Thrings Eats… The Watership Down Inn

Philip tells Matt Gilks of the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings how local food, ale and service with a smile turned this inn’s fortunes around

“We just thought here’s a challenge, we’ll give it a go!” says Philip Denee, enjoying a drink and wintry views of the Test Valley from the front garden of The Watership Down Inn.

The challenge in question was to turn around the fortunes of the Inn from run-down, unloved chain pub to gastronomic destination.

It’s a task Philip, his wife Jules and their team rose to – just seven years after they took over, the Inn at Whitchurch holds multiple awards, including the Telegraph and Sawday’s Best Newcomer Pub of the Year and a Good Food award for the second year running. Its rooms are often booked up months in advance.

This is even more impressive when you know that Philip and Jules had very little hospitality experience before taking over at the Inn. A chartered surveyor by trade, Philip also farms 3,000 acres of land in the area and owns a property management consultancy.

“The place had been owned by a pub chain, it was run down and absolutely filthy – and so of course we ended up buying it,” says Philip with a wry smile. “We just felt it had potential, so we shut it for six months, completely refurbished it, renewed the kitchen and converted the manager’s accommodation upstairs into three en suite bedrooms and a sitting room.”

As the pub’s reputation grew, it has become popular as a base for London weekend trippers and people visiting the Bombay Sapphire distillery at nearby Laverstoke. Two years ago came the addition of four new garden rooms with spacious bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms.

Philip’s winning formula is simple – good food and drink, great service and a smile. The pub is rooted as locally as possible with food sourced from the region and cooked from scratch – he tells how a visiting food inspector was bemused to find nothing in the freezer except ice cream.

Beer comes from within a 30-mile radius with a focus on craft ales from the likes of Winchester’s Red Cat Brewing and the Flower Pots Brewery at Cheriton and Itchen Valley Brewery

Christmas Day will see the rooms closed but the Inn will open for festive drinks for locals. “We very much encourage people who live locally to come here,” says Philip. “We don’t want to be a toffee-nosed eating establishment. The locals are the heart of the place.”

Philip can usually be found nearby – the only downside of the inn’s success is that it has spoiled the experience of going elsewhere, he says. “When I go away and I stay in a pokey hotel room, I ask myself why didn’t I just stay at home!”

If you would like to know more, please contact Matt Gilks.