The Cat Inn
Find historic surrounds, top notch food and rooms to hole up in at this cosy pub near Ashdown Forest
Despite the surprise glimpse of summer we’ve recently enjoyed, we’re not there yet and in the meantime there are few better places to hole up with some comfort food than the Muddy Award-winning The Cat Inn at West Hoathly.
This characterful pub is right opposite the village’s 900-year-old church and itself dates back to the 16th century. There’s a lovely inglenook fireplace and oak beams and, despite the name, plenty of dogs were lounging at their owners’ feet in the bar during my visit.
There are several eating areas – in a modern extension, just off the bar and in an ante room which, I’m told, used to house hens when the original inn kept its egg layers handily on site!
The atmosphere is not only created by the surroundings. When I visited I really liked the mix of customers in the inn. All too often there’s a gap between a destination pub that’s full of foodie day-trippers and a locals’ pub where visitors feel a bit out of place but it feels like The Cat marries the two well.
There were diners discussing local places to visit and a lively chat going on around the bar about the latest celebrity death in the news. It was a weekday, yet it was packed. A good sign but also a signal to get booked in early if you want to eat here.
Friendly owner Andrew Russell used to be general manager at Gravetye Manor so knows a thing or two about hospitality. He’s also got some great tales from his time travelling and an excitable spaniel Harvey who’s always keen to say ‘hello’.
Scoff & Quaff
In the dining area just off the bar I went for the salt and pepper squid while a starter of roasted pepper soup with walnut and basil pesto from the specials board went down very well with my husband who praised it to the last mouthful.
Afterwards I got stuck into the comfort food with a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils while he had the sea bass and roasted veg.
The cosy surrounds influenced my choice of the apple crumble – an enormous affair (in fact all the portions were generous) with a separate jug of custard. A classic brownie and ice cream was quickly demolished across the table. Spiced ginger cake was among other tempting options
Specials on the night included a savoury crumble teaming pheasant, chicken and ham hock. On the main menus you may find the likes of harissa and dill Cornish mussels with beer bread; venison and pork scotch egg with salad; a tapas sharing board; steak; burgers; Harvey’s beer battered fish and chips, steak, mushroom and ale pie; 12 hour pork belly and sesame glazed tofu.
Drinks wise, it was good to see plenty of Sussex stars on the menu with a good selection of local sparkling wines, real ales and gins.
Don’t miss the special pop-up coming up on Tues 20 March when Dominic Chapman, who has had a string of appearances on The Great British Menu, is creating a special multi-course meal with cauliflower cheese soup, a wood pigeon salad, ox cheeks, a lemon and blueberry posset and petit fours.
The four bedrooms (in a Victorian extension) are smart and comfortable, well up to hotel standards, with great king size beds and other luxe touches like fluffy bathrobes with the Cat Inn logo, Nespresso machines, quality teas and toiletries. Andrew has also thoughtfully provided an array of magazines and Sussex guide books.
There’s a decent amount of space should you wish to, err swing a cat. I stayed in the room opposite the church but as they weren’t all booked out on my visit I also had a peek at the suite, which had a lounge area with sofa bed.
On the landing you’ll find a book case with vintage Vanity Fairs and a mini fridge with fresh milk.
With my other half having to make an annoying unscheduled trip to London early the next morning, owner Andrew thoughtfully left him cereal and fruit in the fridge so he wouldn’t go without breakfast.
I had mine at a more lesiurely time and tucked into beautifully seasoned eggs and roasted tomatoes along with museli, yoghurt and fruit from an array spread on my table in the bar.
In the area
West Hoathly is well positioned on the edge of Ashdown Forest and close to the Bluebell Railway and Kew Gardens’ sister site Wakehurst and also not far from Borde Hill and Sheffield Park. The 15th century Priest House, which once belonged to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, is in the same village and Kent’s Hever and Leeds castles are an easy day trip.
You could also consider The Cat Inn as a dinner spot or an overnighter if you’re catching a show at The Hawth in Crawley or a flight from Gatwick (less than 10 miles away). It’s a lovely rural area – I had to stop for a herd of deer crossing the road on my approach. In the summer there’s camping in a nearby field.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Great food, high spec rooms and a friendly welcome. Historical characterful surrounds. Walks and local attractions. A cosy pre-flight stopover. Dogs (in the bar area).
Not so good for: Children need to be 7 + to stay over (there’s a sofa bed in one room or Z beds can be arranged) so it’s best for a break from rather than with toddlers. There’s a patio area but not a full garden.
££: Starters around £4 – £8.50; mains £13 – £18; dessert £7-£8. Rooms from £130.
The Cat Inn, North Lane, West Hoathly, West Sussex, RH19 4PP, 01342 810369, catinn.co.uk
The Dominic Chapman pop-up menu on 20 March is £70 including wine.