Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sussex Country Pub Rant

One of my favourite things to do of a Sunday is a nice walk in the country and a pub lunch. Last Sunday it was pretty grim weather-wise, but we decided not to let that deter us, and headed out into rural Sussex. I feel so lucky living where we do - flanked by the sea on one side and the Downs on the other. It only took us 10 minutes in the car to get to Fulking, at the foot of Devil's Dyke, to one of our preferred hostelries, The Shepherd & Dog. We've always rated this place for its cosy atmosphere, straightforward food and stunning beer garden. I was sad to see that a recent refurbishment has removed some of the cosiness, and that the hugger-mugger random furniture, which I rather liked, has been replaced by uniform smart pine. This didn't seem to put off the regulars though, as the place was packed full of Sunday-lunchers. So we braved the blustery weather and sat in the beautiful beer garden, hoping the rain would hold off. My biggest complaint about the revamp is the evident price-hike - £6.95 for a sandwich???! Main courses were coming in at £10-14 - fair enough for a swish restaurant, but the food wasn't THAT great. The salad garnish with my ciabatta was limp and obvoiusly not freshly prepared, and there was nothing very imaginative about the sandwich itself - certainly not seven quid's worth of imagination anyway! How sad to see a charming, rustic local turning into yet another soul-less gastro pub. Thankfully Sussex has plenty of other great country pubs to offer...

MY TOP FIVE EAST SUSSEX COUNTRY PUBS

The Cricketers, Berwick - Good, unfussy food and plenty for veggies. Lovely old-school interior and two beer gardens. Also a great starting place for walks over to Charleston.

The Eight Bells, Jevington - Friendly and traditional atmosphere, with nice beer garden and decent pub grub.

The Old Oak, Arlington - This place made the list out of nostalgia more than anything - tucked in next to Abbot's Wood, it was a family favourite growing up, but still serves good beer and OK food.

The Sussex Ox, Milton Street - Now has a gastro-pub style dining room, but the main pub is still cosy and atmospheric, and the food is good value for money.

The Tiger, East Dean - A lovely villagey atmosphere, especially in the summer when drinkers spill out onto the green.

For more inspiration on which pubs to visit in Sussex, try one of these most helpful guidebooks:



Monday, September 04, 2006

Cultural flurry

Last week brought a welcome flurry of cultural activity - I managed to see a film at the cinema, finish reading my first grown-up novel in ages (I've been reading mostly kids books lately) and even went to see a play at the theatre! The film in question was A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name. I haven't read the book, but was intrigued by the reviews I'd read of the film. They've used some new-fangled animation technique, which basically looks like the actors playing the parts have just been coloured in. My brain went into overdrive just trying to process this confusing visual format, so it wasn't a good start. The dreary plot, bland acting and uninspired directing meant that I only managed to stay awake for about three-quarters of the film (if that).

Thankfully, the theatre trip was an altogether more uplifting experience. It was a family outing in Eastbourne, to see the much talked-about Neville's Island at the lovely Devonshire Park Theatre. The local hype surrounding this production was mostly to do with the amount of water involved, and the implications for the 120 year-old stage! The set, a naturalistic recreation of a Lake District island, was on display as we took our seats (no tabs), complete with aforementioned water. Subtle birdsong twittered around the auditorium, adding to the already atmospheric setting. I knew nothing about the play in advance, except that it involved four middle-aged, middle-management men being marooned during an outbound-style team-building exercise in Cumbria. It was inevitably going to have a comic element, but thankfully stopped short of turning into farce, and stayed well within my preferred realm of black comedy. Sharp comic timing, a good stage rapport between the actors, and clever characterisation all made Neville's Island a resounding success.

On Sunday night I sat down to finish my book, a rare treat, as I hardly ever just sit and read at home anymore. Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris is mostly set in rural France, and evokes the rustic atmosphere beautifully, with intricate descriptions of food, wine, people and places. With well-rounded characters, some subtle mysteries, and just a touch of magic, it was an easy and satisfying read. And so my brief cultural spell concluded. Back to another week of low-brow TV and children's books then...