East End Arms

“A pub with lovely rooms and a thriving public bar for locals run by the bass guitarist of Dire Straits.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th March 2009.

Welcome to my patch. Technically we are in Hampshire, but we like to think of ourselves as a world apart down here, cut off by the sea and the New Forest, with only one route in and out.

It's a playground. Beyond our gardens stretch the heath and woodlands of the forest, now a national park. Here we walk and ride, and on three miles of the beautiful Beaulieu River, we sail. Pigs, ponies, cute donkeys and great swaying cows stand rooted to the spot in the middle of main roads while visitors get out of their cars to take photographs while we locals lean on our horns in irritation. In the distance, we can see the beckoning downs of the Isle of Wight, just a short ferry ride away.

The East End Arms stands in a pretty backwater half way between Beaulieu and Lymington, close to The Solent shore, and it has just become – if you feel like exploring my patch – a first-rate, and affordable, place to base yourself. Along with Whitley Ridge and the soon to be reopened Master Builder's (the Montagu Arms, despite its newly acquired Michelin star, is too old hat) it makes one of three easily recommendable choices in the vicinity.

John Illsley is the owner. As the pub's website proudly proclaims, to the strains of his music, he was the bass guitarist of Dire Straits and his arrival among us, along with lead singer Mark Knopfler, brought a welcome dash of street cred to our rarefied corner.

When he bought the East End Arms in the mid-Nineties, Illsley received a letter from the regulars: "Hands off our public bar". "They wouldn't even let me repair the hole in the ceiling and when we repainted, it had to be exactly the same colour. Fine by me," says Illsley.

If only all new owners of old pubs were as receptive. Most would have turned the whole ground floor into an open-plan restaurant, but Ilsley kept his word and kept the public bar intact. If you want posh food, turn left; if you want a plain, bare-floored room with real ales and a chatty barmaid: turn right. Result: this simple country pub has retained its integrity and sense of identity.

The bar staff are key, for they serve two very different clientele simultaneously at two counters. Sarah-Jane, the manageress, is a mere 22 but she fills the role with aplomb. She also manages the five divine bedrooms upstairs, newly created by Illsley's wife, Stephanie. So divine, in fact (crisply sheeted, king-size beds, OKA furniture, charming Mulberry fabrics, walls decorated with John's paintings), that by comparison, the pine-heavy restaurant downstairs suddenly seems dowdy and needs a facelift to match. Not the public bar though. Never touch that.

Last but not least, the cooking of Moray Cameron is incredibly good, especially for a humble place like this: accomplished, tasty, colourful and cleverly presented. Come to my patch and see for yourselves.

Lymington Road, East End (01590 626223; www.eastendarms.co.uk) Doubles £95 to £115 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.

Stay at this hotel

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
5 out of 5

Pretty, lively and comfortable: show a woman's touch

Service
3 out of 5

A few extras (newspapers, radios, more toiletries, local info) could be added

Character
3 out of 5

Integrity intact. leave the bar, but decorate the restaurant to match the rooms and it will be perfect

Food and drink
5 out of 5

A cut above: accomplished, colourful, carefully presented

Value for money
5 out of 5

Both food and rooms are worth every penny

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