THE CURLEW: FOOD STAR
The kerfuffles over M*chel*n becomes ever more insignificant as the years roll by. Let’s face it, if you work in or own a restaurant it’s nice to get recognition for your travails during the year but as a guide on to where to eat out: not so much.
Having said that where once the stars would guide you towards food that was overwrought and tasted nothing of itself (Canon of Lamb anyone?) now it does at least cover a few more styles than the essentially poncified. Amen to that.
The Curlew in Bodiam, East Sussex is the very antithesis of that ornate style: by that I mean the sort of place where simultaneous cloche-lifting has been raised to fine art and where it takes a few seconds to focus in on the small assemblage in the middle of a very large plate and realise it was your main course.
Certainly there is a good level of technique and refinement to the food at The Curlew but the whole experience still came over as relaxed and unaffected and very enjoyable.
The kitchen is obviously a big follower of ace businessman and all-round good guy Tom Aikens as everything is served on boards. I know of few foods which are improved by being served on planks of wood and in some cases it’s a downright hindrance to eating one’s grub.
Take my first starter of Herring. Big meaty fillets of lightly soused Herring were served in a min-kilner jar with some grated horseradish, a little cream of that root and some Rye bread. Beautiful to taste, but a bugger to try and eat.
A second starter of Yorkshire Black Pudding was a clever assembly of Watercress, little balls of crisp sweet apple and interspersed with cubes of rich Foie Gras. The turnover had lovely, buttery, flaky pastry but I found the Black Pudding slightly claggy and its rich taste didn’t come through like it should have. Still, an enjoyable dish.
The signature Chop and Chips turned out to be more than the sum of its parts. Jacob’s Ladder (short rib) had been cooked sous-vide for, oh, ages and ages. I’m not a fan of this method of cooking. Sure, it’s convenient for the kitchen and the results are very consistent: even colouring; moistness. But like all meat that has been cooked this way you end up something that is not terribly interesting. Beef needs to be cooked so that it has a wider range of tastes and textures. Chips cooked in Beef Dripping were verging on the fat but just rescued from that chip graveyard.
Surprisingly, the most impressive element was the zippy, mayo-free coleslaw, something that Barbecoa tried to do but failed quite miserably. It may sound like I didn’t enjoy the dish but despite the small individual weaknesses as a whole it was well balanced and just worked.
The kitchen has a pretty sure hand with puds as well – a Chestnut honey tart was light and soft and refined although serving the equally delicious Green Walnut ice cream on a board just seemed weird. At least my Mince Pie ice cream (which actually did taste of mince pies) was served in a bowl.
The service from a handful of young women was relaxed and friendly yet utterly professional: when I mentioned a mini-Bakewell pudding I had seen wafting passed me earlier in the meal they rustled one up to go with my (excellent) coffee. The owners even arranged for a taxi to take come and pick me up from the nearest station – recommended as The Curlew is in the middle of nowhere – and to deposit me less steadily back on the London bound train.
Oh, and The Curlew has just got recognition from the Fat Tyre Man - but I doubt it will change them. Amen (again) to that.