REVIEW: East Lavant stay is a right royal treat
On the neighbouring table you would have thought they had just won the Lotto rollover jackpot judging by the excited noises.
Arguably the cause of their celebration was even better.
Richard Miller, the landlord of The Royal Oak in East Lavant where they had just dined, had presented them with a sealed envelope as a parting gift.
Like Willy Wonka, they were told it could contain a golden ticket meaning their next meal between January and March would be entirely on the house.
Or a silver ticket giving them a 50 per cent discount.
The minimum saving would be a quarter off the bill.
Just which it was would remain a secret until the eleventh hour - because the envelope had to remain sealed!
The Royal Oak is adept at getting visitors and guests into the competitive mood.
On the same evening when we dined, there was a sloe gin contest taking place in the corner of the main bar. Locals waited with bated - if not slightly alcoholic! - breath as Richard presided over the great event before delivering his final judgment.
It might not have quite possessed the excitement of Strictly or The Apprentice - although at least the competition did declare a decisive result - but it underscored just how much The Royal Oak is a true village hub as well as being a great venue for visitors.
The reasons for a visit are many and varied.
Some stop off while enjoying the South Downs and a walk through the national park. Others, like us, know it has got a great wine list and menu and enjoy the benefit of booking one of its rooms so there is no concern about driving home.
Of course, it boasts more than merely ‘rooms’. Accommodation includes delightful little cottages. We stayed in Flint Cottage - a beautifully restored old farm worker’s abode - which came complete with sitting room and upstairs bedroom.
The en-suite bathroom is as finely appointed as any in a great hotel and details like pristine white bathrobes, underfloor heating, and top quality toiletries from Bramley would make it unrecognizable to inhabitants of a previous era.
A residents’ garden just behind reveals the most stunning and sweeping views across fields toward Goodwood.
Any pub/restaurant worth its salt these days ensures that most of the produce on the plate - and the sparkling in the glass - is locally sourced.
The Royal Oak is no exception.
The A La Carte included starters of crispy duck egg (£8); pigeon breast (£8.95); hot smoked salmon (£8.50) and homemade soup of the day (£6.45).
There’s a good selection on the mains. Root vegetable shepherd’s pie (£12); fish and chips (£15.90); sea bream (£18); slow cooked shin of beef (£17) and herb crusted rack of lamb (£21).
A range of steaks and daily specials on the board completes the offering.
The fish and chips - triple cooked and too tempting for words - are a favourite.
Desserts range from £6.75 to £7.95 with a classic creme brulee and a dark chocolate confection with sea salted caramel and vanilla tuile.
This is a country pub full of beams, roaring log fires and bonhomie aplenty.
During Goodwood weekends the rooms get booked years in advance. But out of season it’s a great bolt hole from the cares of life. Made all the more affordable by one of the landlord’s mystery envelopes.
 The Restaurant Inspector was invited to review The Royal Oak and the landlord was aware of his visit. However, the review is independent and not linked to any advertisement.