On Thursday I visited the Royal Oak in Friday Street near Rusper, West Sussex. A drive of about an hour, and fairly inaccessible by train, so I persuaded my wife to drive on the promise of lunch. She and I were not disappointed.
The main bar is narrow with stools at the bar and separate rooms at either end. The room we sat in has a real fire that was much welcome on a cool October day. We were welcomed not only by very friendly staff but also by a bank of 8 handpumps - displaying a range of beers from local micros - Surrey Hills, Dark Star and Twickenham beers were all very enjoyable. There is a mild available permanently, Surrey Hills Hammer Mild, and a bank of 5 further handpumps for ciders and perries.
This was the only pub of the four in the regional semi-final that had a significant food offering. A basic menu of omelette's, ham and chips etc complemented by 3 daily specials - fish pie, partridge and chilli all at a reasonable £7.50.
I enjoyed the partridge (notably not including lead shot) and my wife had a very large fish pie both of which were excellent, although none of CAMRA judging criteria include the scoring of food.
All together this is a real gem of a pub and deserves to do well. I have not cast my scores for all four pubs yet but I guess this will be my winner by a point or two with the Butchers Arms a very close second.