can order something simple like a burger. As the prices here are very affordable, it means we are one of the best places for families to dine out in the Horsham area.’

Chef Manohar Lal has cooked for world leaders (©AAH/Alan Wright)


The menu has two contrasting sides. One side has dishes you’d expect to find at any English pub, including lamb shank in red wine and rosemary gravy (£16.50), chicken, mushroom and leek pie (£14.95) and salmon fillet in Béarnaise sauce (£15.95). Turn it over and you’ll find something else entirely, with a menu inspired by chef Manohar Lal.  

Manohar has vast experience of working in leading restaurants, including Veeraswamy, now a Michelin-starred restaurant on Regent Street, which is renowned as the city’s oldest surviving Indian restaurant. His work in the hospitality sector has seen him cook for powerful politicians. Earlier this year, he was among the chefs preparing food for world leaders including Chinese premier Li Qiang and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While such a résumé could perhaps see him working at more prestigious venues, Manohar enjoys freedom and flexibility at the Hen & Chicken, where he has introduced a menu that takes inspiration from Indian cuisine.  

Belal said: ‘Food on the sub-continent is changing rapidly and dishes that were popular 20 years ago are no longer found. Indian cuisine has moved on, as it has in most countries, yet there are restaurants in the UK that are stuck in the past, serving the same food they were a generation ago that do not represent the country’s modern culture. They are the restaurants now struggling to attract customers and closing down, as people are more knowledgeable about food from different regions of India nowadays. It is not good enough just to offer tikka masala, korma and madras. So, we do our best to keep abreast of exciting dishes from across India and serve them to our customers.’


For our starters, we enjoyed crispy coated prawns (£7.95), before tucking in to a delicious soft-shell kekada (crab) fried in Oriental butter (£7.95) and a chilli paneer consisting of Indian cottage cheese in the chef’s signature spicy sauce. The stand-out starter was the lamb chapli kebab, a dish from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province of Pakistan, of thin patties with a lovely combination of spices and aromatics. 

Main course meals include Rara Gosht, a tender lamb dish with onions, ginger and garlic cooked with north Indian spices. Chicken taka tak is a delightful street food favourite and takes its name from the sound of the cooking utensils hitting the tava (traditional frying pan) as it’s stir-fried. Chef’s recommendations include tawa lobster, sourced from the Cornish coast, cooked in Manohar’s special spice mix, and a Kerala-style dish of sea bream covered in banana leaf and grilled in the tandoor with south Indian spices. The popularity of Indian street food has inspired the introduction of Dosa too. Many will be unfamiliar with it, but dosa is enjoyed by millions of people on a daily basis in India.

Belal said: ‘Dosa is traditionally eaten at breakfast, but now you see it being sold as a snack throughout the day in cities across the country. They are like a large crepe or pancake, with fillings of meat as well as mashed potato or rice and a variety of vegetables and spices. We offer several varieties, including a butter masala dosa, chicken tikka dosa and a cheese dosa (ranging from £13.95 - £15.95) served with mashed potato, coconut chutney, roasted tomato and our own special vegetable curry. You do not see dosa on many menus, as there are not many authentic Indian restaurants in the Horsham area. However, there are lots of people who travel here from across West Sussex to enjoy it, as it is a filling and affordable snack which is also very sociable, as it can be shared with friends and family.’

The pub serves local beers (©AAH/AW)


Despite the dual-focus of the menu, there remains space for locals to enjoy a quiet pint. It’s no surprise to find Cobra beer (a favourite of Indian restaurants) on draught, but the free house pub also supports local breweries including Harvey’s of Lewes and Rudgwick-based Firebird, and wine from the local vineyards of House Coren. 

The Hen & Chicken has further enhanced its fortunes through a lively entertainment programme. This has included musical tributes to Abba, Elvis, Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga, and regular quiz nights too. This combination of food, drink and music has even earned the pub a Travellers’ Choice Award from Trip Advisor. 

Belal said: ‘We have an outside seating area with decking and patio heaters, and during the warmer months we have music playing, so there’s always a good atmosphere. Even in winter, we host quizzes and live music inside, just to offer something different to customers. It works well, especially for residents of Southwater and Horsham, as we have free parking too. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, as we have managed to create something different, ensuring we maintain the feel of a traditional pub while also offering an authentic menu unlike anything else around us.’  

Further information:

The Hen & Chicken, Worthing Road, Southwater, RH13 9BH


Article first published in AAH (All About Horsham) Magazine on 1st April 2024.