Lunch at the Curlew
It stands to reason that on an old connecting road from Kent to Sussex, there would stand an old coaching inn; a place to rest and refuel before continuing on life’s journey. Times may have moved on (a lot!) from the 17th century, but the premise was born. With a nod to its previous incarnation and with a whole lot of vision, passion and sheer emotional determination, The Curlew Restaurant came forth.
by Samantha G
Many restaurants are born out of a common vision: great food, inspired creativity, and the use of quality local produce. This passion for food – both the original ingredients and the finished dish – is certainly evident at The Curlew. Not only in the menu itself but also in the ways in which husband and wife owners Mark and Sara Colley speak about their menu, their producers, and their kitchen – spearheaded by head chef Michael Mealey. Mark and Sara have high standards, grand ideas and a thorough understanding of what works in the world of food – evidenced not least by the Michelin Star gained in 2011 a matter of months after opening.
But, there is more to The Curlew than this, and for me this is what sets the dining experience here apart.
From the moment my guest and I arrived at The Curlew we felt relaxed. Really relaxed. Of course there was the warm and genuinely friendly welcome by Beata (the restaurant manager), aided by the warm fire in the lounge which helped shake off the winter chill and damp dark day; but again, there was more to it than that. The passion shared by the Colleys evidently extended beyond the food to a vision and ideology for the whole restaurant experience.
When they bought the former coaching inn, Mark and Sara described how they took it back to the beams and rafters before painstakingly restoring and refurbishing the building, not only to create their restaurant, but I feel, to create their dream. This is where décor can only do so much and restaurant soul takes over.
The deserved outcome is a sleek contemporary, yet classic finish with a comfortable feel. On entering, one diner exclaimed that the slate grey walls were ‘just what she wanted at home’, and that sums it up – it’s like sitting in your dream dining room at home but with the added splendour and style of finishes, furnishing and of course food that you can only aspire to.
So it was, nestled at an end table framed by instinctively chosen decorative touches – quirky plates, natural wood finishes, offset by suede, leathers and tartan and flooded with as much natural light the sash windows could provide on a grey January day – that my guest and I were able to kick back with a glass of Appledore sparkling wine and peruse the menu.
We were lucky too that our table afforded us a view of the picture window that allows diners to sneak a peek into the heart of the kitchen in which Michael and his team draw out the best from their local Sussex produce to conjure their award-winning cuisine. So whilst sampling the slices of homemade sourdough bread smothered in salted butter, we were treated to aromas from the kitchen; our taste buds were already buzzing by the time our starters arrived.
First up: ‘Sussex Farmhouse’ – a double-baked cheese soufflé with a kirsche cream. Surrounded by oozing molten cheese, the soufflé was delectably light and perfectly golden; a hearty winter warmer but with a subtle delicate flavour. My guest’s ‘Scallop’ provided tender scallops with a light crust, accompanied by razor clam, artichoke and a braised pig’s trotter; an interesting variation to provide the meaty flavour that goes so well with the delicate clam.
Our mains swiftly followed, which included a heaving board of ‘Chop and Chips’ – one of the largest and most flavoursome steaks I have ever had the pleasure of attempting to devour. The tender chunks of mottled beef sat perched in a huge mound surrounded by a rocket and beetroot salad with the perfect fresh crunch of red onion and a cheeky rich spiced brown ketchup pot – perfect for dunking one of the fluffy and crisp triple cooked chips that overflowed from their cast iron dish.
My guest chose ‘Monkfish’, which provided another taste wonder – a delicate plain fish dish this was not. The curry-based aromas were evident from the moment the dish arrived and the anise-based spiced chicken, puy lentils and cauliflower accompaniments cleverly combined to enhance the dish ensuring that the delicate monkfish was never overpowered.
A short respite ensured we could create enough room for dessert, and soon enough we were presented with our ‘Walnut Whip’ and ‘Popcorn’ puddings. The rich and decadent hot chocolate fondant of the Walnut Whip was divine with sticky crushed walnuts and a soft subtle mallow ice cream, whilst the various elements of the Popcorn ensured that every mouthful was a taste sensation. Cool smooth rice cake, rich sweet banana, refreshing sorbet and of course lashings of salted caramel and crunchy sticky popcorn brought our dining experience to a sweet end.
And a great all round experience it was too. Yes, the food is amazing, but so too was the whole dining experience. It should be recognised that a restaurant that can hold 64 covers usually only has 55 – you will never be encouraged to rush. Part of the pleasure here is enjoying the stylish and exciting food at a pace that suits, and in an environment that makes you feel at home.
It was therefore no surprise that just days after our visit, Mark and Sara and the team at The Curlew, were deservedly named as the county’s Best Eating Experience in the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2015 (an accolade they have reassuringly and not unsurprising received before). Add to this their recent notable mention as one of The Guardian Travel’s 10 Destination Restaurants, it is clear to see that The Curlew is both going places, and here to stay.
The Curlew Restaurant