The Curlew, Bodiam, East Sussex

An early Christmas celebration saw us make the 3 hour journey from Birmingham to the Curlew on the outskirts of Bodiam, a part of the world most famous for the French getting all arsey with the British in 1066, so rather topical in these times of Euro summit meltdown. Another sign of the times was that the restaurant was all but empty for Saturday lunch, a massive surprise given the conviviality of the setting and the quality of the food we encountered. This is a great place to take the cold edge off a winter’s day. And the spirit of Christmas is definitely in the air at the Curlew – helped by a “mince pie Bellini”, an inspired aperitif which successfully paired prosecco with candied fruit and spices. Bread was lovely, served with thyme butter. The less adventurous diners in our party were very happy with their langoustine prawn cocktails (piquant sauce with tiny tender prawns and refreshing tiny chunks of melon, crunchy against the softness of the seafood) which came with a little tempura’d nugget of langoustine. I enjoyed my soft, squidgy veal tongue which was served with pickled beetroot. The Don had the cutest looking game pie, served with foie gras, nice goose ham and a beetroot chutney.

The head waitress was friendly although occasionally let the service show and we were mindful of being the last diners in for lunch. She steered us towards the duck dish which featured lovely soft confit, of duck leg, some pickled cabbage but unfortunately quite underpar chips, nicely crunchy on the outside but dry and powdery in the middle. Much better was the “leg of fallow deer” which came with a tart cranberry sauce, braised chicory and some of the cutest little Brussels sprouts you’ve ever seen. I really liked my pork cheeks which fell apart with a touch of the fork and came with some PX-sherry raisins and some very thinly sliced cauliflower. Partridge with cabbage was another solid dish. Presentation as you can see in the photos was very clean and inviting.

Jollities were temporarily put on hold when my mum began to feel a little unwell (not related to the food!) – but desserts were still enjoyable despite this setback. After lamenting that clafoutis is so often disappointing both in restaurants and during home experimentation the Don was delighted with the Curlew’s version, all soft and sweet with “tutti frutti” flavours served with brandy ice cream. Junket, a dessert of heated and set milk is not to everyone’s taste but I enjoyed mine which came with hot and sticky eccles cakes.

Some mince pie petit fours came with coffee and reinforced that those little bits of detail are what make the difference at this level, and also made it doubly surprising that the restaurant wasn’t packed out. Support this little gem.

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