This is a re-print of Jay Rayner’s reveiw from the Observer about my favourite restaurant in East Sussex @thecurlewbodiam [review]

Can’t read this email? Click here Date: Friday June 18th 2010

    

Jay gives Curlew top billing

The Observer review: The Curlew
Though simple and unpretentious, with 'chops and chips', The Curlew in East Sussex soars when it comes to taste…

On a Wednesday in late May, The Observer's Food Critic Jay Rayner visited The Curlew. Jay is the Food Critic on BBC 1's The One Show, in 2001 he was awarded 'Restaurant Critic of the Year' and in 2006 named by The British Press Award 'Critic of the Year'. Put simply, Jay is one of the most influential voices in British Food.

As you can imagine, we eagerly anticipated his review, which appeared in The Observer on Sunday, June 6th. For those of you who missed it, here are his interesting thoughts… 

I am emailed restaurant menus a dozen times daily which often come with press releases written by people who have English as a fifth language. They tell me that dishes are "mouth-watering" and they are the reason I don't keep lighter fuel in my office. If I had some I'd be spraying it at the screen and throwing a match in afterwards just to make a bloody point. Food writing 101: 'mouth-watering' is a meaningless term. Show me the dish that doesn't actively make the saliva glands work and I'll show you a lump of Plasticine. You might manage it with three cream crackers in a minute – impossible; I've tried – but that's a bet, not food.

 

'Success on a plate: The Curlew Restaurant's elegant dining room.
Photograph: Antonio Zazueta Olmos for the Observer'

The email with the menu from the Curlew said something like: "Have a look at this. You might like it." I had a look. They were right. God, but I must be getting predictable in my middle age. It listed a dish called 'chops and chips'. There were references to pork belly and bacon, capers and slow-cooked duck eggs and dripping. It was written in simple, uncluttered language, each word being turned to a purpose. This could describe the restaurant itself : a building of clean, white slatboard outside, and matt polished wood and gunmetal grey walls. It is elegant, simple and reassuring.

 

'The Curlew Restaurant's terrace 'touched by Japanese minimalism 
Photograph: Darren Ciolli Leach

The sun was shining for the first time this year, so we sat outside on the terrace, which is
touched by Japanese minimalism, but only furtively. With their still-warm bread they brought us a cube of salted butter and a disc of salted dripping flavoured with thyme which melted into a puddle of something that could only be mopped. Now I knew everything would be fine. The food here is evolved without being fetishised, each dish designed around a single ingredient that gets a role commensurate with its billing. So the duck egg has been cooked slowly until both white and yolk are a gel. Beneath are slices of just-warm smoked haddock, the whole dressed with brown shrimps, capers and impeccable hollandaise. It is nursery food for grown-ups, or grown-up food for kids. Another starter of cuttlefish, both tentacle and sliced body, comes with potatoes and cubes of deep-fried black pudding. Unfortunately it is served on a slate, a silly affectation, but my companion does wipe that slate clean.

 

And then my chops and chips, a slab of what the Americans call short rib and we call Jacob's ladder, slow-cooked for two days (yes, really) then darkly glazed and served with dripping-fried chips. I want a picture of it on my bedside table. The duck in another main, with rhubarb and fennel, was a little overdone – where was the blood? – but it still tasted properly of animal. Happily, desserts are up to the standard of the rest: a superb orange-flavoured burnt cream; a light, crisp-shelled almond cake in a puddle of syrup, and a riff on Waldorf salad – Stilton ice cream, walnuts, apple jelly, celery, a dash of sherbet – which shouldn't have worked but did. Please go. Sure, your mouth will water, but only because mouths always do. Much more important is this: the food is great. 
 

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