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The Stephan Langton Inn, Friday Street
16.11.2017 / words: Rich Lee / image: Fiona Digby-Jones
Surrey’s most tucked-away pub might also be one of its best when it comes to no-nonsense, hearty British food…
If you live in a place for long enough, you eventually get the feeling that the surprises have gotten thinner on the ground. Though hardly short on buzzing towns, serene villages and gorgeous countryside, having lived in Surrey for over 30 years, I find myself questioning whether I’ve exhausted all the bucolic boltholes and hidden secrets the county has to offer. Maybe, I wonder, I should just cut back on my own food miles in my constant search for the new and edible.
But then I hear, for the very first time, of a hidden hamlet called Friday Street ensconced in the darkest heart of the Surrey Hills and adventure beckons anew. And if that adventure happens to have a meal at the beginning, middle or end, then so much the better, especially when that meal can be found at an award-winning pub restaurant with a fierce devotion to local produce and honest, hearty British dishes. Such is the Stephan Langton’s reputation; a pub given a bold new lease of life in 2015 thanks to two locals, Annelise Cameron and fiancé Lee Nicholl’s, founder of the celebrated
nearby, who saw the pub’s potential and set about bringing it back to relevance once more.
To find the Stephan Langton Inn, though, you must first find Friday Street, which means taking a right past Abinger and into deep Wotton country and the twisted, coiling tree tunnels that make up the backroads and bowels of the Surrey Hills. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it left turn sends you rattling along a woody track that appears to be leading you into Narnia or Middle Earth, until you actually emerge in Friday Street and the tranquil vista of a glassy lake fringed by forest ablaze with autumnal colours.
Locally smoked salmon, dill blini, avruga caviar, crème fraiche
With only a cluster of homesteads amid all this seclusion, it’s remarkable that an inn even exists here at all. The Stephan Langton, named after an Archbishop of Canterbury (1207 – 1228), perches over the lane, beckoning travellers inside as it has for generations. Simple, unaffected décor throughout, warm greys trimmed with timber, and a preponderance of happy dogs lounging by the bar makes it feel like the homely, rustic escape it truly is.
Although there’s hardly a gastropub around that doesn’t bark its fondness for local produce, it’s evident that the Stephan Langton’s owners and Head Chef Gerry Dee recognise their unique position in the bosom of the Surrey Hills and absolutely pack their menus with the best producers around: Bread from Chalk Hills Bakery in Reigate, meat from Rawlings of Cranleigh, game from Wotton Estate, smoked fish from Tillingbourne Trout Farm and preserves from Pond Cottage just a few yards away to name just a few.
Being the hopeless gluttons that we are, we padded our starters with a little something from the bar menu: namely, three rusty-red scotched quail eggs, wrapped in chorizo, black pudding and ‘Hog Troll’ beer-infused sausage – each was irresistible, especially when swiped through a pot of mustard mayo.
The Archbishop’s Pie
There followed salmon given some delicate smoke from Tillingbourne Farm atop a blini kissed gold from the pan and perfumed with dill, topped with avruga caviar; an extra touch of class for an already classy little dish. For myself, a pot of chicken liver pate was silky-smooth and super-rich and all kinds of moreish, especially when paired with a little apricot preserve to cut through it and a generous pile of crisp and golden sourdough slices to spread it all over (take note all you pates and terrines served elsewhere, and your miserly shards of gone-too-fast toast).
A special of venison stew and winter veg felt mandatory given the season and surroundings. It also proved utterly delicious, with tender hunks of sweet game bathed in a delicately spiced, glossy gravy and roasted boulders of perfectly blistered new potatoes, carrots and squash that soaking up all that earthy flavour.
I couldn’t resist -and therefore didn't - the Stephan Langton’s famous namesake Archbishop’s Pie, which brought rude chunks of juicy steak, flavoursome pheasant and inky mushrooms spilling from the kind of robust shortcrust that many restaurants don’t seem to have the nerve to make anymore; biscuit-thick and a delightful reminder of when pies were pies and not just limp parcels of meat and sauce. With some buttery ‘
’ mash potato on the side, and more of that big, brash wintery root veg, like the venison it all ate like the most comforting of ‘comfort food’.
Autumn, thy name is 'Sticky Toffee Pudding'...
I’ll admit that I’m guilty to the point of tedium of bemoaning the lack of imagination that forces many English pubs to push such tired, lazy puds like chocolate brownies and sticky toffee puddings onto their menus. Thing is, from a pub so committed to the hearty, humble – even traditional- British dishes as the Stephan Langton clearly is, some sticky toffee stodge is precisely what I want at this time of year. And this one didn’t let me down at all; just a rich, warming slab of nutty-sweet pudding doused in oozing caramel and some ice cream to cut through the treacle.
Hardly a closely-kept secret, the out-of-the-way Stephan Langton Inn is nevertheless one of the most satisfying discoveries Surrey still has to offer for the adventurous foodie. Going far beyond mere lip-service to local produce, the pub’s unpretentious yet exquisite cooking captures the flavours of the Surrey Hills better than just about anyone.
Photography: Fiona Digby-Jones
The Stephan Langton Inn,
Abinger Common, Surrey
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