Churchfields is a pretty red brick house owned by St Faith’s Church, Havant and was for many years the home of Cat’s grandparents, Fred and Marjorie. Back in the 1970s the summers were always hot. Home-grown runner beans and squishy raspberries were harvested from the small but bountiful kitchen garden; and Sundays were spent helping granny in the ritual top-and-tailing of gooseberries ready for the crumble. Even if your own experiences of Sunday lunch fall into the category of crisps and coke in a drizzly pub car park, Cat’s halcyon memories of an iconic childhood meal can be reconstructed for you for just £7.50!
Yes folks, the Island may have jumped on the carvery bandwagon with ‘traditional’ Sunday roasts being offered at venues across the county – from the excellent to the not so good – but for Matt and Cat’s money, the Sunday lunch at Fields Nursery, Niton, is truly like your granny used to make.
Matt and Cat were encouraged to make the effort to find Niton’s hidden gem by its neighbours at Nettlecombe Farm. Glowing reports of the Fields’ Sunday lunch punctuated the comments in the farm’s visitors’ books and further investigation was demanded.
Loading up the car with hungry kids and The Cat, Matt donned his metaphorical trilby and bimbled off southwards in Sunday driver mode. The Island’s rural verges were buzzing with invertebrate life, picturesque bales of straw dotted the yellowing fields and birds of prey hung in the sky, wheeling on the thermals. Apart from the racket from a rather vigorous game of ‘Torment Your Brother’ in the back of the car, a pleasant peace had descended.
Fields is tricky to spot and this may be deliberate. After all, the most exclusive places are often discretely signposted or by invitation only. However, the modest entrance of the nursery-come-café was understated to the point of near-invisibility. Matt manoeuvred the car slowly down Chatfeild Road and following a handwritten sign they drove cautiously along a track through the rather tumble-down-looking nursery, arriving at its shed-like café. Glances were exchanged… was this really the place?
Putting their faith in the farmer’s daughter who had commended Fields to their attention, the diners parked up. Cat spotted some faces at the café’s windows and the sounds of genial chat floated on the air. Parting the chain-link curtain the intrepid travellers entered the homely little café. Baskets of produce and fresh carnations brightened up a side table and the special smell of Sunday hung tantalisingly in the air. Cat approached the counter and was greeted by a hearty fellow with a gravy-stained tea towel slung casually over his shoulder. She warmed to him as soon as the words, “young lady” had left his lips.
Roast chicken £7.50
Roast beef £7.50
2 x roast lamb @ £7.50
2 x apple and elderflower @ 90p
2 x fizzy drinks @ 90p
In the week, the menu is more lengthy, but the Sunday menu at Fields was as follows: roast lamb, roast beef or roast chicken plus trifle for desert. It didn’t take long to choose and, sipping refreshing glasses of elderflower and apple juice, Matt and Cat settled back and waited for their lunches. The four sat around a wooden table set out just as if it were for this mythical Sunday lunch at granny’s. The clean and homely café was decorated with photographs of tractors and tupped sheep. The view out of the window was of polytunnels in which could be spotted a rosette-worthy clutch of marrows. The café’s other patrons gossiped amongst themselves like the cast of The Archers, passing friendly first-name greetings and familiar chat. It seemed by the rural accents – these days less often heard – that Fields was a haven for locals and, on enquiry, Matt and Cat discovered that it was usually much busier – the temporary downturn possibly due to the Garlic Festival.
Before long the table was laid and little flotilla of sauce boats arrived; redcurrant jelly for Cat’s chicken, horseradish for the beef and home-made mint sauce for the lamb. The mint caused an embarrassing flood of memories which nearly drowned the juniors in nostalgia. It transpired that both Matt and Cat had been chief mint sauce makers as children, and they waxed lyrically about the ritual gathering of the leaves, the chopping, sugaring and vinegaring of the acid-sweet concoction. It’s unlikely that today’s children will be so emotional about buying said sauce in supermarkets.
And then the lunches arrived. Cat’s chicken was delivered first; a tender sliced breast encompassed by nearly a dozen types of vegetable and garnished with herbs. Similarly the generous helpings of lamb and beef nestled amongst nutritious home-grown veg. Carrots, two types of cabbage, boiled and roasted potatoes, peas, parsnips, runner beans and onion completed the awesome line-up. Each vegetable was distinctly flavoured and, on enquiry about the aromatic cabbage Cat was informed, “I don’t know what he puts in it but it is spiced”. Matt guessed at mace and Cat favoured nutmeg. Either way, the buttery and faintly spiced vegetables were a treat to eat. Plenty of gravy for all and a Yorkshire pudding for Matthew completed the array, and all tucked in with enthusiasm. The meat proved to be spectacular – cut freshly from a joint, surely, these generous hunks were moist, fresh and delicious. From the taste of the first mouthful of food, to the look of the burgundy place mats, Matt and Cat were transported back to their childhoods. Only the sound of a ticking clock and a post-lunch game of snap would have completed the experience.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, there was pudding included in the price of the meal. Four dishes of trifle were duly delivered and devoured with gusto. The service was exemplary. The staff timed their visits to the table with military precision – not too eager but certainly not guilty of neglecting their customers. The whole experience went like clockwork, even down to the delivery of postprandial coffee on the little decked terrace whilst the boys played with a rope-swing and patted an elderly Jack Russell.
This was a really superb Sunday lunch. At Fields you get impressive value ultra-local food, served with old-fashioned courtesy in a very enjoyable dining environment. The visitors to Nettlecombe Farm may well have hit upon something here – this place is unreservedly recommended.
It may be that Matt and Cat, with their separate but amazingly similar experiences of Sunday lunches back in the 1970s skewed their opinion of Fields. But the junior reviewers enjoyed their lunches even without the same historical associations as their older companions. Are M and C guilty of using nostalgia to boost a venue’s standing on this website? You decide…