It’s a Saturday lunchtime, and there’s a cosy atmosphere in the bar at the White Horse in Hinton St Mary, just outside Sturminster Newton. In the adjacent Inglenook Restaurant area, a family is discussing a forthcoming wedding, and the seats are filling up fast in anticipation of good food. The walls are full of old equestrian prints and some eclectic local history about the Pitt Rivers family in the building that dates back to the 1700s. So what’s the story behind the White Horse?
I spoke to Barney Hibbert, the landlord, to find out a bit more about the pub.
How did you get started?
‘I wanted to be closer to family in Dorset (he was based in Wales), and I saw this as an opportunity to be closer to them. In 2021 I came to a couple of functions here at the Tithe Barn to see how the weddings work and then I moved in May. We opened the White Horse with a soft opening that month and then opened properly from 1st June. I realised the pub had special potential, so I was really attracted to the project.’
Tell me about the team.
‘We employ all local people. There are three in the kitchen and ten front-of-house staff from the village. I’m the chef.’
But not just any chef. Among his several awards, Barney won the Welsh Sustainable Restaurant of the Year Award three years running with his Barry restaurant, The Gallery. He also won Best Restaurant at the South Wales Echo Food and Drink Awards.
What about local suppliers?
‘We get our bread from Oxford’s Bakery. The meat comes from a local farm – either Shepherd’s Farm or Primrose Farm. Our Ruby Red beef comes from Somerset. We make our own ice cream.’
And what’s really popular at the moment?
‘Well, we change the menu quite a lot as we use seasonal ingredients. For example, Jerusalem artichokes are in season right now. We have wild mushroom gnocchi and a lot of game at the moment. The orange and almond cake on the menu smells very festive.’
(the Thai green chicken curry was delicious, by the way).
What’s been the biggest challenge?
‘We started from nothing, so we had to build up a trade here. But we are gaining momentum. There are not many people in the village itself, so we are aware we need to attract people from further away.’
And what are you most proud of so far?
Barney laughs and says: ‘Sarah! She manages the whole front of house.’
I noticed that Sarah has an incredible way of making everyone welcome. There is even more to be proud of.
Barney says: ‘We have our own beers on tap. So our range is a bit different to the usual ones you find in a tied pub.
Our beer is from the Well Drawn Brewing Company in Wales, including a Bedwas Bitter. I also own the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, and the beers are on tap. There are other beers as well but we always have something a little different here.’
It transpires that Barney’s list of accolades also include awards for brewing real ale at his two breweries.
‘Firstly, consolidation of the work so far and taking time to review things. We will be having pop-up pizza nights and pub quizzes. We’re also trying to be consistent with the opening times, so people get used to our hours.
And of course, we want to engage more with the local community. We want people to know they can just drop in here for a drink.’
The White Horse at Hinton St Mary is open from Wednesday to Sunday, with opening times displayed on the website – thewhitehorsehinton.co.uk