First off, I apologize for the distinct lack of photo’s due in part to my terrible smartphone battery failing as we pulled into the car park – without phone charger to hand. However I hope that I can paint a culinary picture through my descriptive review of The Cowdray Arms in Balcombe, West Sussex.
The Cowdray Arms is owned and run local publican Neal Hayes with the increasingly popular title of Consultant Chef going to the former Michelin starred chef Stephen Crane who can be found at home as Head Chef of Ockendon Manor, Cuckfield. The pub was acquired by Hayes earlier this year from previous Brewery/Pubco Greene King.
Arrival & First Impressions
Upon arrival, the pub is well decorated and still has that shiny new feel after extensive renovations. The bar area is spacious with the dining area being located beyond the bar to the back of the pub. It was great to see the Hall & Woodhouse memorabilia adorning the walls, better know as Badger Brewery, whom I believe were the previous leaseholders.
The ambiance of the restaurant and bar is very comfortable with appropriate chilled music and lighting, creating a relaxed dining experience. It’s nice to note that Hayes has not succumbed to the new fad of cramming in lots of tiny tables, instead opting for larger tables with plenty of space.
Service was generally attentive, friendly and unobtrusive! One slight hiccup was being asked for a drinks order without being presented the wine list or drinks menu – ooops. The wine list was extensive with a large selection of wines-by-the-glass which is always welcome to see given the widely different preferences of our dining party. I opted for a deliciously peppery and jammy Malbec while my companion chose a fresh and herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc, both served in long stemmed and well-chosen glassware.
The menu was well thought through with clear evidence of local supply and some intriguing flavour combinations. There was the usual and expected gastro pub fayre including a locally sourced Angus beef burger, beer battered Newhaven cod and some intriguing dishes such as a Spiced Roasted Cauliflower Steak and Lamb Chump – I opted for the latter.
Our order was simple, Fish & Chips for two and Lamb Chump for one. Conversation ensued and after a pleasant and enjoyable amount of time, our food arrived as if timed to perfection. Presentation of the dishes was good, although I do have a dislike for multiple bowls upon a plate with the battered fish fillet accompanied by a bowl of chips and a bowl of peas both of which were promptly decanted upon the plate and cast aside. The Lamb Chump was adorned atop a layer of roasted vegetables, confit potatoes and marinated tomatoes dressed with a jus and shallot crumb.
Badger Beer Battered Newhaven Landed Cod
The fish was locally sourced from Newhaven and was delicately encased in a Badger Beer batter served with the customary mushy peas, homemade Tartare sauce and hand-cut chips. The fish was golden with the thinnest of batters and cooked to perfect flaky’ness. Upon first inspection the chips appeared to be slightly on the pale end of the chip-spectrum (possible due to seasonal variations in potato) however the chips were fresh and cooked – albeit maybe could have benefited from an additional 30-seconds in the fryer. A truly pleasant dish – £14.50
Chump of Lamb
The lamb chump was cooked to a near-perfection, trimmed well and very tender that it could be sliced like butter. The accompanying Jus was well seasoned and thoroughly enjoyable that I stole a couple of chips to mop up the Jus’y goodness toward the end. A particular highlight was the delightfully sculptured confit potatoes and marinated tomatoes that packed such wonderful depth of flavour and perfectly accompanied the delicate lamb chump. The roasted vegetables were pleasant with an abundance of aubergine and red pepper and the Shallot Crumb just added to the overall well-rounded flavour of the dish. I must admit that I was unable to identify the advertised Aubergine Cavier, expecting a roasted aubergine pate like consistency possible spiked with Garlic and herbs but nevertheless, I was very satisfied with the dish – £18.50.
Who doesn’t check out the desert menu before deciding upon a main course? I had my heart set on the sticky toffee pudding while my companions opted for a Peach Melba and a Chilled Strawberry Parfait. A true test of an establishments service is to ask the server to explain what a dish is and the mouthwatering description of the Peach Melba given by our waiter was exceptionally well constructed and delivered. A+.
The Strawberry Parfait was creamy and well balanced with a punchy Raspberry sorbet, although the Parfait was over-chilled/frozen toward the centre which I can only assume would be from the setting process. The Peach Melba was received just as described with perfectly poached peaches, raspberries and flaked almonds creating a wonderfully aromatic and flavoured desert. My choice of the Sticky Toffee pudding was not regretted and the accompaniment of popping candy adorning the cake, while seemingly gimmicky, worked exceedingly well with the dish and provided some oral and auditory amusement. The salted caramel sauce was well balanced with great sweet and salty profiles, accompanying a creamy and dreamy vanilla ice-cream – all deserts £7.50 each.
After dinner drinks were required (with the exception of our designated driver) and we decided upon the Espresso Martini which was delivered promptly and presented in a shallow champagne goblet adorned with three expertly placed coffee beans. As a self professed Espresso Martini expert, I thoroughly enjoyed the well made drink, served with a sufficiently thick crema and well mixed and balanced coffee to spirit ratio. My companion alleges that when drunk through a straw, the flavour of the drink intensifies for a more satisfactory Martini – I wasn’t able to concur but it was thoroughly enjoyable and well executed,
Variety of the Menu – 5/5
Good range of vegetarian options and one vegan option. Locally sourced produce and differing flavour profiles.
Quality of the Food – 4/5
Missing Aubergine Cavier was mildly disappointing but did not detract. Semi-frozen parfait.
Overall Service – 5/5
Friendly and attentive, genuine and warm. Recovered well after mini-hiccup with the wine list.
Value for Money – 4/5
The final bill for the meal of two courses for three people, with three large glasses of wine, two soft drinks and two cocktails came to £129.36 (included 10% service charge as billed). While I was overall satisfied with the meal, the steeper price tags for the Malbec (£9.50) and deserts at £7.50 each did not represent excellent value for money. Instead, the price is pushed to the higher end of the market and makes The Cowdray Arms a pub for special occasion dinners instead of a regular date night dinner.
Stephen Crane’s influence on the menu exhibits his style most commonly seen in the Ockendon of British dishes with a French inspired touch, plated and presented in a creative and delightful style, executed exceptional well by Head Chef Neil Ruzicka. The food is of high quality and despite some very minor glitches, the evening was enjoyable and we will be returning in the near future to experience their extensive Gin list!
The Cowdray Arms Balcombe, Haywards Heath
Disclosure: We visited this restaurant without the proprietors prior knowledge that we would be compiling a review. This review is the personal opinion of a full paying customer, based on the dinner experience of Saturday 29th September 2019. No fee was paid to the reviewer by the proprietor, nor was editorial privilege provided. The reviewer may earn revenue from adverts placed on this page by Google AdSense and these adverts are not endorsed by the reviewer.
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