Places To Eat In East Sussex: The Stables at The Bell, Ticehurst

The team at The Bell Inn in Ticehurst invited J and I to dinner last week for the launch of The Stables, their literal pub stables done over as a quirky dining room where, instead of the traditional pub grub served next door Head Chef Mark Charker is presenting a theatrical, yet fantastic value tasting menu (£65 for 5 courses!) I’m really happy to have sampled for a fancy evening out with excellent wine in beautiful surroundings.

The Stables has their own bar, and yes whilst you could get a pint or wine there as you would in the pub proper, why do that when they’ve got their own cocktail menu instead? I’ll admit I was not wild about my tequila number but I was super impressed that almost every single cocktail on the menu came with a mocktail version so that those driving did not have to miss out – something I wish rural pubs would do a little more!

Now, before we kick things off with our pre-starters, an apology if I seem a little foggy on some of the details of dinner. I did take some notes, and no, I did not drink too much, but usually I save or snap a picture of the menu to help me write these reviews. And whilst obviously the little bits like the pre-starters, the bread, and the pre-dessert would not have been on there anyway, the menu was provided to us as riddles! So, as we sat there at our table sipping our cocktails having moved through from the bar, we spent some time trying to figure out what we were going to be eating: clearly ‘In a white hose, with no key or door / Center of yellow, / I’ll be up at daw, / To give my Hello’ was going to be something to do with egg, but ‘You’ll find us in town, / Serving lunches and treats/ We’re seen to be Greedy/ Just up the street’ had us both absolutely stumped. The jury is still out if we enjoyed this type of menu or not! I think I found it fun but J just wanted to know what he’d be getting for dinner!

To kick off the pre-starters, we’ve got a delicious little bite of homemade crumpet we loved, one topped with a delicate, textured crab remoulade, and the other with an olive tapenade for the dairy free option.

I mentioned that dinner would be theatrical right? A hollowed out book was next opened at the table filled with delicious, delicate tartlets of slow grazed beef with grated walnuts or parmesan cream.

My favourite pre-starter, however, was the cone of vegan feta mouse topped with a dap of vibrant piccalilli gel (the other was a parmesan cream). A beautiful bit of crunch from the shell, with brilliant rich flavours on the inside.

Another pre-starter that gets a special mention was this wonderful Jerusalem artichoke velouté with bits of the artichoke at the bottom topped with a generous amount of truffle and either chives or parmesan crisp. Both rich and light, and the perfect thing to anticipate the meal to come.

Now, I’m only picturing one glass of wine here because a glass of wine is a glass of wine, but I think, from start to finish the wine pairings were the thing I was most impressed with at The Stables, so if you’re not planning on driving any time soon I think the £35 wine flight to go with the tasting menu is an absolute must. A crisp Spanish white cut through earthy beetroot beautifully, a crisp Sicilian brought out the spices in the fish course. and the Cabernet Franc was the perfect pairing for the goat course (that was the impossible riddle, by the way) that came as our main.

But we’re not quite there yet, because it is time to talk about the bread course. We won’t talk about the little bacon bun (a little dry or crumbly) or the vegan aioli which tasted like kosher mayonnaise (that is not a good thing) but otherwise the light, almost brioche-like warm buns were rich and addictive, but savoury enough generously topped with seeds to make you think you were not already at dessert. My literal only complaint was that their delicious, addictive tops were a bit sticky so I had to pay a visit to the bathroom and wash my hands before moving onto the next course! They were only enhanced by the rich, I think whipped, cultured butter, and whilst it was a bit too much Marmite for me (I loathe it, though the one that used to be served at The Compasses in Crundale was addictivly good!) I absolutely adored it.

After so many delicious nibbles, it was actually a bit of a surprise to arrive at the tasting menu proper! I think our first course of earthy beetroot, matchsticked apple, I want to say polenta crisps and lots of delicious egg yolk was a lovely interplay of flavours and textures all brought together by the aforementioned Spanish white was lovely, but it was utterly overshadowed by my favourite course on the tasting menu: seared scallops served on an Indian-inspired spiced sauce with radicchio and a punchy, vibrant coconut spiced dal on the side. It is worth going right now for their current menu just to sample this dish.

We were also massive fans of our main: goat done three ways, honestly so unexpectedly as I’ve only really had it slow cooked before served with a vibrant, herbaceous oil and lots of seasonal vegetables I was not paying too much attention to with the goat on the plate because it was a revelation: rich, tender, a true rival to lamb if you’ve never had it cooked pink before here is the place to do it with unctuous layers of fat, crisp ends and a melt-in-the mouth texture. I’m now also rather excited to start cooking it myself at home.

Homemade limoncello served as a delicate yet addictive spritz was there to palate-cleanse before we moved onto the sweets; perfumed and bold, I need to make more of these at home.

Now, onto the puddings. I loved the flavour of our pre-dessert: a chocolate cream set atop a dish of incredibly tangy passion fruit jelly (I think citric acid might have been involved) topped with a beautifully textured, mousse-like mango cream. I do think the mint sugar collar missed the mark a little; debate aside over if mint would even work with the other flavours on the plate (well, at least we were debating it at the table!) the flavour got lost beneath the sharp fruit, only making itself known (and even then a little too mildly) when you tasted it by itself.

J enjoyed the dessert proper, a chocolate cream on a biscuit base with notes of honeycomb, but actually the fact I was doing the dairy free thing meant that I think I got a better deal: served with a delicious, light but not too delicate to skimp on flavour pear sorbet I was presented with the most perfect blood orange soufflé I’ve had in a very long time. Bold flavours, smooth texture, beautiful caramelisation on top and a melt-in-the-mouth finish? I went home happy. (It also I think paired better with the Sauternes we were enjoying with the dessert courses.

Petit fours to finish, a good ginger cake, a chocolate truffle and a piece of rich but delicious fudge. Then piling into the car to happily take the country-lane laden route home.

You can find out more about The Stables at The Bell and book a table here.