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experience guildford, friday night,

Bird in Hand, Mayford

Rich Lee 10/03/2017 Deputy Editor
Bird in Hand

A pub-restaurant restored to its full glory, the Bird in Hand is a local success story and an essential destination for diners…

It’s always reassuring when a once-cherished pub is rescued from encroaching obsolescence. But it so often seems to be at the hands of a mighty chain like Young’s or Fuller’s, when the local’s time-worn character goes under the knife and emerges spick, span and yet utterly ordinary among its ubiquitous cousins.
So it’s even more heartwarming when a place like the Bird in Hand, long a landmark on the road between Guildford and Woking, is resuscitated by the Home Team. Local lads Mike Cumberland and Markus Hebbourn, both veterans of other such fine gastropubs like the Red Lion in Horsell, saw the dwindling state of the Bird in Hand in Mayford and an opportunity to make their mark after years in the pub trade. The refurbishment that ensued saw the pub open in October 2015 and enthusiastic word of mouth has been building ever since.
Today’s Bird in Hand is every bit the modern, independent gastropub, where contemporary design meets unhurried, traditional comfort. The bar area provides intimate corners as well as airy, open spaces, squishy leather sofas and, very welcome in these colder months, a cheery open fireplace. A stylish, well-stocked bar is furnished with all the lagers, real local ales and carefully selected wines you could ask for, but lunch was our mission today, not a lazy pint (although that will certainly be on my agenda on future visits.)

The dining room presents a pleasant if functional space but one that invites closer inspection and appreciation. Light falls from above through deep skylights and from upcycled Edison lamps; potted palms add splashes of green against sand-coloured walls; rough-hewn timber panels, cargo crates and paintings depicting bygone Victoriana… if I didn’t know better, I’d say the Bird in Hand was a portal to some 19th century colonial North African coffee house. But then my mind often wanders to strange places when I’m hungry.
Grazing on some fluffy, dukkah laced hummus and toasted pitta, we pored through a great value midweek lunch menu and a main menu that crowds out it’s gotta-keep-them pub staples with plenty more progressive dishes. Within minutes I was tearing through a stack of juicy prawn skewers given some aromatic Thai love and glossy globs of chilli oil and soy to swipe through, but I almost missed the crushed peanut and chilli butter beneath (I’ll remember next time). Across from this and a happy disc of tender twice-cooked pork belly had been given a lovely, tickly golden crust beneath a luscious mound of slaw and a cunning dusting of pork crackling to the side.
As a tease of Head Chef Nathan Madden’s confident technique and grasp of great flavours and textures, these two starters easily raised expectations. Fortunately, these were met gamely by a couple of exquisite main dishes. Parma-wrapped chicken supremes stuffed with smoky chorizo and luscious spinach were delicious on a simple, satisfying, primal level, but were accompanied magnificently by crispy/velvety garlic and cheddar croquettes, dabs of red pepper puree, burnt lemon, port jus and a little kale to lighten it all.

Chicken Supreme with Chorizo & Spinach
A pork loin steak arrived in dreamy burnt-gold crust and fat rubbed with Dijon for that modern British nod, but took on rather stunning new life with gentle Asian touches like ribbons of shaved pineapple, the flavour melting fantastically into the pork, chilli caramel and charred veg and vegetable noodles cooked al dente, jacked up with a sweet and spicy dressing and a lick of heat from wasabi. Oh, and an oozing crispy, fried egg which offered no explanation for its inclusion in this dish, and frankly, didn’t need one.
This, it has to be said, is some considerably confident, agile and generous cooking for a pub-restaurant, even in this gilded day and age, although desserts played things slightly safer (I’m looking at you, chocolate brownie.) That said, I’d defy anyone not to love their simple yet sumptuous vanilla cheesecake with pistachio crumbs and the subtle fruity spice of tonka bean. For myself, I felt compelled to embrace the season while it was still upon us and fell on a steamed apple and vanilla pudding; pure winter comfort with a splash of warm custard, but improved nonetheless with roast pecans and rich salted caramel. Meal accomplished.
With a something for everyone approach, super-friendly service and a kitchen working at the height of their powers, it’s no wonder the revitalised Bird in Hand has won such an enthusiastic following in so short a time. And the fact that it took some passionate local talent to return a local pub to relevance once more is a story we should never be tired of hearing.

Food Total for 2 = £54.65

Bird in Hand is at Egley Rd, Mayford, Woking GU22 0NL / Tel: 01483 747374


Tonka Bean & White Chocolate Cheesecake


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