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Pub Spy: I return to the venue of my most infamous review and boy did I get a surprise

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The County Oak in Hollingbury, Brighton

PubSpy is nothing if not a fair man. Some folks may disagree, but I’ve always prided myself on producing an honest and balanced report of everything I find in every pub I visit.

And few have received a tougher telling of the truth than the County Oak.

But, true to my word, when I, very sadly, have to deliver such a lambasting I think it is only fair to return later and see if time has changed anything.

So it was, celebrating the end of a dry October, I went on a return trip to create County Oak, The Sequel.

I’m sure everyone remembers how the last visit started – The Pub Spy reviews: The County Oak, Brighton  – so it was with some trepidation I approached the threshold.

Imagine my surprise then that the first thing to happen was to have the door opened for me by a local.

Once inside it was immediately apparent the atmosphere has changed.

The place looks exactly the same but it feels completely different.

Even first time visitors are now welcomed with a warmth that never existed previously.

Emma, behind the bar, who told me she’d been a regular herself for 20 years, couldn’t have been more pleasant and helpful.

With my interest piqued I couldn’t resist asking her straight away what had gone on at the Oak?

It seems the changes have been seismic with Nikki and Gary, who used to be at the Jolly Brewer, taking up the reins.

Quite how they’ve made such a change to the atmosphere I have no idea, but change it definitely has.

There was still football on the telly and it was Chorley verses Fleetwood without a single shot on target in the first half, so that’s not going to lift anyone’s spirits.

The décor hasn’t changed either but the poster on the wall which reads Keep Calm and Carry On is now believable.

What’s different is that you’ve got small groups of people talking to each other and enjoying a pint, it’s that simple.

Whilst I was in, the away team on the pool tables was The Franklin, top of the league I was told, and they seemed a good-natured bunch too so this further added to the new upbeat feel of the place.

In fact, the informative Emma told me that as well as the abundance of pool and darts teams they have two active bar billiards sides – there can’t be many pubs boasting that.

At this point I almost fell off my bar stool as I actually witnessed the barmaid wiping down tables – that wouldn’t have happened before.

Then a very dapper fellow at the bar in a cap and glasses checked I was well before taking his leave – I seriously began to wonder if I’d stepped into a parallel universe.

I looked around the bar carefully but it seems the framed review of my last visit has been taken down – maybe they’ll consider bringing it back and hanging it alongside this one.

During my visit I have a sneaking suspicion one member of the Franklin’s victorious pool team (and still league leaders) recognised yours truly from my previous visit to the Jolly Brewer, which he also frequents. If he did then he was good enough to preserve my anonymity – a true gent.

I can’t comment on the food as it would have been plain rude to sample the massive pizzas delivered for the pool teams, although they did smell great.

However, I’m told Sunday lunch is now back on the menu and at £8.95, including a pudding, it sounds like a deal worth trying.

Emma seemed to think if you buy two adult meals a kid eats free.

It’s was a surreal experience visiting the County Oak for a second time.

It looks the same, I’m sure many of the same locals still use it and there are still half a dozen dartboards on the walls but somehow it is also entirely different.

I can’t put my finger on it exactly but something major has changed at the Oak and the new owners hopefully have the place firmly back on the straight and narrow. Long may it continue to be the case.

THE COUNTY OAK (revisited), COUNTY OAK AVENUE, BRIGHTON

Decor: ?????

Nothing has really changed and a spruce up still wouldn’t go amiss

Drink: ?????

The usual suspects are on offer and are well served

Price: ?????

A pint of Kronie for £4.30 is about average

Atmosphere: ?????

A world apart from the last time I was in

Staff: ?????

Again, the welcome and the service have changed immeasurably


Source: The Argus