With its beautifully cooked and presented food, picturesque garden views and warming local ales by the fire, The Middle House in Mayfield captured reviewer Frederick Latty’s appetite from an early age. Now, he returns to the pub and restaurant to see a friend off on their globetrotting travels.
It’s never easy to see a dear friend fly the nest, particularly when they’re planning on cycling around the world for two years. But fly they must, so it’s important to mark the occasion with an appropriate send-off. And for this particular friend, who has been in my life for almost two decades, I can think of no better place to say bon voyage than his favourite culinary haunt, The Middle House in Mayfield.
Now, I have a confession to make: this isn’t my first visit to the 16th century inn, nor to the picturesque East Sussex village. Far from it, in fact, since my 10 years as a local saw me land my first job as a humble kitchen porter at the pub, where I scrubbed dishes and prepped vegetables every Saturday night, scraping together enough money to see me adequately through my teenage years.
Indeed, the Grade I listed building has been something of a second home to my friend and I for many years since, so when we arrive on the eve of his departure, we’re greeted by the familiar surroundings, friendly faces and mouth-watering sights and smells we know and love so well.
Which isn’t to say that our view of the place has become in any way rose-tinted, of course; our repeat business and return visits speak volumes and it’s surely to the restaurant’s credit that we’ve seen countless other acquaintances fall in love with it just as fervently as we have.
Having already ordered from a set menu, 16 of us take our seats in the main restaurant; more traditional, equally delicious pub grub is served in the bar, but this is the fancier area where booking is most definitely advised. Spirits are high as we order our drinks, my own choice being a 2013 Chronos Malbec (£15.95). It’s just the thing to set me up for the long, leisurely feast to come, its deep colour and creamy, currant fruit flavours proving utterly irresistible.
Everyone’s ravenous by the time the starters arrive, and we couldn’t be more satisfied with our options. The chicken liver pâté with red onion marmalade and baguette flutes (£7) is a sheer delight; as smooth as it is rich, the pâté is perfectly complemented by the sweet onion, while a side salad adds a refreshing kick to the wonderfully crunchy bread.
The mains are even more impressive and what everyone has been waiting for. The slow roast belly of pork with crackling and a Madeira, plum and ginger sauce (£16) is a popular choice among many in our party, myself included, while elsewhere I spot the similarly appetising chicken supreme with leeks and Mayfield cheese (£16), as well as the roast sea bass fillet with sun blushed tomato and herb mash (£17), both of which leave my fellow diners suitably satisfied.
As for my friend, I’ve managed to pull a few strings and order him something from the bar menu – his all-time favourite – the half roast chicken with stuffing wrapped in bacon, mixed vegetables and (the best bit) roast and dauphinoise potatoes (£13). Needless to say, he’s thrilled with the choice and the envy of many; I should point out that this go-to option has been endowed with an almost otherworldly reputation among our peers due to countless rave reviews from the pair of us.
In between courses, we take the opportunity to swap seats, catch up and regale one another with fond anecdotes about our friend before he takes his leave.
It’s funny – if these walls could talk, our names would no doubt be mentioned, but tonight they have taken on a noticeably bittersweet tone at seeing us enjoy ourselves here for the last time in a long time.
There’s still plenty of merriment to be had, however, not to mention some indulgent desserts to sink our teeth into. As the third course rolls out, we’re all miraculously able to push through our barriers and engage our ‘second stomachs’, welcoming the warm chocolate fondants, pear and apple crumbles and sticky toffee puddings (all £6.50) with open arms.
It transpires that I guessed wrong for my friend’s surprise pudding of choice, so, in an act of gallant sacrifice, I agree to swap my fondant for his crumble – unthinkable to give up chocolate for anything or anyone, I know, but needs must. Fortunately, my replacement is every bit as scrumptious, the cinnamon and oatmeal crust with crème Anglaise adding a different angle to the traditionally custard coated classic.
Once we’ve finished eating, we retire to the lounge area where plenty of avid chitchat, photo opportunities and laughter at my friend’s leaving speech ensues. As I watch him say his goodbyes, I can’t help but look back at our time together at The Middle House – a place where we’ve spent many an hour laughing, drinking, eating and dreaming about what the future might hold.
Well, now the future’s here, but while I’m sad to see him go, I know I’ll see him again, more than likely in this very spot, to hear about his latest travelling adventures. As for me, I’ll be waiting with pint and menu at the ready, safe in the knowledge that our favourite pub isn’t going anywhere fast and will forever remain a symbol of an enduring and unbreakable friendship.
The Middle House
High Street, Mayfield,
East Sussex TN20 6AB
01435 872 146