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The Curlew in Bodiam: Restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 11:37 24 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:37 24 July 2018

Braised halibut, lemon, caper and parsley crust, cauliflower and mushroom (Photo by Jo Hunt)

Braised halibut, lemon, caper and parsley crust, cauliflower and mushroom (Photo by Jo Hunt)

Jo Hunt Photography

Is The Curlew’s new team bringing it back to its former glories? We went to find out

The Curlew stands at a crossroads, both literally – turn one way for Hurst Green and the other for Bodiam – and metaphorically. After almost a year manning the stoves, it seems that head chef Gary Jarvis and his team are at a turning point.

Since arriving, Gary has been working hard to return The Curlew to its former glory. Having lost its Michelin star in 2015, he is, understandably, setting his sights high for the restaurant’s future. “The general aim is to achieve a Michelin star,” he says. “We want to raise the standards, and get [the restaurant] back to where it was before.” And the way to do that? “Keep learning. Keep developing and evolving. Longevity brings consistency, so the longer the team is together, the better things will get.”

With its white weatherboarded exterior, the former coaching inn is easy to spot. My companion and I are shown into a refined dining room – all dark wood, brown leather and Air Force blue – but the ink-drawn cow wallpaper and decorative plates suggest that this is an establishment that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

After a slightly unfortunate start, when, on the assumption that we would be ordering a pre-dinner drink we are left only with a cocktail menu for a long ten minutes, things return to a more solid footing with the arrival of the canapes. The bread quickly follows, and we’re back to a happy equilibrium. Salted, wild garlic and ‘Marmite’ butters accompany the malt and sourdough slices, prompting my fellow critic, and paid-up member of the ‘hate it’ gang, to whisper that he might have to give that famed yeast extract a second chance.

Kicking off the meal proper is a heritage tomato salad (£8.50), which we share. A seemingly innocent array of tomatoes is taken somewhere darker with a black olive tapenade, tempered by punches of fennel and radish. It doesn’t need the cup of chilled consommé on the side, which only serves to wash away the sweetness of the sun-soaked tomatoes.

We tuck into our main events, and while I have to resist breaking out into applause, a different story is playing out across the table. Let’s start with the good. Despite being a delicate dish of fillet of stone bass, sweet crabmeat, charred cauliflower, gnocchi and a seafood bisque (£26), a full-bodied robustness has been carefully coaxed out of every ingredient. This is soul food at its most nuanced.

The not-so-good is duck breast with orange, turnip, endive and lavender (£26). Although cooked well (the duck is meltingly soft), everything has been coated in a sticky, bitter marmalade, resulting in the entire dish having just one flavour – and quite an unpleasant one at that.

A particularly seasonal dessert takes our fancy. Rhubarb, gin and fruit scone (£8.50) includes poached rhubarb, rhubarb parfait, strawberry sorbet, chunks of fruit scone and a white chocolate sphere filled with gin. Sweet and light, it’s pleasing enough, but doesn’t have us regretting the decision to share.

Soon after, petits fours arrive. Nestled in a mini greengrocer’s box, it’s the choux au craquelin – a cream-filled dark chocolate bun with a sweet, crispy topping – that steals the aftershow.

As we leave, I notice the hanging sign displaying the restaurant’s eponymous bird. Later that evening, a quick Google search reveals that the bird’s Latin name, taken from its long, curved bill, means ‘new moon’. Symbolic, perhaps, of where The Curlew is at now, and the phases that are to come. We look forward to returning to witness its full illumination.

The Curlew, Junction Road, Bodiam TN32 5UY; www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk

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