The Curlew, Bodiam
Muddy visits one of Sussex's best restaurants - a double Muddy Award finalist! - for a real foodie experience
A meal at The Curlew has been on my wish list for a while, not least because it’s a double Muddy Awards finalist. It’s quite a drive from where I live but when I finally paid a visit it was certainly worth the miles.
It’s not an everyday sort of dining spot – a glance at the menu has you thinking ‘special occasion’ (start dropping hints for your next birthday or anniversary now!) but with an affordable set lunch menu it’s a treat you don’t necessarily need an excuse for.
Formerly a 17th century coaching inn, today The Curlew is a modern-looking restaurant. It’s certainly fine dining but don’t presume the surroundings are too formal because someone has worked hard to mix the smart with the quirky. Cow paper (I’m told it’s a love-hate thing – I loved it), a stag-shaped mirror and contemporary plates with faces add a touch of fun to the walls. In keeping with the bistro-style look it’s tablecloth-free and there’s some enticing banquette seating.
A log burner is a welcoming touch in the lobby area where you can linger with a drink. When it’s warm enough you can eat outside on the small garden terrace, where there are some pretty raised planters filled with herbs and edible flowers.
Scoff & quaff
There’s a new management team and a new head chef, Gary Jarvis, who hails from East Sussex and uses local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible.
The food is modern British and there’s a great deal of creativity involved in the flavour juxtapositions and presentation, including those edible flowers.
Adding to the sense of occasion, we were first brought a selection of really interesting canapes. There was a tartlet with blue cheese, apple pureé, crispy shallot and chive, a beetroot merengue with goat cheeses and black olive powder, and, my favourite, a charcoal tapioca cracker topped with salmon mousse, bee pollen and pickled cucumber.
Though the menu was short it was good to note it included two interesting veggie options. The restaurant also checked in advance for any dietary hiccups and had noted my husband’s allergy, ready to advise.
To start, my husband had super fresh English peas with asparagus, back garlic, mint and Yorkshire fettle, which tuned out to be similar to feta. It made a pretty plateful.
I chose crab in light pancake-style rolls with the most amazing cubes of zingy lime. All the flavours just sung out from the dish, which also had a wonderful variety of textures.
For my main I had duck breast with cherries – something of a classic these days, but it came with the twist of cute tiny turnips along with a potato terrine. The plump cherries were just the right level of sweet and sour. My husband’s halibut was a crispy dish teamed with cauliflower, lemon, capers and parsley.
Desserts were a work of art. After some wrangling (we both fancied the sticky toffee and apple) my other half ended up with that, while, so that we could mix and match, I settled on a dark chocolate ganache-style concoction, with blackberries and a strong fruity sorbet cutting through the richness. To add to the visuals and texture it came sprinkled with ground pistachios and pink peppercorns.
The toffee tart meanwhile proved a dreamy, nostalgia-inducing treat with teardrop-shaped miniature toffee apples perched on top.
Though it was a nippy night and I went for a Malbec with my main, it was good to see Sussex and Kent sparklings get a good share of the wine list.
In the area
There’s plenty of interest locally to help you work The Curlew into a day out or weekend break.
There’s also King John’s Nursery, which has a gorgeous tea garden and access to the eight acre gardens of King John’s Lodge, and do drop in on Muddy Award Winning deli/farm shop Eggs to Apples at Etchingham.
All in all, The Curlew is one of Sussex’s best restaurants, with beautiful fine dining in unstuffy surrounds. It was one of those memorable foodie experiences you talk about long after… and we had the bonus of spotting a badger in a country lane nearby as we made our way home.
The Muddy verdict:
Good For: Celebrations. A lunch treat for work or play. The highlight of a romantic weekend break in the area. Veggie dishes get equal menu space to meat and fish.
Not for: Children would have to be very good to deserve this grown-up dining (though they’d love those desserts!) You’ll need to drive, so that means a taxi if all your party wants to drink.
The Damage: On the a la carte menu mains are around £26/27 (vegetarian options £18.50/£19); A six course tasting menu is £80 per person (£40 extra for a wine flight); the set lunch menu is £22 for two courses, £28 for three.
The Curlew, Junction Road, Bodiam, East Sussex, TN32 5UY thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk