Thrills & frills
When entertaining visitors from abroad, Sussex has plenty to offer, perhaps too much. My guest Chef Audrey Eussen certainly thought so as we wheeled her round the county tasting good food. I knew that we would need lunch somewhere and a quick look at the map showed that we would be passing The Rainbow at lunchtime, so I booked a table.
I often ate at The Rainbow when I first moved to Brighton but had not been for years. It has now been taken over by Marco Pierre White and is part of his rapidly expanding empire of pubs. Not that it is much like a pub. I don’t mean that as a criticism either, The Rainbow looks splendid. He certainly doesn’t skimp in any sense and the interior is rather grand with walls covered in political cartoons and tables laid with black cloths covered in cream lace and fabulous tableware. It has the feel of a period coaching inn and I love that.
The menu options are wide and reflect the season’s produce. We all read the a la carte, but in the end found happiness with the lunch menu which at £18.50 a head for three courses, seemed to promise great value.
Of course I have been caught out like that before, where the bargain menu on offer is not only reduced in price, but in portion size too. Not here. I can certainly say that the food here, whilst being stylishly presented and fashionably classic, is robust trencherman’s fare.
I started with calve’s tongue and remoulade. I love my offal and tongue is delicious stuff, especially when this well prepared, pressed and sliced with great remoulade, and all in a portion that was plentiful. After the lace table cloths there’s nothing dainty about Mister MP White’s concept. My guests enjoyed an equally generous ham hock salad with poached egg and wild garlic, egg benedict and a beetroot and goats cheese salad that made the vegetarian smile.
I moved on to have the fish and chips and on its arrival it drew ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of admiration. Quite rightly so, crisp batter and perfect flaky fish served in a small copper pan with excellent, freshly prepared tartare sauce. I tentatively ordered a side of mushy peas, in all honesty expecting some poncy southern crushed, frozen pea nonsense. But hats off to MPW, a Yorkshire man at heart, for insisting that his chefs do a proper job. Perfect mushy peas, what a treat. There was detail too, half a lemon for squeezing was wrapped in muslin and the vinegar brought with it was unashamedly Sarson’s.
Chef Andy Mackenzie chose roast beef salad with new potatoes and loved the excellent rare beef, good leaves and hot buttered potatoes on the side. The Dutch, keen to eat British, chose shepherd’s pie and both loved it, although after hearty starters, found it pretty large. Again no skimping here.
We tried halves of The Governors Bitter and Cider, made for MPW exclusively and both very good. I would have liked more but we had a very long day ahead of us. That didn’t stop me ordering a pudding though.
Rice pudding seemed like a good idea. I’m very particular about rice pudding and I don’t like it too creamy. I like it milky with speckles of melted butter and a nice skin, brown at the edges and golden in the middle. I didn’t get skin sadly, but the rest was pretty damned good and the aged prunes soaked in armagnac added a nice touch of luxury. I’m not a jam in rice pudding sort of a guy, that’s just dirty, but prunes, well they’re sophisticated I reckon. Chef Andy had some cheese, again generous, but the others stopped at two courses and perhaps so should I, but hey, the job has to be done!
The Rainbow is a real delight, the food excellent and great value too, the room stunning but almost equal in importance are the staff. We were looked after with great skill by Angelo, who I had met before at another restaurant. The whole thing simply shouts ‘CLASS’, and I borrow those capital letters from my old mate Ms Julie Burchill, who uses them when she thinks something is really worth shouting about.
It’s a few miles north of Lewes so you will need to find a mate to drive, or not drink, or do it by bike even. I hope to return very soon and try some of the other dishes – by whatever means.
The Rainbow Inn, Resting Oak Hill, Cooksbridge, East Sussex, BN8 4SS
01273 400334 www.rainbowsussex.co.uk