The go-to site for what makes life worth living in and around Petersfield, Hampshire, and some other stuff too. For flaneurs, bon vivants, indeed boulevardiers of every complexion - why go anywhere else?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Fifty-Seven, Liss

'Fifty-Seven' is a unique Italian restaurant, pretty much a one-man labour of love which the Hipster's friend Michelle Stainer recommended for "the honest simplicity of the place, the good quality food and the great wine ... The staff come over to your table and tell you what's on the menu (they don't have printed menus), explain how everything is cooked and suggest a good wine to go with the food. It really doesn't get any better, definitely worth a try! " Couldn't have put it better myself. It's not cheap, but the food is handcrafted with a real Italian slow-cooking feel and the experience is unique. Absolutely the only place to eat in Liss (from a shortlist of one), but worth travelling from much farther afield. Open for lunch and deli to take away during the day too. 57, Station Road, Liss 01730894751

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Kind of Loving - The Vic Brown Trilogy

I'm not much given to re-reading - life is truly too short and there are too many books unread - but I recently picked up an ancient Penguin copy of Stan Barstow's 'A Kind of Loving' and glanced through it. Then I started reading it, loftily amused at first by its dated language and attitudes, and tickled by Proustian recollections of first reading it, aged 13 or so, when it seemed to define what adult life was going to be all about. 

So that was two weeks ago, and I've just put down the third in the trilogy, 'The Right True End', with an odd kind of ache - almost as if I've picked up the threads with an old friend after many decades, and now, after a brief re-acquaintance,  won't see that friend again for many years, if ever... 

For anyone who's never come across it, the 'Vic Brown trilogy' describes the travails of a young draughtsman in a Yorkshire town in the early sixties and his search for truth, love and, as with so many novels of the time, escape.  His barely formed plans are quickly torpedoed when lust takes over and he finds himself in an old, old trap, married to Ingrid, for whom he feels little more than residual desire and increasing irritation. 

The first two books in the trilogy describe Vic falling in and out of love, lust and marriage; the third revisits him ten years later, older and, if not wiser, certainly more cynical, more successful, living in London but no more content with his lot. 

Hard to say exactly what's so compelling about these novels, but compelling they are.  It's not that they're so well written - 'A Kind of Loving' is a good and robust 1960s kitchen sink novel which stands up well against, say John Braine, Alan Sillitoe or David Storey, but the quality falls off thereafter - 'The Watchers on the Shore', though good, has nothing like the same narrative drive and the final book is really pretty poor. Perhaps it's the picture they provide of a time which was more simple and innocent, with fewer of today's complexities, shades of grey and complicated moral relativism (though at the  same time crueler and much more judgemental - rules for living were much clearer and much more rigorously enforced and it's to be hoped that todays generations don't live with quite that terror of pregnancy out of wedlock and its inevitable consequences).

More likely though, it's the character of Vic which, for all his faults (and by the final book, when he seems well on the way to becoming one of the pub bores he so derided as a young man, these are many) really rises off the page. His simple yearning for something better which will lift him out of the proscribed lives of his parents and friends, his refusal to accept the ordinary and expected, turns what could have been a provincial small town story into something bigger, more universal and in a small way almost heroic.  

Looks like all three books in the trilogy are out of print, which seems a shame as I've read little that so accurately and resonantly captures a lost time and place. Perhaps some books should have preservation orders attached. 

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Star and Garter, East Dean

15 miles east and south of Petersfield, equidistant Midhurst and Chichester. Great menu which majors on fish but makes room for some interesting sounding game too. Big seafood platters caught our eye as we sat at the bar enjoying a glass of Ballards drawn from the barrel, as did several ways to enjoy mussels and a game grill featuring venison, pheasant and rabbit. Pub has been blasted back to bleached wood and brick in an appealing manner. Good-looking wine list. Much more a restaurant now than a pub but retaining lots of character - food report follows. Garden and rooms too. Get there: head east from Singleton on the Midhurst/ Chichester road, about a mile or so past the Fox Goes Free. 01243 811318 More here.

Loch Fyne Restaurant

Midhurst, seven miles east of Petersfield. A chain, as the name might suggest - you won't be enjoying a walk round the loch before your lunch - but a good one. A small door on Midhurst High Street opens, tardis-like, into a big, stylish and surprisingly light space. Big french windows at the back lead onto a parasoled terrace which will be a treat when global warming properly kicks in to West Sussex. As for the food - fish and shellfish of course, with a few token gestures in the direction of carnivores and vegetarians. Well presented from an interesting menu, lots of specials and an £11 set two course menu which is decent value but disappointingly restricted - whatever your intentions going in, you're likely to be choosing from the carte. Reasonable wine list. For more imaginative ways with fish, the Star and Garter is a better bet, but if you're in Midhurst, where even half-decent places to eat are at a bit of a premium, this is comfortable and family-friendly (in a good way) and likely to ht the pescatorial spot. Bottom end of North Street, Midhurst, 01730 716280.

The Lickfold Inn

12 miles east of Petersfield. Pukkah joint, a little too Goodwood for the hipster's tastes but under new celebrity ownership may be worth another look. Good food, (but not that good; be prepared for your credit card going home a good deal lighter than you) excellent wines, many by the glass, in a lovely old pub. Nice terrace garden, Veuve Clicquot parasols provide that special 'Cowdray' feel. Upside: very smart, characterful, decent food. Good chance of rubbing shoulders with Argentinian polo players at the bar, then enjoying the company of the celebrated in the restaurant. The knowlege that 50% of profits go to local charities. Downside: no better than it ought to be at these prices, food service can be a bit amateur. Perfect for: lunch in the garden on an unexpectedly warm early summer's day. Or in the bar on a sunny winter's day. Avoiding the rush hour advisable. Get there: Lickfold signposted off the A272 between Midhurst and Petworth, close to Half Way Bridge. North of the A272 a couple of miles. 01798 861285. GMAP More here.

Sha La La La Lee

Switched on the wireless tonight to be amazed anew by the exhilarating chords of The Small Faces' 'Sha La La La Lee' - still a fantastic sound and, in combination with the first lines - 'Picked her up on a Friday night (sha-la-la-la-lee, yeah)' - arguably the greatest opener of any pop record. 

I'd always assumed this was the work of the Small Faces pocket genius Steve Marriott, and was amazed to learn sometime last year that it was actually written by B-division showbiz trooper Kenny Lynch, the scouse Sammy Davis Jr to Brucie and Tarbie's  Frank and Dino. I'd love to hear his version.