Places To Eat In East Sussex: The Union, Rye

As I explore the lovely cobbled town of Rye, just over the boarder in East Sussex a little more, my list of places I want to eat there is rapidly expanding. Next on on my radar to check out? The Union: a lovely little sharing plates spot down a quieter street just off the main thoroughfare which made for a fantastic girls lunch spot (though, looking at the wine and cocktail list, you won’t go wrong there in the evenings, either!)

There are a good amount of local Kent and Sussex wines listed, as well as local lager and a lovely, streamlined international wine list, too. On antibiotics precluding me from even a drivers glass of something, I turned to their virgin mojito made with agave, mint and lime. Not too sweet, and both very refreshing and well balanced, whilst I’d have preferred wine, it took the edges off my disappointment somewhat!

We kicked things off in style with bread, butter and oysters. The toasted sourdough was lovely and the seedy sourdough crackers came as a pleasant surprise: the wild garlic butter was also brilliant, pungent without being too garlicky on the breath! I can really recommend a half dozen of their Colchester Rock Oysters: as well as being meaty and wonderfully briny, they’re absolutely huge! On the side as well as lemon wedges they arrived with an unnecessary – albeit still lovely – dashi, chilli and cucumber mignonette.

Lovely is also the word I’d use to describe their house ricotta served with bitter orange, beetroot and oregano, though it did miss the mark slightly. The ricotta was light, rich, creamy and very more-ish, contrasting well with the bitter orange puree, though the beetroot and oregano seemed they were just there for visual effect, rather than to add any discernible flavour to the dish, a bit of a disappointment. I’d really fancied beetroot, so I wish I’d also ordered the side of ‘heritage beetroot, sweet wine reduction’ for the table.

We adored the shaved kohlrabi and green apple, served with a romesco-style charred chilli puree, roasted hazelnuts, fresh lemon and caraway. It was fresh, wonderfully textured and very unusual in taste, whilst still being a very simple dish. Get this.

A touch more salt would not have gone amiss, and perhaps the chef might have recommended the meat be cooked a little rarer, but these are simply notations on rather revisions required to the charred Winchelsea flat iron steak served with balsamic shallot and a rather excellent chimichurri. One for you if you’ve got a meat lover at the table!

The real star of the show, our favourite dish and the reason you ought to go and book a table at The Union right now are the fresh crevettes served in a burnt butter, heavy with garlic and parsley, and with a charred wedge of lemon on the side. The prawns were impossibly fresh with a beautiful flavour, but that butter. Browning the butter took this simple preparation to the next level: we were pouring it over our potatoes, scooping it up with leftover crackers, and wishing we’d not finished off all our bread with the wild garlic butter. So simple, yet so memorable.

We shared a pair of desserts. First, a refreshing scoop of Chapel Down Gin & Tonic Sorbet, served with a lime wedge for spritzing just before diving in, in a little bowl of juicy poached rhubarb. Light, simple, and with bright, clean flavours. Get this if you’ve eaten too much of the savouries, you don’t want to miss out and you won’t be disappointed!

However, another star dish from The Union for me was the dark chocolate rice pudding topped with both juicy slices of blood orange, and lightly candied, slightly bitter peel. Okay, so the whole thing could have done with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt to balance it out a little better, but it was rich without being cloying, toothsome without being hard, and extremely comforting.

Honestly, I can highly recommend The Union for a lovely lunch, I’ll certainly be back. I know I’ve noted a few improvements that could have been made to the dishes, but between the two of us at the table we both work in food, we’re both obsessive cooks, I literally cook for a living. And as I mentioned, they’re noted not corrections. I promise you’ll really enjoy The Union (especially if you want somewhere you can book, unlike my other love The Standard) on your next trip to Rye.