To say that your average Londoner is hungry for a holiday is an almost laughable understatement. For most, after over a year spent primarily hunkered on the sofa, the desire to go anywhere not contained within a one-mile radius of your house is probably on a par for urgency with the need to keep breathing. But considering that most of the world requires an intimidating barrage of tests and quarantines and England is currently basking in the kind of heat that puts the south of France to shame, there’s no better time to explore our green and pleasant land.
It was in this Blakean spirit that we took the 50-minute train ride from London Bridge to the Sussex Pass in the picturesque market town of Wadhurst, a stone’s throw from Tunbridge Wells. The town is surrounded by a snaking map of rambles that arc through the woods and fields of the nearby Weald reservoir, encompassing the kind of bucolic scenery that you usually find illustrating some of Beatrix Potter’s more pastoral scenes. Still, no matter how charming the locale (which even ranges to the occasional castle) this is a dining out review rather than an ordnance survey map, so let’s put the focus back on the Sussex Pass. By this point there are probably more gastropubs in London than pigeons, so you might question the point of coming all the way to Wadhurst for more of the same. However, let me assure you there is nothing routine about the quality of the food that Sussex Pass is serving.
Whilst the natural holiday temptation to grab a pint was hard to fight (The Sussex Pass is contained within the mock-tutor environs of the White Hart Pub), we were soon happily ensconced on the outside, dining in the blazing sun. The Sussex Pass is a project by Sam Maynard, formerly of The Gallivant, and head chef Adam Sear, aimed at spotlighting the fantastic local fare to be found across Sussex (with a couple of incursions from nearby Kent). Between them they do a fantastic job of showing how talent and passion can make even the oldest favourite sing sweeter than a thousand high concept eateries. For starters, I opted for the torched mackerel with grapefruit gel and pickled salad (at a reasonable £8.50) which arrived on a sunburst plate with the salad arrayed as jauntily on the mackerel as a race day fascinator. Tucking in, the contrast between the crispy fish and the cool tang of the grapefruit gel was an unexpected delight; coupled with the pickled salad, each mouthful strobed through the three excellently balanced flavours like a culinary merry-go round.
For the main, spurred on by the glorious weather (and more than a little by the glass of rather excellent champagne that had somehow found its way into my hand) I committed to the Roast rack of lamb, served with spring bean salad and salsa verde (priced at a rather steeper £21.50). The meat proved heartbreakingly tender and was served up in truly bountiful quantities. So enamoured was I, that it was only the delicious crispness of the accompanying zesty spring bean salad that prevented me from seriously considering packing in writing in favour of joining a pack of wolves so as to commit to being a carnivore full time.
Whilst by this point the idea of eating any more food seemed a concept of the purest hubris, once the dessert menus flitted onto our table our ambition was roused to Icarian levels. Throwing caution to the reckless winds I sprang for the apple compote with salted caramel (£7). The tart flavour overlayed with lashings of caramel decadence tasted like the kind of dessert served in pre-Revolutionary Versailles, but alas my full belly rose to the role of Robespierre and saw me have to abandon the delicious treat unfinished.
As a post-prandial day out Wadhurst has a lot to offer. Personally my girlfriend and I emerged blinking from the train from London at around 10am, spent the morning exploring Tunbridge Wells before hopping on the bus to Wadhurst and taking in the Sussex Pass, then whiled away the rest of the afternoon rambling to the nearby lake, the Weald. For those equipped with cars however, the surrounding activities open up exponentially, with the aforementioned Bodiam Castle and Weald Country Park. The Sussex Pass works perfectly as a delicious pitstop or as a destination all of its own.
Instagram: @sussex_pass Facebook: @sussexpass
The White Hart
High St, Wadhurst TN5 6AP
Wednesday – Saturday, lunch: 12pm-2.30pm, dinner: 5.30pm-8.30pm, Sunday 10am-4pm