In 2016, Haslemere’s iconic Inn on the Hill was transformed into the Station House, a modern love letter to vintage steam travel and hearty French cooking. We just knew we had to get on board…
Sometimes, to go forward you have to go backwards. Perhaps that was the thinking behind the reimagining of the historic ‘Inn on the Hill’ last year by new owners the Upham Pub Group, perhaps not. But in choosing to retrofit the building to conjure the soot-streaked glamour of vintage Victorian train travel, it’s hard to argue they haven’t stumbled upon a pitch-perfect aesthetic for this storied building, which has overlooked Haslemere train station since the 1860s.
It’s a subtle spell, but one you can’t help but fall under the moment you step inside the Station House. The dining room runs through the ground floor and segues towards the bar, the whole space wrapping you in dark woods, mustards and petrol blues with some fetching art deco touches from cut-sphere chandeliers and evocative tourism posters and advertisements from the early 20th century.
And you can’t help but smile when you glimpse the booths fashioned to look like steam-era train compartments. You suspect the fictional Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot would feel very much at home here, resting his Homburg hat on the brass nook above and lighting one of his Russian cigarettes while sipping a crème de menthe. The Station House’s cocktail menu serves anything but that fusty old drink it seems, but an impressive wine list and winning selection of craft beers and ales should tempt anyone who doesn’t consider themselves the "greatest mind in Europe."
Poirot aside (thanks, Wikipedia, you can go now), and the Station House offers many more surprises. Brasserie turns to bistro just beyond the bar with a chic little semi-rotunda bathed in natural light and suspended coppertone lamps (just try to imagine the view outside is the Med and not the car park.) Head upstairs and the Station House unfurls further, offering a whip smart café that makes for an ace coffee stop and a sun-trap terrace patio ideal for soaking over some summertime drinking.
But, to the food and the restaurant’s breezy lunch menu offered up a happy choice of light bites and plenty of nods to some classic French bistro plates. That meant Escargot, naturally; an icky choice for some, a genius, juicy ‘garlic butter delivery system’ to everyone else, and these didn’t disappoint at all – although a bit more bread to sop up those fragrant, oily pools the snails had vacated wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Cognac Cured Sea Trout
We also fell on a ham and parsley terrine; succulent, herby and seasoned in all the right places and nicely spiked with slivers of pickled vegetable and a mustard sabayon, and a really delightful dish of cognac cured sea trout. Although the cognac had faded a little far into the background, the fish itself had kept its beautiful flavour with that cool and soft, gummy texture sublimely paired with some crispy-airy blintz-like sweetcorn pancakes flecked with tarragon. Magic.
A smoked duck breast salad came to life with some bright mango, tangy fennel, pickled radish and toasted pecan nuts tumbled beneath generous slivers of that lovely rich meat, but a classic of French comfort food really won the day for me. A Chicken Cordon Bleu - a plump chicken supreme rolled in bacon and a rustly golden breadcrumb crust - came perched on fat spears of juicy new season asparagus, the hallowed veg bringing freshness to the bird above with a little extra crunch from toasted pine nuts, the whole glorious business sat atop a glossy pool of buerre blanc. You don’t have to be a hopeless Francophile to enjoy this kind of cooking: You just need a beating heart.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Over a creamy lemon posset and a comforting, crumbly almond torte, I wondered what the kitchen brought to bear on their evening menu. A glance later proved it. It’s at dinner that you’ll find the truly crowd-pleasing dishes beloved by us French-fanciers, dishes like beef short rib bourguignon; pan seared foie gras; grilled lobster thermidor; Provence herb battered hake, Parisian gnocchi...
I could go on, but then the only sensible thing to do would be to return to the Station House, which has given Haslemere a fantastic new destination for some hearty French cooking, a vibrant spot for coffee and spangly new hotel rooms making it perfect for adventures in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. All aboard!
Food totall for 2 = £69.95
The Station House is at Lower Street, Haslemere, Surrey GU27 2PD / Tel: 01428 776560