You know, there are dinners and then there are dinners – the truly memorable ones you look back on and go ‘Aaaahh, mmmm’. We had one of those recently at The Curlew in Bodiam, East Sussex (it’s close to the dreamily beautiful Bodiam Castle if you’re looking for another excuse to visit).
We have been many times and the restaurant always has a lively, slightly ‘London’ vibe. It’s a place to dress up for.
You walk straight into the little bar area, where a woodburner smoulders on cool nights. Most guests start here with an aperitif and a chance to peruse the menu.
The restaurant itself is elegant and slightly quirky – some wallpaper adorned with cows here, designer plates hung up there. The seats are comfortable and the welcome is warm. There’s a cute outdoor terrace for sunny days or evenings, too.
The lighting is just right – bright enough that you can see what you’re eating but dark and moody enough to create an ambience . Isn’t it amazing how bright lights have the ability to kill an atmosphere quicker than you can say ‘The bill, please’?
There’s an open kitchen, always good (and reassuring!) to see. Our table was close to it so we could see all the action. It always surprises me how relaxed a good working kitchen is – everyone knows what they are doing and when they are supposed to be doing it and it all runs like clockwork.
On to the food…I love a tasting menu – a great excuse to be hugely greedy and to try a little bit of a lot of things on the menu. There’s no deliberating over what to have and you can end up trying things that you normally wouldn’t.
Ours kicked off with canapés – delicate little rounds of parmesan and rosemary melt in the mouth pastry and parma ham bites with a breadcrumb coating and a creamy sauce to dip them in.
I tried to resist the bread that came next, knowing how many courses there were to go, but I couldn’t. The sourdough arrived with some flavoured butters – onion with sea salt and another roast chicken one (sounds weird but is incredibly more-ish).
Next was a creamy, velvety smooth, velouté of cauliflower, with a little cauliflower ‘bhaji’ giving it bite and texture. I noted on the menu that it contained raisin and caper which sounded a little odd but was actually very clever, giving it just a hint of sweet and sour. In fact it’s the thing that lifts it from the seriously good to the sublime.
Then came a succulent ballotine of rabbit, wrapped in parma ham. On the side was some piccalilli – I haven’t eaten this bright yellow pickled summer vegetable sauce since I was a child. Again it gives a good contrast of salty sourness and some crunch.
Stone Bass followed. It’s a wonderful fish – white but almost as ‘meaty’ in texture as salmon. It had enough punch to stand up to the cuttlefish ink gnocchi it was served with, alongside ‘roast chicken’ (actually just some flavoursome crispy skin) , burnt cauliflower and some samphire for a little more taste of the sea.
Another course, another meat…dense, rich, duck breast worked perfectly with soy glazed pineapple – each providing the perfect ying to the other’s yang!
By this stage I was feeling fairly full, but there were two puddings to come so, of course, I fought valiantly on! The first pud is simply called ‘Coffee’. It was divine – an espresso panna cotta – intensely dark and slightly bitter, balanced by a soft milky jelly and a sweet milky coffee ice cream, small nuggets of walnut sponge and nut pieces.
And lastly…chocolate tart. But, being the Curlew, it’s not just any old chocolate tart. It was decadently dark, served with an orange sauce, milk chocolate ice cream and a thin slice of orange, sweetened and dried to give a crunchy texture and an explosion of concentrated flavour. Truly marvellous…and I swear that if I hadn’t been there, Mr Gallivant would have licked his plate.
I had opted for the wine flight to accompany the meal. Each pairing was spot-on – from the fresh, crisp Riesling that accompanied the rabbit to the rich chianti I enjoyed with the duck and the unusual red dessert wine that provided the perfect foil to the chocolate tart. We chatted to the down-to-earth sommelier and it was a joy to see his enthusiasm. He even spontaneously gave us a try of his current favourite wine (a rather delectable Rioja Urbina 1999).
What a wonderful, special evening we had. I must admit I couldn’t go to bed for a while, but boy was it worth it! And I am pleased to report, despite the copious amounts of alcohol there was no hangover – all soaked up by the copious amounts of food, no doubt!
Find more details of The Curlew at www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk. The seven course tasting menu costs £65 per person. Wine pairings are an additional £35 a head.
A la carte menu prices start from around £7.50 for a starter, £19.50 for a main course, £8 for a pudding.
A set menu is available for lunches from Tuesday to Friday lunchtimes and costs £20 for two courses, £25 for three courses.
Sunday lunches include a roast option.
Let us know…
Have you eaten at The Curlew recently? What did you think?