Review: The Sussex Ox
“Mains arrived. As did my immediate food envy. My guest’s lamb shank was a beautiful hunk of meat glistening in a dark, rich sauce and resting on a mound of creamy mash.”
I worked for years in Bexhill-On-Sea, and have many friends and colleagues dotted about East Sussex.
This has meant a long-term hunt for eateries between Brighton and Bexhill for after work soirees.
I’ll probably get shot for saying this: there is very little to choose from at that end of Sussex. There’s the Jolly Sportsman at East Chiltington (very good), and well… that’s it isn’t it?
Lewes is usually my safe bet with the promising Limetree Kitchen, the Mediterranean style home cooking of Le Magasin, the fairly decent pub grub of the Pelham Arms and the consistent Bill’s. I guess you could go Michelin and head to Ockenden Manor – but for a casual dinner with a colleague, this can be a bit much (not for me mind – I’m pretty much ready to swank it up anytime).
And then there’s Eastbourne. I’m always being told that there are some good places there but I’ve yet to be convinced. So it was with some relief that I read about the Sussex Ox in Polegate being short-listed as a finalist for ‘Best Eating Experience of the Year’ at the recent Sussex Food and Drink Awards. Perhaps, at last, I won’t have to drag east Sussex dwellers to Lewes or Brighton!
I booked dinner for two on a Thursday night with a friend from Hastings. We had been due to dine in Brighton (The Ginger Pig), but he became understandably concerned with train times and lack of parking (council take note). So I booked the Sussex Ox, feeling pleased with myself for pulling a good option out of the bag for him.
The pub – a beacon of light and warmth in the surrounding countryside – is in the middle of nowhere (near Polegate and Alfriston, actually). It’s set within its own farm which supplies much of the restaurant’s produce, including the meat.
The place felt immediately cosy and welcoming. It’s full of character – all oak beams and open fires. I love this sort of place.
We were shown to our table in the corner by the fire in the bar area. The lighting and ambience was pleasant. This is clearly a place for locals and this provided an intimate family feel. I felt like I was in someone’s lounge (in a good way).
The menu is quite ‘heavy’ and long – length in a menu tends to make me uneasy but I always keep an open mind. It’s filled with lots of classics such as fish and chips and the like. Nothing wrong with that if it’s done well. Sometimes you just want good old-fashioned comforting pub grub.
Nevertheless, I didn’t fancy any of the starters on this occasion. On offer were dishes such as ham hock terrine, deep fried white bait and salt and pepper squid. Heavy. The lightest option was a beetroot, walnut and feta salad, which I was tempted by but as my dining partner didn’t want anything from the list I too chose to give them a miss. Most unlike me.
From the main course menu, I ordered roast salmon with sauce vierge, green beans, samphire and crushed new potatoes. My dining partner ordered ‘lamb shank’ (the menu giving nothing else away).
The wine list is interesting, with some unusual options. I’ve just completed my wine qualification, so my guest invited me to choose his wine for him (oh the pressure). I suggested a red from Navarra while I chose a white Falanghina. This was dry, light and flowery –a good choice.
Mains arrived. As did my immediate food envy. My guest’s lamb shank was a beautiful hunk of meat glistening in a dark, rich sauce and resting on a mound of creamy mash. He tucked in to both food and wine (phew)– the meat properly slow-cooked but the sauce apparently over-rich.
My salmon dish was an exercise in classic pub food. A good portion of salmon with crisp skin resting on buttery vegetables. Braised red cabbage added a nice sweetness to the richness of the dish. The sauce vierge was well made and gave freshness. Rich salmon, fresh herbs, olive old and buttery veg – it was all good.
Desserts, however, were a disappointment. I ordered cheese and my guest ordered the cheesecake. When his arrived, it looked fantastic; a large portion of baked cheesecake New York style with a thick biscuit base – exactly how I like it. It tasted over-cooked and over-set with not enough sweetness. The base was cloying and dense. The attempt suggested a chef who knows food, but a kitchen in which something had gone wrong on the night.
My cheese was almost comical. A huge breadboard arrived with what could only be Jacobs crackers (or more likely supermarket equivalent) and hunks of plastic, over-chilled flavourless cheddar. A hunk of Brie arrived later having originally been forgotten. Again, over-chilled. A third cheese was so underwhelming and bland I can barely even recall it. I did wonder if they had run out of cheese and nipped to the corner shop to get some.
Service was warm and friendly though quite neglectful at times, needing me to interrupt chats with locals to get some service.
Whilst the food was OK for a pub and verging on quite skilled in places (my main course), on the strength of this visit alone I am amazed that they could have been awarded best Sussex Eating Experience. I can only assume that the chef was off on this night. I will return and I will have three courses and give them another chance. I so want this to be a great place to dine. Fingers crossed.
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