Tuesday, August 20

Andrew Kay: Dines Out

- January 26, 2016

Pass The Sherry

I can think of few better ways of starting my column than with a glass of sherry. Sherry? You may well ask, tucked away at the back of your granny’s sideboard, hoiked out on Christmas morning, dusted and poured into tiny glasses. It’s little wonder that we have left this most elegant of drinks on the back shelf for so long. Well not any longer, I’m joining in a current trend and outing sherry as the stylish tipple. And where better to start than with a glass of icy chilled fino. There are plenty to choose from but if you want something reliable then head straight to the Tio Pepe. Once as ubiquitous as Mateus Rosé, Tio Pepe is a great drink, crisp and dry but with real length, and served cold few drinks can match as a pre-dinner aperitif. Much as I love gin, the heady aromatic notes can spoil the palate for later delights whereas a nice dry sherry opens up the senses.
Ms C & Ms McD treated me to a Michelin starred dinner as my Christmas gift, a very welcome gift it was too and delivered as a mystery tour. Given a time of departure of 5.40pm, by car, I was able to guess that we would be visiting one of only a handful of michelin starred eateries that were within reach and none of them would have been a disappointing choice.
When we headed east though I was able to narrow that choice even further, and as we stopped in St Leonards to collect two dear friends and headed north I was confident that we were on our way to The Curlew.
It’s a few years since I reviewed The Curlew and chefs have changed but not their status as one of the finest restaurants for miles around. It’s a cosy place, not overly grand in any sense but smart nonetheless. I like the cosy and relaxed atmosphere and unpretentious service style. It means you can relax too and really enjoy the experience.

First out were parmesan biscuits, shortbread-like and meltingly good, and tiny ham croquetas, very nice indeed. The choices were superb and to be honest I would have been happy to eat any dish on the menu. In the end I threw caution to the wind, forgot my gout, and chose a dish of Cromer crab that was perfection. Creamy white meat balanced with a foamy brown flesh and dotted with perfectly balanced micro herbs, yes for once micro herbs earning their place on the plate.
Happy as I was I did envy Mr C’s magnificent oxtail dish, but it was a mighty portion and I was glad that I had chosen a more delicate option. Full marks for great sourdough too served with good butter and chicken butter with crispy chicken skin too. Yes, chicken butter, I will find out but think that no chickens were milked to make it.
Main courses were equally tempting. Mr C chose stone bass, the others the beef but I chose lamb. I love milk lamb but equally love lamb faggots and this dish came with a faggot. God it was good, the lamb pale and sweet, perfectly cooked and meltingly tender, the Jerusalem artichokes a soft earthy foil and the sauce sticky and savoury. With this we drank a bottle and then a carafe of Oxney Organic Estate Rosé, a wine that I hoped would match the starters as well as the fish and lamb. It was perhaps too light for the beef but those partaking did not seem to mind.IMG_0522
Dessert was a no-brainer, show me fig and I order fig. It was superb and came with a goat cheese ice-cream that blew me away. The others had ginger pudding, an apple confection and a bakewell tart with mincemeat that was slightly controversial as Mr H is a Derby lad.
Ms McD decided that dessert wines were in order and she and one other had a glass of the Muscat de Rivesaltes which they loved. But not for me, for me there was something far more special.
Which brings me back to sherry. I chose the Emilio Higado PX or Pedro Ximenéz. Long a favourite tipple, this viscous drink is dark fruits in a glass, treacly raisins and sultanas, chewy figs and sticky dates, all reduced to a plate coating tincture of heart-warming deliciousness.
The Curlew is as good as it was the first time. Beautiful food and wine in lovely surroundings with excellent inobtrusive yet still attentive service. As for sherry? Well I think I might just break out the Tio Pepe now.
The Curlew, Junction Road, Bodiam, East Sussex, TN32 5UY
01580 861394, www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk

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