What's it like at The Witch Inn, Lindfield
PUBLISHED: 13:13 15 January 2020 | UPDATED: 13:13 15 January 2020
We find a reassuring emphasis on local ingredients at this Lindfield pub
I'm about to make an admission that may get me banished from the county (and perhaps mainstream society as a whole): I don't like fireworks. And so it was, with a great deal of JAMO (Joy at Missing Out), that I made my way to The Witch Inn, Lindfield, during a week when the majority of Sussex residents were busy setting fire to something. Dinner in a warm, cosy pub sounded much more inviting.
Although certainly warm, I wouldn't necessarily call The Witch cosy. The bar area is all bright lights, high ceilings and pale walls. Later, on a trip to the ladies, I discover there are more dining tables on the other side of the bar, where low lighting creates a more intimate setting.
Owner and head chef Sean Turner grew up in Ditchling so he's no stranger to the plethora of wonderful ingredients on his doorstep, but is also influenced by French and Swedish cuisine, having lived and worked in Sweden before returning home to run The Witch. An enticing specials list is full of pub stalwarts, such as Chelwood Gate sausages, buttered mash and caramelised onions (both £13.95), while the main menu is slightly more refined. Happily, local suppliers are given centre stage: meat comes from Gunne Butchers in Bexhill, ice cream is handmade in Sidlesham, and the wine list has been carefully curated by Lindfield's own South Downs Cellars.
The starter is not what I was expecting. But let's get back to that in a minute because I can't put off waxing lyrical about the Balcombe venison casserole (£17) any longer. It's a casserole of dreams - the kind you hope to return to after a long woodland walk, fresh air still clinging to your clothes and the promise of a hearty meal just a pinch of seasoning away. Every bite warms me from my scalp to my toes. There's an ample helping of smooth, garlicky mashed potato. There are carrots, French beans, sweet red cabbage, long-stem broccoli and cubes of caramelised celeriac - all cooked individually to maintain their integrity. Then there's the casserole itself: slow-cooked venison, bacon and mushrooms in a deep, deep sauce that glistens seductively under a scattering of freshly chopped parsley. A glass of soft, fruity Willowglen shiraz cabernet (£5, 175ml) is the perfect match.
Rewind to the starter. The smoked confit pork and cheddar croquettes (£7.50) are nuggets of gold, but not in a good way. Their hard, orange crust hides a dry tangle of pork and tastes of deep-fat fryer. They're crying out for a sharp, fruity sauce but the plum puree doesn't deliver - it doesn't taste of much at all. The only thing that saves the dish - though I'm unsure why it's there in the first place - is the aromatic Morteau sausage.
Fast forward to the finale and, after that sensational main course, dessert is a given. I'm tempted by the dark chocolate and praline cheesecake, but decide to keep things seasonal with an apple, plum and pear crumble with toffee and honeycomb ice cream (£6.50). The extra crunchy brown sugar topping hides a Barbie-pink filling of stewed plums and quartered apples and pears. The Caroline's Dairy ice cream is heavenly.
The evening threatened to be a damp squib, but by the end of the night the starter is almost forgotten, replaced by a cacophony of sparkling lights, leaving me dazed with wonderment.
The Witch Inn, Sunte Ave, Lindfield, West Sussex RH16 2AB, 01444 414504, thewitchinn.com
See more of Laura Paton's reviews at scribblinginthekitchen.wordpress.com