Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th January 2007.
On the corner of a lane called The Bunny, in the dreamy valley of the Test, with its reed beds, footbridges and slow-moving chalk streams, stands the Peat Spade Inn: a solid, reassuring, brick-built inn that has been welcoming fly fishermen since the 19th century. Recently, it's had a total makeover.
"Please don't call this a gastropub," say its new owners, Lucy Townsend and Andrew Clark. "Awful word. We like to think of the place as a traditional, quality rooming house, mainly for fishermen and shooting parties, though, of course, everyone is welcome."
Both chefs (Lucy is now front of house) are in their early thirties. They bought the place last year and closed it for three months while transforming it into what we mustn't call a gastropub.
Quite right, too. It's much more than that. Lucy and Andrew's commitment to their country sports clientele (fishing from April to October, shooting in winter, clays year round) is admirable, with ghillies and managers on hand to chat, advise and make arrangements. Lucy will even put guests' trophy salmon on the walls if their wives have banned them from home.
Bedrooms are named after members of a Victorian fraternity of fly fishermen, the Mayfly Mess, a nostalgic photograph of whom hangs in the dining room. And Lucy and her colleague Claire are taking fishing lessons, the better to communicate with their guests.
But, as Lucy says, everyone will be happy at the Peat Spade, not just sportsmen and women. If the look seems familiar, especially the bedrooms, it's because the hotel owes much to the Hotel du Vin chain and, in particular, to its inspirational creator, Robin Hutson and his wife, Judy.
Lucy and Andrew are fans (and so am I). They worked for Robin at various hotels in the group before setting up on their own. "He's my hero," says Lucy. He advised them ("the best beds, the best showers, sensible prices") and his partner, Gerard Besson, helped create the wine list, while his wife, Judy, guided the design, as she did for the Hotels du Vin.
It works well, though there were a few slip-ups on our visit. Our bathroom bin was full of someone else's rubbish, and there was nothing but a small square of soap to use in the spacious shower. And our very jolly dinner for six had its faults too: a limp beetroot and goats' cheese salad here, an overdone steak there. "We serve the tuna very pink", the perky waiter/barman, for whom nothing was too much trouble, had said. Not that night.
But overall the place is a charming and appealing mix of traditional and new, rustic and efficient, and the beds are divine. Breakfast the next morning, back in the same attractive bar/dining room, with light pouring through the pretty leaded windows, was a pleasure, and full of chat.
Longstock is the fiefdom of the John Lewis Partnership, who own the Leckford Estate, with estate houses in the village picked out in trademark dark green paint. Lucy has now painted the Peat Spade to match. "Why not?" she says, "I love those shops. I'm happy to feel part of the Partnership."
Longstock, Hampshire (01264 810612; www.peatspadeinn.co.uk). Doubles £110, including breakfast.