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Restaurant Review: Old House Inn near Gatwick Airport

PUBLISHED: 16:17 30 June 2014 | UPDATED: 15:55 06 November 2017

The Old House Inn, Copthorne

The Old House Inn, Copthorne

Archant

Chef Daniel Prince has chalked up experience in the Wolsley and Club Gascon. Now he’s brought his cuilary alchemy to the Old House Inn, just minutes away from Gatwick Airport

Skrei cod, baby spinach, wild garlic and asparagus Skrei cod, baby spinach, wild garlic and asparagus

Think Gatwick and you’re probably conjuring images of improbably-clad tourists and harassed baggage handlers. A quaint, sprawling little pub with swirls of wood smoke snaking from the chimney, less so. Copthorne’s Old House Inn opened in 2013, replacing a French restaurant that had stood there for many years. It offers fine dining in unpretentious, low-ceilinged rooms painted in shades of aubergine and dove-grey. An adjoining converted barn offers well-appointed, pleasant rooms for overnight guests.

The beer garden is vast, with comfortable benches where adults can idle away the hours while children and dogs burn off excess energy. Landing aeroplanes create an odd juxtaposition with the picture-postcard view, but watching them come in is rather awe-inspiring.

The chef is Daniel Prince, formerly of the Wolesley and Club Gascon, with his menu accompanied by an extensive wine list selected by award-winning journalist and Master of Wine Tim Atkin. The cuisine is probably best described as gourmet pub fare meets Modern British. The menu is reassuringly concise; always a sign that the kitchen isn’t spreading itself too thin.

“Small plates” can be ordered individually as a starter, or in combination, like tapas. Priced from £3.50 to £7, all employ a delectable variety of ingredients and it would be possible to get a bit overexcited. We managed to whittle down our selection to three, washing them down with an exciting Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region called Dr Rerwick (£28 for a bottle). A ceviche of scallops with lime, cucumber and dill was sumptuous, the finely sliced scallops – which had been cooked in lime juice – so silken they seemed to dissolve on the tongue. Delicious soft-shell crab was satisfyingly crunchy and served with a piquant, garden-fresh salsa. The real revelation was Skrei cod, which has the culinary cognoscenti all a-quiver. While we’ve been told for some time that cod is verboten in sustainability terms, Norway’s Barents Sea has the largest growing cod stock in the world. Skrei is seasonal Norwegian cod of the highest grade, caught while migrating between January and April each year.

Well, it rather blew my mind. Firm, flavourful cod rested in a light broth of wild garlic, asparagus and spinach. My companion was someone I’m about to marry but if it had been anyone else I’d have stabbed him with a fork to get the last mouthful.

I would have been happy to spend the rest of the evening trying these small dishes but convention (and the requirements of a review) dictated that we move on to the main courses. These include more everyday choices like fillet steak (£25) and fish and chips (£12.50). I chose the latter: a generous slab of sustainable hake jacketed in crisp, beery batter. Triple-cooked chips were pleasingly chunky and the mushy peas were verdant and field-fresh.

Carl’s whole sea bream was a pleasure to behold, back-filleted and packed with fennel and sweet onion compote to keep it moist and full of flavour. The sauce vierge – olive oil, lemon juice, capers and tomato was exemplary, he said.

There’s a cosy bar area where locals were enjoying a drink. Manager Tim’s dog was overseeing operations and our spaniel slumped under a table lazily, all adding to the delightfully cosy ambience.

Desserts included a magnificently boozy flaming crème brulee, which made my heart sing, and an indulgent treacle tart with clotted cream ice cream. Both were delicious, and rather summed up the whole dining experience. Chef Daniel Price clearly has a magpie’s eye for flavour: during the course of a meal we’d enjoyed dishes with influences as far-flung as Norway and Peru. But, like the treacle tart, and despite the proximity to an international airport, it still manages to feel very British.

The Old House Inn, Effingham Road, Copthorne, West Sussex,; 01342 718529; www.theoldhouseinn.co.uk

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