Is there anything better than strolling into a cosy country pub from a bracing walk in the Surrey Hills countryside and settling down to a local pint and delicious meal showcasing the best seasonal produce? Matthew Williams visits The Merry Harriers in Hambledon, an historic hostelry that’s under new ownership and has its sights set on joining Top 50 Gastropubs royalty.


The Merry Harriers countryside pub in Surrey


REVIEW: It’s not unusual for hot new places to eat to burst onto the restaurant and pub scene in Surrey, but it’s rare that these places are hidden away in rustic farm buildings at the top of what, at least to a stranger, feel like long-forgotten country lanes.

Despite the wider world’s perception of Surrey as urban commuter belt, our beautiful countryside still has an almost magical ability to conceal some of our most exciting destinations just a few lanes away from your normal hustle and bustle routes.

And that’s exactly how Hilltop Kitchen, near Godalming, came to prominence among those in the know.

It was almost spoken about in hushed reverence at first, but since then people have travelled for their supper clubs and lunches from far and wide, while the locals have increased the regularity of their hilltop hikes, safe in the knowledge of freshly-baked cinnamon buns, coffee and sanctuary.

In fact, such has been the success of Hilltop Kitchen since it opened in 2021, that the owners, Alex Winch and Sam Fiddian Green, have now widened their culinary assault on the Surrey Hills.

In November, the pair took over the historied and much-loved Merry Harriers country inn at Hambledon – about 10 minutes down the road from Hilltop Kitchen, or just over an hour if you’re working up an appetite on foot.  


Alex Winch and Sam Fiddian Green of Hilltop Kitchen and the Merry HarriersAlex Winch and Sam Fiddian Green of Hilltop Kitchen and the Merry Harriers


Ones to watch

The up-and-coming pair have impressive pedigree, too. Alex previously worked as a sommelier for Como Hotels and as a manager at Portland Restaurant and Smoke and Salt, while Sam returned to Surrey from a stint as a pastry chef in a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Denmark.

Sam also grew up on the Wintershall Estate, near Godalming, and is the son of the much-loved sculptor, Nic Fiddian-Green, whose work can be seen in Surrey and across the UK.

But when you’ve already conquered the hilltops, just how much higher can you go? I was looking forward to finding out on behalf of Visit Surrey...


Bar snacks at The Merry Harriers in Hambledon

Examples of the tasty bar snacks on offer (Photo: The Merry Harriers)


A cosy country inn with history

With its origins dating back to the 16th century and the landlords’ names dating back to the early 1700s written on the pub walls, The Merry Harriers is steeped in history.

It’s also the kind of place where you feel completely lost with every twist of a country lane while finding it. Once there, however, it feels like you were always somehow destined to arrive. The ultimate Surrey Hills hideaway, perhaps?

One-step inside and you could be in just about any movie scene set in a quintessentially English pub.

You could happily settle down in the bar area with a pint of a real ale from just down the road, a cocktail from a list where local distillers abound, or a glass of your chosen wine – there’s even wine fresh from the Surrey Hills at Greyfriars Vineyard by the glass, too.

You could accompany these with one of their already famous bar snacks, such as the Scotch egg and brown sauce or the Hash brown bites with Philadelphia and sweet chilli sauce, and you’d be in for a relaxing afternoon or evening, whatever the weather outside.


The Merry Harriers and surrounding countryside

The Merry Harriers is found down winding country lanes near Godalming (Photo: The Merry Harriers)


Hikers, bikers and hackers are all welcome – there’s even somewhere to tether up the horses outside – and the garden holds much promise for the warmer months ahead.  

But we’re here for the dining on this occasion – and the menu is packed full of promise.

Many pubs and restaurants write about “local and seasonal” these days, but at The Merry Harriers they proudly showcase dishes full of locally reared meats, some from their family farm just down the road. There’s a pride in provenance here and it’s not just talk.

While the menu leans heavily on hearty and meaty British classics cooked with care, the vegetarian dishes also look like they’ve had a little more thought than is often the case.


Starters at The Merry Harriers

Venison tartare and Wookey Hole cheddar and ale soup (Photo: The Merry Harriers)


Candlelit dining and expectant faces

The dining room at The Merry Harriers is lit by candle-light when we arrive on a still-dark winter evening – and, as we settle down, the room fills around us with light-hearted chatter and expectant faces. It’s early days and yet the place is packed.

Many around us are grouped and ready to tuck into the sharing dishes, which are something of a specialty here. Think jugged hare pie as big as the table and glazed Wintershall lamb shoulder. Dishes that feel and look like an experience in themselves.

We order some of the delicious sourdough bread to accompany Wookey Hole cheddar and ale soup with marmite rarebit and Loxwood venison tartare, plum ketchup and dripping toast for starters. The soup is deeply luxurious while the rarebit maintains its bite throughout. The tartare is bursting with flavour and freshness and quickly disappears piled thickly onto the dripping toast. A sublime way to start any meal.


Venison at The Merry Harriers

Loxwood venison with celeriac and purple sprouting broccoli (Photo: Matthew Williams)


The main courses are of the “can we have one of each, please?” variety. While the Jerusalem artichoke and leek tart and Baked Cornish pollock are tempting, we order venison from Loxwood, beef fillet from the Wintershall estate and a not-for-the-faint-hearted Tomahawk pork chop, also from the Wintershall estate.

Three very different dishes, with the venison and beef sitting on the more refined side of dining, and the epic Tomahawk proving to be a shareable feast.

All are cooked to perfection but, in some ways, the star of the show is the colcannon mash, which is served with the pork and could be eaten by the mixing bowl full.

For dessert, I can’t resist the Jamaican ginger sticky toffee pudding and whisky toffee sauce, which is everything a wintery pub dessert should be. Delicious and heart-warming. The local cheese plate also hits the spot for my partner.

A Surrey pub with Top 50 Gastropubs ambitions

This new instalment of The Merry Harriers is an ambitious animal and their sights are firmly set on putting Hambledon and Surrey on the map in the annual Top 50 Gastropubs list.

With the clear quality, passion, and attention to detail the team exhibits, there’s no doubting they’ll be in the conversation next year.

That said, it’s also somewhere where you can walk in from a wet and windy day and settle down for a pint of a real ale and a scotch egg – it walks the line between community pub and foodie destination well.


Shepherd Hut accommodation at The Merry Harriers

And, as an added bonus, you needn’t rush away, as they have charming accommodation located in and around the inn, including Shepherd Huts and boutique bedrooms.

Just over an hour from central London but far enough away to feel like an adventure, The Merry Harriers is sure to become a much talked about destination for food lovers - and, with beautiful countryside, a cosy interior and top class cooking, what’s not to love?

  • The Merry Harriers, Hambledon Road, Hambledon, Surrey GU8 4DR. For more information, visit their website here.
  • NOTE: The Merry Harriers will close for a spring refresh and refurbishment from April 2 to April 24, 2024.
  • Share your favourite Surrey pubs and restaurants with us on social media at @visitsurrey and @foodchatmatt

What we ate:

Wookey Hole cheddar & ale soup with marmite rarebit, £9.50
Loxwood venison tartare, plum ketchup & dripping toast, £13

Roast Loxwood venison, celeriac & purple sprouting broccoli, £26
Roast Wintershall beef fillet, peppercorn sauce & watercress, £32
Wintershall Tomahawk pork chop with gravy & colcannon mash, £32

Jamaican ginger sticky toffee pudding & whisky toffee sauce, £8.5
Sussex Camembert with celery & lavosh, £9

While you’re there, why not visit…

Rowe's Flashe Lake and Boathouse at Winkworth Arboretum