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The Curlew in Bodiam - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 89.
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Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
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The owners of The Curlew, husband and wife Mark and Sara Colley, have turned this former coaching inn into an attractive restaurant not far from Bodiam Castle, a 14th century medieval castle owned by The National Trust. The restaurant opened in 2009 with Neil McCue at the helm of the kitchen. In 2011 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. Neil McCue left The Curlew in September 2012 and was succeeded by Andrew Scott, former head chef of the Michelin starred The Dining Room at the Mallery Court Hotel in Leamington Spa.

The Curlew is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu (including a vegetarian menu) and there's a set lunch menu (2 courses £20, 3 courses £25). I had lunch at The Curlew with my husband on Monday 15 July 2013 and we each ordered three dishes (starter, main, dessert) from the a la carte menu and one extra starter for sharing.

With our aperitifs some nibbles arrived: Italian and Spanish olives, spicy popcorn and some nice and airy cheese gougères.

Ciabatta and stout bread with butter sprinkled with vulcanic rock salt.

The first starter (for sharing) was Potted crab, fennel cream, pickled mooli (daikon), ginger, crab biscuit. A glass jar with a lovely light and creamy fennel cream at the bottom, topped with a layer of freshly picked white crab meat and finally some crunchy pickled mooli and a few ginger croutons. A buttery puffed crab biscuit was served on the side. An elegant dish with nice and fresh flavours. The touch of aniseed from the fennel cream married well with and accentuated the sweetness of the crab.

An earthy sweet pea soup with a dollop of mint crème fraîche followed. The pea soup had a lovely velvetty consistency and the mint added a nice fresh contrast and it also intensified the pea flavours. With the soup came a delicious, buttery bikini sandwich.

My main course was a perfectly cooked piece of red mullet, served with pickled clams, celery, bulgur wheat, samphire and anchovy. Well-judged use of the anchovy, that had been turned into a fabulous, rich and foamy sauce described as an anchovy mayonnaise. Nice crunch and freshness from the celery and samphire. A fantastic, hearty dish with bold but balanced flavours. The lemon in the bulgur wheat delivered just the right amount of lightness.

Dessert was Lime and yoghurt parfait, compressed cucumber, gin sorbet, mint honey. A wonderful yoghurt parfait with a frozen lime centre, served with dots of fresh and intense lime gel and a lovely refreshing and zingy gin sorbet and a drizzle of mint honey. Also on the plate was some fantastic compressed cucumber and compressed apple (compressed with red verjus). A delightfully refreshing dessert with a lovely savoury touch from the cucumber and gin sorbet.

The debate about prices in Michelin starred restaurants shows no signs of dying down as Europe is facing a new economic reality in which the number of people who are able and willing to fork out large sums of money for a meal is dwindling. For the chef and for the restaurateur, life is easy when well-heeled diners come to their restaurants in droves to eat lobster, wagyu, truffle and caviar for eye-watering prices. Some still have that luxury, but most do not. In these cases the restaurateur and chef have to rely on their entrepreneurship and creativity to come up with concepts for attracting diners with high quality food that is still affordable to many.

The Curlew is a restaurant which does exactly that and does it very successfully. The Curlew ticks all the boxes of a modern Michelin starred restaurant, where the focus is not on expensive ingredients but on good cooking. The style at The Curlew is modern British, the dishes are sometimes more basic and on other occasions more playful, but the cooking is always accomplished. This results in clever food with creative touches that has flair and balance. The atmosphere in the handsome dining room is relaxed and the staff are welcoming and attentive. This is "très bonne cuisine", as Michelin puts it, and it is excellent value for money too. The next time my coach needs fresh horses, The Curlew will be an inn of choice.

Posted 23-08-2013


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