Cuckfield. It’s not just that this village is as pretty as a chocolate box. Nor that it is as quintessentially English as anything Agatha Christie could pen.
This is a village that bursts with community spirit.
Not surprisingly, great pubs help define its social heart and the Rose and Crown is an absolute gem.
From the moment you walk in, you are in no doubt that this is a real pub.
There’s a lovely range of local beer. Hepworth’s. Harvey’s. A monthly guest ale, the latest from East Grinstead. There are bottles too and for cider fans a particularly delicious Suffolk brand.
But look again. The amazing wine list gives hint that this is not pub alone. To the right is the restaurant - simply furnished with an historic paint palette which magnifies the ancient panelling and tongue and groove.
A country floral and rustic vegetable theme, adds with simple power to the effect and some terrific paper-cut artwork by Sarah Dennis reflected in the menu’s cover, amplifies this sense of relaxed, rural bliss.
The menu is central to it all.
The new offering for the season has just been unveiled. It is uncluttered in its range. A choice of four starters. Four mains. Four desserts. The best restaurants keep the offering tight so that everything can be prepared fresh, sourced locally, and retain focus.
And what focus. The complexity of the cooking and the care with which wine suggestions have been paired, demonstrate that this is a quality offering.
The addition of a tasting menu, that captures all the glory of the a la carte set off with a flight of wines, catches the visitors unawares.
You entered a pub. Now you are in a restaurant of the highest order.
The range may be contained, but it is not restrictive. For the mains, beef, pork, fish and a vegetarian option are there. For starters, there’s scallops, a tuna tartar, duck and foie gras tortellini and a Jerusalem artichoke veloute,
Of course, there’s so much more to each dish.
If you are going to pay £18 for fillet of cod you want to know it’s like nothing you could or would prepare in your own kitchen.
This is a piece of culinary magnificence. It blends the pure snow-white of the fish with a complex accompaniment of curried cauliflower, raisins, almonds and onion bhaji.
The treacle glazed beef, ox cheek, smoked mash and roast carrot jus (£20) does not just guarantee meat as tender as the butter-and-hot-knife promise.
Its layers of taste and texture are every bit as painstakingly curated and created as Sarah’s artwork.
When we visited on a Friday evening, we were glad we had booked. The building was bursting with the Friday night joy of diners and drinkers relaxing in the community’s heartland.
The sensible addition of an amuse bouche not only prepared the palate for the joys yet to come, it no doubt enabled the kitchen to pace itself. Additional courses always add to a sense of occasion and value too.
The success of the Rose and Crown is clearly not just culinary expertise or the courage to invest wholesale in a village pub. It’s about a sense of family and teamwork.
Simon Dennis is the chef patron, Alan Doyle is chef, Mike Armory is restaurant manager, and James Clark is assistant manager.
At least, those are the roles at present.
This passion for food has proved so popular they are spreading their wings under owner Mark Dennis and are shortly to add The Crown at Horsted Keynes to the family. Clearly each addition requires a crown or at least a coronet to qualify.
Simon and Mike will take the helm at The Crown while James will move up to the manager’s role at Cuckfield working alongside Alan.
It’s a tantalising prospect.
Our experience at the Rose and Crown, restaurant and bar, was so perfect we cannot wait to taste the fare at Horsted Keynes later this year.