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What it’s like at The Pelham Arms in Lewes

PUBLISHED: 13:52 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:52 21 March 2019

The Pelham Arms in Lewes (Photo by Xavier Buendia)

The Pelham Arms in Lewes (Photo by Xavier Buendia)

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The Pelham Arms is the dictionary definition of a cosy pub – as we discover

On a brisk winter’s evening it’s difficult to ignore a sign that reads, ‘cosy pub this way’. And, thankfully, once inside, it’s clear that we haven’t been duped by false advertising.

The Pelham Arms is bathed in a warm glow. There are candles on every table and twinkly fairy lights above the windows. The wooden floors, beams, tables and chairs give the pub a rustic, uncluttered feel. The only decorative pieces are the pairs of antlers attached to the white-washed walls. On a Friday night, it’s busy, both at the bar and in the dining area. But thanks to all that noise-absorbing wood, there are no echoing voices or scraping cutlery sounds, just a low, comforting murmur.

We’re seated in the dining area and given a menu to peruse. Removing hats, scarves and gloves distracts us for a few minutes, so we’re unprepared when, in quick succession three members of staff ask us if we’re ready to order drinks. We find it amusing; they seem concerned that we’ve been left waiting, rather than intent on rushing us.

The one-page menu offers a good variety of dishes. Changes are made every eight to ten weeks to reflect the seasons and, as general manager Alex Hames tells me, the pub “tries to keep everything as local as possible”. There are the usual suspects – fish and chips, a mixed grill – but also an entire section dedicated to plant-based plates and a good selection of burgers. Every patty is made from hand-ground or house-smoked meat, accompanied by a locally baked bun and comes with a warning to expect something ‘big and messy’.

To start, we share a generous portion of smoked aubergine and chickpea pâté with roasted pepper jam and local Flint Owl bread (£6). Without its shiny jewel-coloured skin, the aubergine isn’t the most visually appealing vegetable, and the same can be said for a pâté made from its flesh. However, it does have a deep, rich flavour and the sweet, ruby-red jam is the perfect foil for its smokiness. The bread has only been lightly toasted to maintain its chewy texture and flavourful crust.

Burger and slaw at Pelham Arms, Lewes (Photo by Xavier Buendia)Burger and slaw at Pelham Arms, Lewes (Photo by Xavier Buendia)

I start to feel anxious when my fellow diner orders the roasted butternut squash, Twineham Grange’s vegetarian parmesan cheese and sage risotto (£13). It dredges up a memory of an almost inedible dish I ordered in an establishment far from here. It would take a risotto of pure excellence to eliminate my fear of those created in pub kitchens. And this one is up to the challenge. It’s a comforting bowl of perfectly cooked, creamy rice, which is rich with cheese and velvety squash, and fragrant with sage. It doesn’t last long. My companion stares forlornly at the single bite that remains. “I just can’t manage it,” she says. “But it was so good!”

Since 2016, the pub has had an onsite smokehouse, so I was intrigued to sample the smoky chicken bun, made with house-smoked pulled free-range chicken, smoked garlic mayo and rocket, house chips, pickles and slaw (£13). It is big and messy, but it is also very good. A mountain of shredded chicken sits between a golden, shiny bun that is both soft and crisp. The chicken proves to be a little dry, but the garlic mayo rectifies this and intensifies the smoky flavour. The pickled veg adds sharpness and the skinny fries are fluffy with a crunchy coating – and seemingly endless!

We bookend the meal by sharing a dessert. Although rich and buttery, the pastry of the peach and cinnamon Bakewell tart (£6.50) is so hard that I give up trying to break off a piece with my spoon. Which is a shame, because everything else is just as we’d hoped. The sponge is light and soft, with a golden crust on top and a layer of intensely-flavoured jam underneath. The purée is sweet without being sickly and the scoop of vanilla ice cream is so creamy that it can only be from Downsview Farmhouse in Ringmer.

The sign out front undersells The Pelham Arms. It certainly fulfils the dictionary definition of cosy: ‘Giving a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation.’ But it also delivers good food, attentive but unobtrusive service, and a risotto to rival the best.

The Pelham Arms, High Street, Lewes, BN7 1XL; www.thepelhamarms.co.uk

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