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The Royal Oak, Fritham, UK

That hackneyed old acronym KISS keeps coming to mind as I down a pint in the Royal Oak on a dank and drizzly Saturday lunchtime.

Royal Oak, FrithamI sit near the front door, which swings noisily open every few minutes, as new parties of people duck and dart out of the rain.

It’s a constant, clattering whirl of backpacks, boots and cycle helmets with frisky dogs swiping chairs with their tails, tangling their leads around table legs before being brought calmly to heel.

With seats at a premium, many who enter just pause to pick up a drink and then push on through the side exit, settling for a table in the marquee in the garden.

Amidst this relentless toing and froing, the throng around the bar never lets up but this is a pub that sails serenely on. The staff remain unflustered and remarkably chirpy. They’re clearly well trained and happy in their work.

I’m used to pubs just about managing when inundated, mustering an acceptable degree of politeness and charm, but here things are different. I’m genuinely surprised – although perhaps I shouldn’t be – that the young team is so friendly and calm.

It seems to boil down to organisation and those four simple words – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Back to Basics

On busy days like this, there is very little room to manoeuvre in this wonderfully homely New Forest pub and the only way it can operate successfully is if things are stripped back to basics and run regimentally.

Take the food provision. On this damp Saturday lunchtime, the team – as always – is not being overly adventurous. The menu basically consists of a choice of ploughman’s lunches, built around good quality home-cooked gammon, pork pies, sausage rolls, quiche, smoked fish, Lymington crab or cheese.

You get a generous plateful for your money, with lots of leafy salad and some home-made picked onions part of the deal, and there are plenty of contented customers. Of course, the bonus for the pub is that so much can be prepared in advance and then whistled out of the kitchen to keep the tables turning over.

A similarly simple approach applies to the beer. Lean over the bar and you’ll find the draught ales are all dispensed by gravity from casks wrapped in cooling jackets. There are no handpumps, no lines to clean, no fobbing pints.

My glass of Stonehenge Spire is quickly dispensed and placed on the counter. It slips down a treat but I could easily have been drawn to Flack Manor’s Double Drop or one of several other guest ales. There are often seven beers in total.

All this simplicity and order perfectly matches the uncomplicated character of the pub itself. Outside it is postcard-pretty, a slightly extended old brick and thatch cottage with origins in the seventeenth century.

It’s located in the quieter northern part of the New Forest – on the other side of the busy A31 from Lyndhurst – perched at the end of a village that has no through road. But plenty of people find it and enjoy the common land that surrounds the pub and the numerous walks that branch out from here.

Inside, the main front bar is narrow and functional with bare boards on the floor, half-panelled walls and a small fireplace at one end.

The back two rooms are even smaller, one dominated by a giant hearth and range, but there’s ample overspill in the lovely, spacious garden, where ice creams are sold for the kids and there are also a few roulottes if you fancy staying overnight.

I first visited the Royal Oak nearly twenty years ago, during a visit to Ringwood Brewery. It was a winter night then. The fire sparked and crackled, drawing people in from the dark, snappy air outside. This time around, circumstances were rather different but I was equally impressed.

If only other pubs would just keep it simple, stupid.

The Royal Oak, Fritham, Hampshire SO43 7HJ.
Tel. (023) 8081 2606
royaloakfritham.co.uk
Opening Hours: 11–3, 6–11; 11–11 Saturday; 12–10.30 Sunday


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