CHARLIE BONDS VISITS THE MIDDLE HOUSE IN MAYFIELD TO FIND OUT THE SECRETS OF ITS LONG-STANDING SUCCESS
Nestled in the centre of Mayfield High Street lies The Middle House – an Elizabethan building which plays host to a cosy hotel and a wealth of dining options. Its reputation definitely precedes it – everyone from friends and family to colleagues have enthused about their experiences, so when I visit, I feel as though I’m finally about to meet a long-lost relative for the first time. “I’ve heard so much about you…”
I’m immediately struck by how charming it is; I can see why everyone I’ve spoken to is so enamoured. From the moment you enter you’re warmly welcomed, and there’s a lively atmosphere with revellers enjoying their Saturday evenings. After checking in to our beautiful bedroom, complete with four poster bed, views over Mayfield High Street and beams adorning the ceiling and walls, it’s time to head down for dinner.
The Middle House has various dining areas offering different experiences, from traditional pub fare in the bar room to the classic à la carte in the 16th century dining room. But, today we’re trying something new – after 12 years of planning, the Middle house has finally opened its new brasserie and terrace – a space that is chic, modern and although unlike the rest of the Grade I building, doesn’t seem out of place. Old seems to meet new seamlessly, and despite the contemporary surroundings, the brasserie still maintains the charm found throughout the rest of the Middle House.
Nick, the restaurant manager and our waiter for the evening, shows us to our table by one of the large glass doors overlooking the garden and views. It’s almost dark but you can just make out the last of the evening light disappearing over the fields.
Attention turns from light to liquids, and with an extensive offering of wines, beers, ales and ciders, there’s plenty to when tastebuds. But, fancying something different from the norm, I take a chance on the Côte De Brouilly ‘red of the moment’ (£8 for 250ml) while my guest chooses the guest ale – Tribute, a Cornish pale ale (£4 a pint). When they arrive, we’re both pleased with our choices. The red is warming and fruity but not heavy – perfect for the season transition.
We order some homemade sourdough while we enjoy our drinks and muse over the menu, (£3), and dipped in Kentish rapeseed oil it’s the perfect way to start the meal. Much like the Middle house’s aesthetics, the menu is a mix of contemporary dishes and classics, and starters range from pâté to Szechuan pepper squid. My guest chooses the ‘soup of the moment’ – a hearty vegetable and lentil offering served with crusty bread, while I choose the crab salad, which is as beautiful on the plate as it is on the palette – it’s served in a fresh and peppery cucumber and horseradish broth, and the crab is light and smooth.
Although I love burgers, usually when doing a food review I forego the option in favour of something that sounds – well – fancier. But despite being tempted by the roasted wild halibut or ﬁllet steak, in the end, the half pound steak burger with barbecue shrimps, avocado, chipotle mayo and triple cooked chips wins me over (£18.50) – it reads like a list of my favourite foods, and combining them in one meal can surely be no bad thing?
My gamble pays off – the burger is every bit as delicious as the menu suggests. Shrimp, beef and avocado together may not sound to some like a palette pleaser, but I can attest that it really is. Everything is cooked beautifully, ﬂavoursome but not overpowering, and the myriad elements that make up this meal work wonderfully together.
My guest has chosen a true autumnal offering – the assiette of local lamb, served with chargrilled late summer vegetables, potatoes and romesco and lamb jus. The dish boasts both rump and breast of lamb, and he comments that the breast is especially rich and ﬂavoursome. However, the lightness of the vegetables and the garlic and rosemary ﬂavours from the crispy potatoes ensure it isn’t too heavy – perfect for October evenings before the cold really sets in.
Nick asks us if we’d like to order dessert, and at ﬁrst we politely decline. But then I make the fatal error of asking what he would recommend were we to indulge.
“It’s got to be the chocolate fondant. It’s been on the menu for over 12 years – it’s true Middle house.”
Suddenly, we ﬁ nd we’ve ordered not one, but two desserts – as well as the classic fondant, we’ve also gone for another treat, the apple and brandy torte. When they come, we’re glad we did heed Nick’s advice – the fondant is everything you’d hope – warm, rich and the addition of a salted caramel sauce adds another dimension to the classic dish.
The apple and brandy torte is equally delicious. The calvados sorbet is the real hero of the dish, and complements the warming ﬂ avours of cinnamon while making the whole thing refreshing. Sadly we don’t actually manage to ﬁ nish either pudding, but we’ve deﬁ nitely made a dent. As we leave to retire for the night, Nick tells us what time breakfast will be served from. I tell him it’s unlikely I’ll want anything to eat for the next week, let alone in less than 12 hours time…
We wake to glorious autumn sunshine, and our room’s outlook over Mayﬁeld High Street on a quiet Sunday morning is picture perfect – I could sit and watch the world go by for hours.
But, get on with our day we must, and this means starting with breakfast down in the brasserie (despite swearing off food, it would be rude not to eat again…) This is when the new space really comes into its own – the glass framed room affords wonderful views over the Wealden countryside, and even if it’s a little chilly to dine outside, by sitting right by the sliding doors you can imagine you’re eating your full English (which is fantastic by the way) al fresco.
When I think of a weekend away, I automatically think of city breaks, or trips miles away, but with fantastic food, stunning views and plenty of history and character, who needs Milan when there’s The Middle House and beautiful Mayﬁeld right on our doorsteps?