One of the best things about a Friday-night dinner at The Hopping Hare is the fact you can go for a top quality meal with professional service, but in the relaxed atmosphere of a modern local pub.
Voted runner-up Booker Food Pub of the Year at the recent annual Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards, the inn and restaurant in Duston, Northampton, immediately gives the impression of a place that takes its business seriously, but without being in any way ostentatious.
We were first shown to our seats in the pub restaurant which is a lot more casual than the fancy dining area, simple but smart.
I resisted the temptation of the wine menu and went for soda and lime, but I was impressed by the range on offer, from a £15.50 bottle of Chilean Chardonnay or Merlot to a £150 Laurent-Perrier, as well as a choice of two dessert wines.
To start, we shared duck breast ham slices, served with goats cheese and a pickled onion garnish, coming it at just under £6.
It was rich and flavourful and it’s always interesting to try something a little more creative being done with duck meat. The mains took a while to arrive, but the service in between was very polite and formal and the atmosphere was pleasant enough so we were happy to sit and chat while we waited.
I went for a chicken supreme (£14.50), served with dauphinoise potatoes and crispy bacon with a sauce of wild mushrooms, hazelnuts and sweetcorn, while my boyfriend had pork loin (£15.50), served with a mix of smokey hock ham and butter beans and scattered with black pudding croutons.
While I thought the hazelnuts were an unnecessary addition, the other ingredients made for a delicious combination and the chicken was perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin on the outside.
If I were to choose again, however, I would probably go for the pork dish, which gave a satisfying combination of textures with lovely rich, but not too heavy, meaty flavours.
After a much-needed break we dived into the desserts, which were the crowning glory of the evening. Where so many other restaurants seem to give up on puddings, The Hopping Hare showed a whole new menu of foodie inventiveness, each dish simply titled with its main ingredient.
We shared the Plum and the Lemon, at £5.75 each.
The Plum – my favourite – was a warm plum and vanilla tarte-tatin served with a ball of creamy, nutty ice cream and smashed homemade praline biscuits, all drizzled in a caramel, plum sauce.
Finally, we finished off with the Lemon; a cool lemon posset topped with a blackcurrant & vanilla compote and served with a little pot of warm mini doughnuts.
Tangy and fresh, it provided the perfect finish to an all-round lovely meal.
If you prefer more traditional pub grub, the Hopping Hare also boasts a selection of pub classics with its own twist, including beer-battered fish with triple-cooked chips and a blue cheese beef burger, as well as an adventurous cheese menu for those who are not, like me, a slave to their sweet tooth.
They also provide lunch and Sunday lunch menus and have recently revealed a range of Christmas-based options, ideal for any festive party.
Visit their website at: www.hoppinghare.com or call them onNorthampton 580090 to book.
The Hopping Hare
18 Hopping Hill Gardens
FOOD ...............................Very good
DISABLED ACCESS................ Good
PARKING ......Yes, if not overly busy
TOTAL COST £49.70
STAR RATING 8/10