Kathryn Flett reviews The Half Moon, West Sussex:  thoroughbred, or show pony?

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The Half Moon, West Sussex
Jodie Kidd’s gastropub has promise, but must decide what it wants to be

The area around Midhurst and Petworth in West Sussex is slightly surreal, what with the proximity of so many stately homes, and the fact that Goodwood and the Rolls-Royce HQ are the homes, respectively, of elegant horses and the multiple-horse-powered.

The effect is of a faux Eng-er-land that would have (for example) a freshly titled North American duchess “OMG!”ing over her titular county’s lushly, rural, moneyed purdiness, its inescapable pukkability and – yes – ineffable whiteness. I live over in East Sussex, the Tower Hamlets of Sussexes; I expect West Sussex will see more of the Sussexes than will the East.

On a February day of high blue skies and low winter sun I headed westwards to The Half Moon at Kirdford, a charming-sounding gastropub owned by supermodel turned polo-playing petrolhead and MasterChef finalist Jodie Kidd. First impressions: Kirdford is as pretty as you like.

There are lovely Labradorial old houses and a red phone box that doesn’t appear to belong to any drug dealers/pimps (I imagine there must be drug dealers and pimps in rural West Sussex, though it’s hard to see where they’d cluster); and the Grade I listed church remains unlocked during the day.

All of which hints at a community comfortable in its upper-middle-class skin. Indeed, in 2011, Kirdford Village Stores won Best Corner Shop in the Telegraph’s Best Small Shops in Britain awards.

In summer, the Half Moon will come into its own – it has a lovely beer garden, and a kitchen garden with raised beds. In winter, the interior is cosy (though a lit fire would have been nice) and shabbily chic with an equine theme; seat cushions pointlessly lashed together with bridle bits, that sort of thing. 

We were greeted by a young woman of such extreme professional perkiness that she is either a resting actress or biding her time before she becomes the general manager of a top London hotel. It’s not a complaint, per se, but this level of super-service in a country pub feels unnecessary.

Gourd vibrations: butternut squash gnocchi at The Half Moon

As the tables filled, we caught sight of not one but two gentlemen d’un certain âge wearing mustard corduroys and crisp tweed jackets; it is rare these days to find I am one of the youngest people in a busy room. As early arrivals, we only discovered there was a set menu when my partner overheard everyone else in the room being offered it.

However sprauncy-looking, the Half Moon still presents mostly as a pub, not a restaurant (albeit with two AA Rosettes and a small apartment upstairs, available on Airbnb), and I think the set should be the weekday lunchtime default, with à la carte cavalry as backup in case of a team of Argentine polo players arriving with a selection of stray supermodels.

From where we were sitting, other people’s fish pies (not on our à la carte) looked good. It was a disappointment that Jodie hadn’t taken time out of her schedule to swing by and pull a couple of pints; I have met her and she’s delightful (in fact I’ve met all three Kidd siblings, or Kiddlings, and they’re all equally charming). Having established its social credentials and the fact that it’s both pretty and well-positioned in many and various ways, what (you are doubtless wondering) of the food? 

Well, at the time of eating, I’d assumed that the chef was Johnny Stanford. However, it turned out he’d left the week before. Luckily, I’m not particularly bothered about being able to name-drop chefs. For any diner, the food should be more interesting than the person who cooks it.

Cutting the mustard: venison at The Half Moon

This food was technically very well cooked, yet also slightly grandstanding and fussy. I’m thinking that burnt butter with your bread basket is not big among the mustard-cords set. However, the excellently chunky ham hock terrine with apple, raisins and candied nuts hit the (Gloucestershire Old?) spot and the man sitting opposite me said his parsnip soup was “excellent”. 

I then scarfed half his main of collapsibly soft beef cheek and pappardelle, parmesan and truffle (which he found “greasy” – which his synonym for “rich”), having swapped it for my roast guinea fowl, crushed artichoke and tarragon butter sauce, which he preferred (I liked it, too).

There was just a bit too much going on every plate, however – the pears and parsnip crisps with the guinea fowl were uncalled for, and we hadn’t needed to order the side of red cabbage and rooibos-tea-soaked sultanas, though our monolithic chips were as good as a big starchy fry can be.

“Is everything to your liking?” wondered Ms Divinely Perky-Pro, two thirds of the way through, which made me think that, instead of a pub in posh Sussex, we’d wormholed straight into either Victoria Wood and Julie Walters’s Two Soups sketch, or 1953. 

For dessert, my co-diner finished his chocolate tart and salted caramel ice cream in record time with a satisfied “Mmmmm”, though I couldn’t help thinking that Messrs Mustard Cords would be wanting proper custard rather than crème anglaise with their golden syrup steamed pudding, as indeed did I, not least because that was what was written on the menu.

When/if the Half Moon works out what it wants to be – hobby pub? Pukka restaurant? – it stands a better chance of delivering on its considerable promise. At the moment, however, it’s like a show pony competing over two furlongs at Glorious Goodwood – distractingly cute, but not, in a crowded field, the one on which you’d place a bet.