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The Bell in Ticehurst: Restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 10:40 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:42 09 January 2018

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Archant

The Bell in Ticehurst on the Kent/East Sussex border is a charming 16th century inn with rooms - and a lively programme of events

On a blustery winter’s evening there’s not much that beats a slothful session in front of the fire. So it’s a relief to find that after a long drive to Ticehurst the hearth at The Bell is roaring away merrily.

The pub has a cosy snug to the right of the entrance, with sofas perfect for post-prandial sprawling, while the bar and restaurant stretch out to the left. The décor is pleasingly eccentric: top hats as lampshades, a pillar of books and placemats adorned with the same legend which decorates one of the walls: “I will always love you my friend”.

But all that style would ring rather hollow if the place didn’t have the substance to back it. The Bell remains a proper local pub, with regular events including stand-up comedy and community cinema. Drinkers haven’t been neglected in favour of more lucrative diners and many of the bar tables are occupied on a Tuesday evening.

South American head chef Oscar Fonesca comes to Ticehurst from Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant in Mayfair and has also spent time in the kitchens of Le Manoir aux Quatre Saison and The Hand and Flowers in Marlow. The menu here is reassuringly concise: seven starters between £6 and £7.50 and eight mains from £12 for a vegetarian dish to £23 for sirloin steak. To start, we choose wild mushroom arancini, which are incredibly moreish – crisp coating giving way to the unctuous risotto filling – and come with a lively tomato relish. The other dish of colourful butter-poached carrots is presented very attractively and comes with a velvety smooth puree and textural puffed rice – an unusual and successful dish.

Bread is not provided complementary but charged at £3, which will annoy some; for me it removes the temptation to gorge between courses. Which is fortunate because the cod and chips is both exemplary and extraordinarily filling. The batter has been vivified with Harvey’s ale and is a genuine triumph – crisp as you like and deceptively light, the cod beneath it delicious too. Comforting carbs come by way of fat golden chips and the mushy peas are fresh and lightly minted. Carl requests the hake fillet without chorizo (two out of three fish dishes come with variations on pork); the fresh, tender fish matching beautifully with the rich piquillo pepper sauce and new potatoes.

From an exceedingly tempting dessert menu we fix on a chocolate moelleux with homemade honeycomb and clementine. It provides a perfect ending: indulgent and creamy without plunging us into a sugar coma.

The quirky details continue to the end of the meal – the bill comes inserted between the pages of a vintage book. While the quirky touches are obviously very carefully curated, the whole experience is authentic and utterly delightful.

The Bell, High Street, Ticehurst TN5 7AS; www.thebellinticehurst.com

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