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Review: Sussex Pass at The White Hart, Wadhurst

An upmarket restaurant from an established Sussex foodie team, housed within a cosy village pub with a menu that celebrates the best of local food and drink.

Sussex Pass has been on our radar since it launched in December 2020 at the White Hart, a classy village pub in the heart of the equally classy village of Wadhurst, East Sussex. The ethos of this new eatery from Sam Maynard, formerly of The Gallivant, and head chef Adam Sear, is to celebrate the amazing food and drink being produced in Sussex and across the border in Kent, with everything as seasonal and locally-sourced as possible. Menus are compact and simplistic, with a focus on local grass-fed meat, game, fish and veg and include an a la carte menu and Sunday brunch and lunch along with suggested wines for pairing. Pub classics such as burgers, fish and chips and hearty roasts feature, along with dishes created to celebrate seasonal ingredients such as a spectacular-looking asparagus salad which frankly, I wish I’d ordered. But I’m running ahead. Let’s take a look around inside first, shall we?

THE VIBE

According to the lovely Sam the White Hart, which he’s owned for a few years now, has always been very much a village pub and it’s popular with drinkers and foodies alike. An established figure on the Sussex hospitality scene, he’s used his connections and local knowledge to sniff out the best suppliers.

The inside of the place, when I rolled up with the Mudlets in tow, was immaculate, cosy and featured rustic blue and burnished brass tones. New luxe velvety grey furniture begged to be sat on (or sunk into), but sadly we’re only permitted outdoor dining at the moment and the girls and I were ushered to a delightful terrace, drenched in sunlight and all spotless, spacious and super inviting.

We were here to sample the Sunday brunch and lunch menu, and it was a great time to visit to get a feel of who might frequent Sussex Pass. The answer – everybody! Families (including dogs), drinkers, couples, groups of friends – all were welcomed with open arms. Just one consideration for those with very active toddlers or little ones, the terrace isn’t massive and there’s no play equipment or rolling fields to hurtle around and keep them entertained.

SCOFF AND QUAFF

Is it possible to regret eggs Benedict? Well, yes, because I had eggs Benedict and they were so delicious I wolfed the lot, almost instantly, and was then too full to try much else on the menu. Absolute rookie error. They were sensational though, perfectly poached with sublime runny yolks and the quality of the ham was outstanding. The Hollandaise was also a triumph. Sam served up some homemade bread, beautifully presented along with homemade salted and Marmite butter and diving into this was rookie error no2, it was so light and perfectly textured but between that and the eggs Benedict, I was done.

My daughters have more sense than me and chose smaller brunch dishes as starters. The oat milk porridge with poached rhubarb and apple compote was sweet and creamy, with a delicious tartness from the fruit which also had the most delightful neon pink hue. My older daughter went for poached eggs with smoked bacon and asparagus and this was another traditional dish done exceptionally well. The salty, crisp bacon went perfectly with the eggs and the asparagus had just the right amount of bite. Alongside the usual green asparagus was a larger, lighter tasting and more textured white asparagus.

The girls then requested fish and chips, an excellent choice because I think you can tell so much about a restaurant or pub by the way it approaches these seemingly simple classics. The white fish used varies depending on what’s been sustainably sourced – today it was haddock and the quality absolutely shone through, in both taste and texture. A light-as-air Harveys batter, along with equally light skin-on fries and crushed peas, completed the experience but this really was all about the fish. In fact, I’d say it was a celebration of the fish – exactly what Sussex Pass was created to do.

We rounded off with puddings (don’t worry, I found room). I had an absolutely dreamy dark chocolate cremeux with hazelnut, sea salt and milk sorbet that was essentially like a grown-up Nutella. Rich, decadent and oh so moreish, with the milk sorbet adding a nostalgic hint of a Mini Milk and contrasting with the richness and depth of the chocolate. The girls both had beignets (essentially small donuts) with apple compote and the most incredible caramel. Sweet, but not too sweet, and another nostalgic flavour combination. Think grown up toffee apple, with the most incredible melt-in-the-mouth texture.

The Mudlets and I don’t drink (tbf they’re 7 and 9 so this may change in future) so I had a latte made with locally-sourced Backyard coffee, from Ditchling, and the girls had various iterations of fizzy pop and fruit juices into which they dropped the sugar lumps served with my coffee when they thought I wasn’t looking. The wine list is extensive and impressive and features Sussex produce including sparkling from Rathfinny and Nyetimber and still wines from Stopham, Sussex gins and spirits, alongside a full list of old and New World wines.

Part of the joy of eating out is seeing what other people order and I ogled enviously as sensational looking burgers and the most beautiful asparagus salad were brought out. The Sunday roasts also looked spectacular and featured without a doubt the largest and most perfectly-formed Yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen.

AROUND AND ABOUT

Wadhurst is an adorable Sussex village in the heart of the Weald AONB and just a stone’s throw from fantastic family days out at Bodiam Castle, Bateman’s at Burwash, Bewl Water and other attractions in East Sussex and Kent not necessarily beginning with B. Eastbourne, Hastings, Rye and Camber are also not far away.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: A fabulous pit-stop for brunch, lunch or dinner with the family, friends or a deux. I’d also come here for a date night, the lighting and vibe is intimate enough. The place has an open arms feel, like you could just roll up and space would be made for you, tables shoved together (maybe not during Covid), food brought out and all would be merry.

Not for: I wouldn’t personally come here with babies and small kids. I’m sure they’d be welcome, but Sussex Pass is about savouring and taking your time, not wolfing your meal because the baby’s fussy and the toddler’s overdue a nap or, er, you can’t resist the eggs Benedict.

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