DESTINATION DINING

Destination Dining

CHARLIE BOND VISITS THE CURLEW IN BODIAM TO FIND OUT WHY THIS ELEGANT EATERY IS BACK ON THE MAP

I’m going to start this food review off on what may appear to be a morbid note. If I was on death row, and had to choose my last meal, this would be it. Except, obviously I hope I don’t end up in that situation, as I’d like to keep coming back to The Curlew for as long as possible.

It’s been a couple of years since SO last paid a visit to The Curlew – a former coaching inn situated just outside of Bodiam, and a stone’s throw from the medieval castle. Earlier this year it came under new ownership, and with that a new team – including head chef Gary Jarvis, an East Sussex native whose experience includes six years at The Ritz.

Other members of the SO team may have experienced The Curlew under its past ownership but this is my first time – and judging by its credentials (previously Michelin starred and with a string of accolades), it’s a trip worth making.

My guest and I are greeted at the door by sommelier James, who shows us to our table – a cosy corner where we can easily watch the world go by outside and in – and recommends our first drink of the evening – a glass of Gusbourne Vintage Brut Reserve (£9.50) from the Gusbourne estate near Tenterden.

Sipping on this zesty refreshing fizz, my attention turns to the décor, which is smart, quirky and stylish – tan leather seats make the restaurant feel homely, while a display of plates adorning the wall immediately catches my eye. Everything in the restaurant has a place, and the interior is well thought out and brilliantly executed.

While we peruse the menu, we’re brought an amuse bouche; a brie foam with bacon crisp and layer of cranberry, which is served in a teacup and is creamy and light, while managing to be both salty and sweet. This is a promising start, and we haven’t even ordered yet.

The menu boasts a mix of French and British classics with a modern twist. Everything sounds delicious, with the likes of langoustine and smoked quail on offer to start, but eventually I settle on the gazpacho with avocado, basil and black olive (£8), while my guest opts for the crab salad (£9.50). To further tempt our tastebuds, while we wait for our starters to be prepared, we’re presented with homemade sourdough with a selection of flavoured butters – my favourite is the beetroot butter which is a vibrant cerise and tastes deliciously smoky, while my guest prefers the ash butter with onion and pickle.

From our seats we can see the buzzing activity in the open kitchen, and no sooner is “service” called by Gary, before us are two plates of incredible looking food. And, I can confirm that they taste as good as they look – my guest’s crab is rolled in parcels of Chinese white radish and is light and delicate, while the flavours of my gazpacho are incredible – the creaminess of the avocado teamed with the tanginess of the tomato makes for a very pleasant dish indeed.

Seeking James’ professional advice again, ahead of my monkfi sh main course (£27) I order a glass of the Colette Gros Chablis (£9.75) which is crisp and refreshing, with a lively acidity.

It’s not long before the table is yet again adorned with sumptuous servings – my monkfish is delicately decorated with drops of zesty lemon jelly, beurre noisette, cauliflower and capers, oh and chicken wings too. It’s truly a sight to behold, and tastes even better – the fish is meaty and tender, the beurre noisette giving a warming sweetness, while the chicken is both crisp and succulent.

Lamb isn’t a meat we often have at home, so whenever he spots it on a menu, my guest is compelled to order – and today is no different – he’s selected the new season lamb (£28), which is tender, flavoursome beautifully cooked, and served with peas, mint and fondant potato. When I press him on where it ranks on his ‘best of ’ list, he admits that this may just have clinched the top spot.

Every last mouthful devoured, I feel a little gluttonous until I realise that every other diner in the restaurant have also cleared their plates, with some already tucking in to what appear to be some very decadent desserts. Not one to be outdone (and trying not to think about hitting the treadmill tomorrow), I order the chocolate brownie (£9.50) with my guest following suit.

This turns out to be an excellent choice – sprinkled with hazelnuts and served with both hazelnut and chocolate ice cream, a blackberry coulis and a caramel sauce, it is rich, with the bitterness of the chocolate and the sharpness of the fruit leaving a lingering impression after every mouthful. The caramel is divine, and once again, despite the richness of the dish, I find my plate empty. How did that happen?

By this point I am full, and sure I couldn’t possibly eat another morsel. But then, served with our coffees are an array of delicate petit fours, with pistachio oreos, passionfruit cubes and kirsch cherry bakewells on offer. And, somehow, these disappear too. I’ll have to move into the gym at this rate…

It may still be early days since The Curlew’s re-opening, but it would seem they’ve found their feet; the waiting staff are all polite, knowledgeable and attentive, the atmosphere is welcoming, and the food is out of this world. Gary tells me he hopes to bring the restaurant back to a destination dining experience, but I don’t think he’ll have to strive too hard – this is certainly a destination I’ll be visiting again, and judging by the other diners’ appreciative murmurs, they’ll be back too…

The Curlew, Junction Road, Bodiam, East Sussex, TN32 5UY, www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk,  01580 861 394