Set in a picturesque bowl in the Dorset countryside near to Bridport, accessible via winding, narrow, mud-strewn, steep lanes, The Three Horseshoes is a pleasant pub/restaurant that we first visited over 15 years ago. On that occasion we slipped and slithered our way down from Eggarden Hill through a couple of inches of snow, fortunately there was nothing coming up. On this occasion we decided to retrace our steps and were rewarded by glorious views across Powerstock Common, a strip of grass in the middle of the road and thoughtful drivers always ready to wait a while in a suitable passing place as we slithered and slipped down the muddy road.
A small step and threshhold lead into a hallway off which there is a bar and dining-room, all on the level, as are the WCs, but there isn't much space for wheelchairs and the WCs (especially the ladies) were a bit tight for the able-bodied with no specific disabled accessible WC.
Since our last visit the pub has risen and fallen with some of the latest reviews being pretty awful in places. But the pub is under new management now. Unfortunately this meant that they hadn't got to grips with required staffing levels and when the best part of thirty customers turned up on a normally quiet Wednesday lunchtime, service from the two owners was understandably slow. Not that we, or any other customers, appeared to care and when the service came it was informal but good. My wheat allergy was well catered for and as virtually all the food is completely prepared in-house (I think the sausages are bought in from a local butcher but the even the bacon is prepared on the premises), chef is very knowledgeable about the ingredients he uses.
The bar has various ancient agricultural utensils on the walls, with a log fire in one corner. Chairs, tables & settles group round the edges but there is space for ordinary bar surfing. A pleasant dining room and a restaurant extension to the bar give plenty of space for eating. If there was muzak it was unobtrusive. Some areas need a little refurbishment but in general the place was clean with a good atmosphere.
A dish of chilli and garlic olives was accompanied by plain, but good, homemade brown bread but, with a hint of silliness; it was all served on a block of wood.
My smoked eel with new potatoes dressed in a horseradish cream was a little unbalanced in favour of the horseradish which meant the flavour of the eel was somewhat swamped but the dish was good and the pink fir apple potatoes excellent.
Wild duck terrine was chunky and beautifully flavoured and accompanied with a beetroot relish and thick, toasted slices of more of the homemade bread (white this time).
My chump chop was cooked well pink, as I like it, but some might prefer it more done, and served with pan haggerty (a version of Dauphinoise potatoes) and kale (good to see it on a menu) with a tomato and rosemary gravy. The whole was dotted with a lot of halved baby tomatoes which I thought OTT, they aren't well flavoured, especially at this time of year and, for me, distracted from the otherwise excellent dish.
Roast partridge was again cooked a tad pink but was juicy and flavoursome, the bed of creamed cabbage with bacon and chestnuts was excellent as were the game chips. The bread sauce was not appreciated, but MrsSRD doesn't like bread sauce so that wasn't very surprising. The whole bird, served on the bed of cabbage, looked a bit brutal and can be a bit of a handful to deal with so it might have been better if it had been part carved (in fact that's what we requested which chef was more than happy to do). More silliness as the game chips and bread sauce were served on another of the blocks of wood.
Eton mess was good, if totally lacking in strawberries, but the raspberries (possibly picked from the garden) and blueberries, were fresh, juicy and well flavoured.
The baked chocolate pudding was made from scratch so a warning was chalked up on the board that there would be a wait but it was well worth it. Firm sponge like casing oozing with a hot chocolate sauce; glorious; shame I couldn't have any.
We shared a cheese board which consisted of four local cheeses, which were good without being superb, grapes and apples picked from a neighbours tree, it was a pleasant end to the meal, nibbling and chatting with the owners and some other late stayers.
The Palmers beer was excellently kept and served at a perfect temperature, there is a nice choice of wines by the glass and the espresso coffee was Ok without being special.
Cutlery, crockery and glassware are normal pub stuff with the occasional bit of silliness. Paper serviettes.
The food is excellent country cooking emphasising local products with little in the way of fol-de-rols and frippery, what is on the plate needs to be there and, with one or two small exceptions, lends to well balanced dishes. It is good to see an emphasis on the complimentary pairing of accompaniments to meat without a dish of ubiquitous vegetables. Portions aren't of the 'let's see how much we can get on this plate' variety but for us they were perfectly sized (although there might have been a few more game chips) enabling us to manage four courses without feeling totally bloated. I did notice however that a large dish of macaroni cheese with wild mushrooms, spinach and Dorset Blue Vinney proved too much for one lady and the Dorset Blue Vinney rarebit with bacon and a poached egg looked like a superb brunch dish. At around £75 for the two of us it was what I would expect to pay for a meal of this quality and quantity in this part of the world.
There have been reports on the internet about the poor quality of the rooms but the two ground floor rooms we saw (approached via two massive steps) were light, roomy and airy, if a little characterless, with glorious views. But remember, this is a pub/restaurant with rooms, not a boutique hotel.