Review: The Cat Inn
“I rarely order soup in restaurants as its, well, boring isn’t it? And can often be disappointing if a venue is trying to do it on the cheap (by filling it out with potato) But I fancied it. I have to say I was impressed.”
The Cat Inn in West Hoathly won the 2016 Sussex Eating Experience of the Year (with the recently reviewed Sussex Ox taking runner up position) and so of course it’s been on my list of places to try for some time. Maarten and I were well overdue for a catch-up so we decided to enjoy a long and leisurely lunch at this acclaimed venue.
The Cat Inn has many traditional elements – the original part of the building, which is antiquated and pleasant enough, as well as being a ‘proper pub’. Unfortunately, we were seated in the other part of the establishment – an extremely ugly modern extension that wouldn’t be out of place on a council estate. Nothing wrong with council estates, except that I don’t want to dine in one. Never mind. Hopefully the food and service would redeem…
The menu is extensive (a worry) with most of the dishes sounding promising. I really fancied one of the mains for my starter; Autumn Squash, Zatar Spiced Bulgar Wheat, Pomegranate, Whipped Goats Cheese (£13.50). I asked if the chef could do me a starter size version. No, I was told. I politely asked why not, and was told “because the butternut squash is large”. So I asked if it could be portioned and made into a smaller dish. I was told ‘No, because then I’d be left with half a butternut squash’. Blimey. Perhaps they were expecting a coach load of vegans that evening.
I was clearly in a squash mood as I settled for the butternut squash soup. Maarten went for the Curried Lamb Scotch Egg with Mango Chutney, Coriander and Red Onion Salad (£7).
Things started well. I rarely order soup in restaurants as its, well, boring isn’t it? And can often be disappointing if a venue is trying to do it on the cheap (by filling it out with potato) But I fancied it. I have to say I was impressed. The squash flavour was rich. Parmesan may well have been used to enhance the dish, and the use of cream made this a luscious delight. The accompanying focaccia was good quality but could have done with being warmed up. Maarten’s Scotch egg was excellent. Crisp on the outside, the curried lamb mince flavoured with cumin and coriander, and the egg in the middle perfectly cooked with an oozing yolk. A new take on a pub classic, perfectly executed.
For mains I chose Roast Rump of Sussex Lamb, Parmesan Gnocchi, Crushed Peas, Charred Onion, Runner Beans and Hazelnut Gremolata (£18) and Maarten went for Steak Mushroom & Ale Pie, Chips or Mash, Sussex Vegetables (£14.75). My lamb was overcooked but otherwise this was a nice dish, well presented. The Gnocchi was a bit overcooked and rigid (I think they had been pre-cooked and heated up – you can always tell). The accompanying ‘jus’ was rich and lifted the dish. Maarten’s pie was great. A good hearty size with a puff pastry top and crisp sides and base which Maarten thought too ‘hard’ but which I felt was just right. The inside revealed a suitably rich filling with meat falling apart and all the right flavours in the dense gravy. The accompanying vegetables could have done with sprucing up a bit – they were simply boiled and plonked on the plate. It might have been nice to have sautéed a bit of Savoy cabbage with some chestnuts or something similar. Maarten felt the mashed potato was over-salted (but then he has a ‘thing’ about salt in mashed potato). I thought it was fine, if lacking butter.
What followed was disappointing. We waited over half an hour for our mains to be cleared. They weren’t busy. We couldn’t get any attention. We were lucky we didn’t have meetings to get to. We were finally brought dessert menus. I asked about the special of the day, Fig, Frangipane and Chestnut Tart, and whether it was puff or shortcrust pastry. The waiter replied that he didn’t know anything about the dessert and would need to ask. He later returned and confirmed ‘puff’. I asked whether he would recommend that or the plum crumble. He didn’t have a view. I went for the special. I regretted it.
What came out was possibly one of the worst desserts I can remember. Almost raw puff pastry, with no chestnut, no discernible frangipane (though I could detect a smear of tasteless gloop) underneath figs that had not been basted with sugar or butter and so seemed very bland. The ice-cream that came with it was good. But not good enough to rescue the dessert. What a disappointment.
So in summary, the food at The Cat Inn was good in parts. Would I say that this was the eating experience of my year in Sussex? I think you know the answer to that.
It is pretty good pub grub.
No shame in that.
The Cat Inn
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 12pm to 11pm (when bar closes), Sundays 12pm to 5pm,
Lunch: Monday – Thursday 12noon to 2pm, Friday to Sunday 12noon to 2.30pm
Dinner: Monday – Thursday 6pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday 6pm to 9.30pm, Sunday Evening – Closed
Tel: 01342 810369
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