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In June, we discovered the RHS gardens. Can’t remember why. Think I saw it on someone’s instagram. We packed fake fizz and I made an artichoke and thyme pizza and apple cake and we ventured out into the newly unlocked world, wondering if the toilets would be closed and what we would do if they were. We started with Hyde Hall, and worked our way down to Wisley. We came home with crates of roses and tomatoes fully enamoured of the place, having had the nicest day since lockdown. Readers, we joined their membership. 

Scenes from Wisley Gardens (RHS)… No… that is not me taking a dive…

We’ve since discovered that Wisley gardens are slightly closer, and have been venturing out on Thursday afternoons to enjoy this pretty corner of the South East. The social distancing booking rules actually probably work out in a slightly nicer experience, even though this also means that you have to book in advance and we have had more than one grey rainy day (proving the perfect excuse to show off my rain coat.) and hence we have had quite an opportunity to sample the local pubs and coffee shops and restaurants. 

It began with the Anchor. There are two in Ripley. We’d agreed to meet friends at the first only to find it locked, but ogled the AA rosette menu and committed to coming back (even if our friends did not show). This resulted in a gorgeous meal of scallops, beef tartare and hake. My husband had dessert and I watched. It was Tonka bean creme brûlée, I had one mouthful and it was divine. Then I googled tonka beans. I highly recommend googling tonka beans before indulging in them. We might not for a while. (Note… there is more than one Anchor Pub in Ripley. This was the one not on the canal)

Tonka bean creme brûlée at the Anchor in Ripley

The White Hart in Pirbright was were we ended up after this. I recognised this menu. I recognised the menu from Birmingham. This would have been fine, the menu was nicer than your bog standard so called gastro pub (read burgers, fish and chips) but only just. And most disappointingly the fabulous looking drinks listed in headlines across the menu really weren’t all that fantastic. Great ingredients, too much watering down.  Passed the time, this menu, but was a pleasant environment.

Creme Brûlée in a cup (my husband really likes Creme Brûlée)

More recently was our opportunity to eat at Stovell’s in Chobham. We’d seen this come up before in tripadvisor, but weren’t able to get in. This time we booked in advance… which we seriously reconsidered after thunder and lightening in Wisley raining us off, but leaving us with a gap between downpour and dinner. We hence arrived earlier, resulting in much merriment on the part of the maitre de, who thought it was just that we did not want to leave the car, whilst outside was a pure block of rain. This was unfair. 

The meal at the warming Tudor building of Stovell’s was amazing. The portions were small but filling, this being the shared sea bass (which arrives the same size as it would on the tasting menu) and the alcohol free gin. Scattered with botanicals, this was the best we tasted.

Sea Bass at Stovells

The staff enthused about the piñata dessert, but the Tudor rose ice cream with chocolate mousse seemed more tempting (to the disappointment of the waitress), and on arrival I think I had the better choice, the brightly coloured piñata containing a little too much meringue (or a little too little fruit) to balance the meal. I’m still daydreaming about that mousse.

Piñata dessert at Stovells Chobham

The waitress seemed a little disappointed to be giving us the bill after only 90 minutes. ”I just want to keep you here, she said,” and she praised us for our honesty about the meal. (We weren’t too sure what this referred to. Pointing out that the dessert menu was actually not the dessert menu perhaps? This took little honesty.) however the good news was she seemed to be one of those people who really meant all the gushing things she said, so we went home feeling wholly appreciated.

I have a few places yet to add to this list… Thai, English cuisine, a lovely coffee shop in Ripley so I’ll update this page as they go…

Have you ordered my debut novel, HELEN AND THE GRANDBEES yet? Described by the Daily Mail as ‘Engaging and Uplifting’ its the perfect read for an autumn lockdown.

In stock at all major bookstores, but this link will support local bookshops:

Helen and the Grandbees, Alex Morrall