Recently refurbished, the Talbot is housed in a 16th century coaching inn in the village of Cuckfield in West Sussex and managed by head chef Ben Goldsmith - who is loving his new challenge. Amanda Afiya reports
In the early 1800s the Talbot would have played a crucial role in the village of Cuckfield. Perfectly located on the High Street, the 16th century coaching inn would no doubt have capitalised on the 50 or so coaches that passed through the village each day on their commute from London to Brighton.
When local landowners insisted on rerouting the coaches through neighbouring Haywards Heath, the village of Cuckfield became quieter but it meant that its character and charm was perhaps preserved as a result. Today, the affluent village is a haven to independent shops and boutiques and with the Michelin-starred Ockenden Manor in its midst, it's become a destination for the seasoned diner.
Visiting foodies to the area would be silly not to dine at the Talbot. Sister business to the Half Moon pub in Warninglid, also in West Sussex, licensees John Lea and James Amico took on the Talbot last year and installed a local rising star as head chef and manager. After refurbing it, they opened the downstairs bar in November and the upstairs, loft-styled restaurant followed four weeks later.
Sussex-born-and-bred chef Ben Goldsmith, who has worked in the county for most of his career, is loving his new challenge: "The role was one I had wanted to take on for many reasons," says Goldsmith, whose CV includes posts at Whites Bar and Kitchen in Steyning and the hotel Alias Seattle in Brighton. "Partly because of the freedom it offers me to manage the property but also the potential here is huge."
True to his roots, Goldsmith is a passionate user of local produce. "We are genuinely very lucky. Our butcher [SK Hutchings at Partridge Green] owns his own farm so there is no middle man, our rapeseed oil [Sussex Gold] is produced a stone's throw from my house, the freshest free-range chicken and duck eggs are within two miles and we have a Dexter beef farmer on our doorstep."
Catering for a broad, local audience from young professionals to retired people, Goldsmith and his brigade change the menu frequently - and often weekly - in the 45-seat restaurant. In addition, he also offers a simple bar menu downstairs which is based on "pubby classics" such as toad in the hole.
Goldsmith feels he and his team, including sous chef Greg Anderson, have made good ground with the restaurant menu in just a matter of weeks and they are currently enjoying an average spend of approximately £40 a head including wine.
"We've had some cracking dishes such as a lovely pork dish consisting of belly, cheeks, fillet ears, cod cheeks and chicken wings as well as the Dexter ‘tribute' plate featuring the fillet, braised shin, tongue and blade, smoked heart, belly and liver, parsnip puree, roasted parsnips, kale and freshly grated horseradish. Using the whole product is important to me - and placing it back together on the plate is great fun!"
Goldsmith's playful and adventurous modern European food also includes starters of pickled beetroot and Golden Cross goats' cheese mousse (£6.50) and crab ravioli with a fine lettuce emulsion (£7). In addition to the meat-rich main courses are monkfish, curry, cauliflower and spinach (£17) and a delicious and comforting artichoke risotto with rich goats' cheese emulsion and hazelnuts (£13).
The chef's fun sense of cooking continues well into the desserts with a fennel mousse, olive oil ice-cream, pineapple salad (£6) and coconut panna cotta, passion fruit and blood orange (£6.50).
Sample dishes from the menu
Crab ravioli, lettuce emulsion £7 Leek and potato soup, sautéd potatoes £6 Tongue of Dexter beef, boiled onions, beef juice £7
Pork - fillet, belly and cheeks, Savoy cabbage, apple purée and mash £14.50 Dexter beef tribute plate, shallots, horseradish and kale £23 Roasted wood pigeon, parsnips and potato terrine £14.50
Valrhona chocolate brownie, beetroot and caramel £7.50 Coconut panna cotta, passion fruit and blood orange £6.50 Rhubarb crumble soufflé £7