A recent spur of the moment trip to the sea (the Ewing wanted to participate in Beachwatch and I wanted to eat ice cream) resulted in a last minute search for places to eat in the charming Cinque Port of Rye. Luckily there proved to be plenty of choices and, tempted by the local menu, I made a web booking for for a very late lunch at The George.
After a call from the restaurant on Saturday morning (apparently the kitchen is closed between four and five, necessitating our late lunch booking to be shifted to an early dinner), we enjoyed a glorious sunny afternoon having a picnic and paddling in the Harbour, followed by wandering the steep cobbled street of the town, poking around the antiques shops on the quayside and being generally charmed by the quintessential 'Englishness' of the place. Come five o'clock and the bracing sea air had ensured we were ready for some grub.
The George, found on the cobbled High Street is Rye's oldest coaching Inn, and has been host to visits from three King Georges, as well as Wellington and the Mayor of London. After a recent renovation it has reopened as a hostelry that also houses The George Tap, serving drinks and a bar menu, and the slightly more formal Grill, where we were looking forward to eating that evening.
Although the Tap was already filling up, we were the first to be seated in the Grill. I didn't mind being the only ones in the restaurant, but I did find it slightly disconcerting when they pulled the curtain separating us from the pub to gather together for a staff meeting (especially considering the restaurant had been closed for the hour previously). During one, slightly awkward, moment, I was left alone at our table while the waiters and chefs gathered around the pass, a few feet from where I was sitting, to sample the latest addition to the menu. At least it was, by all accounts, very nice.
Despite being unnerved by the Q&A session going on beside me, I can't fault the service, which was keen and very sweet. The two young ladies serving our table were very happy to chat and answer questions, and clearly knew the menu very well, so obviously the training is paying off.
My mood improved with the arrival of Harveys Bitter, swiftly followed by our mains. I chose the Romney Marsh lamb rump; you can actually see the sheep grazing on the Marsh from Rye, making this truly local food. The meat was cooked a few shades more than I would normally like (although they didn't ask how I'd like it, and I didn't think to specify), but was still gloriously full flavoured and sweet.
Aubergine puree and leeks accompanying it were fine (although missing the 'smoky' punch advertised on the menu). The gravy was glorious; perfectly thick, sticky and glossy, and side order of chips good; not terribly crispy, but with lovely, fluffy centres, and well seasoned.
The Ewing's turbot with sauteed new potatoes; a study in beige. This was a glorious and delicately cooked piece of fish, that had then been rather swamped in a thick, putty coloured sauce which we struggled a bit to identify. I could taste mushrooms, while the Ewing plumped for 'sweet'. Our waitress thought it might have been parsnip, but further investigation found they also had a parsnip and porcini soup on the menu. Puzzle solved.
Although not much of a looker, the dish did taste very good. The soup/sauce had the wonderful, bosky scent of early autumn and the well-cooked fish flaked apart with a prod of the fork's tines; although at eighteen quid you might have hoped for a few greens on the plate to keep the coins of fried potato company and add a little colour.
After the hits and misses of the mains, our puddings were stonking. My sticky toffee pudding with ginger ice cream was a triumph and well worth risking type two diabetes for. It's easy to become blase about seeing yet another STP on the menu, but this was a leader in its field; feather light sponge bobbing in a lake of burnt toffee sauce, all topped off with a lovely, spicy ice cream.
Just to gild the lily, I washed this down with a glass of the ambrosial Chapel Down Late Harvest; a lovely, honey and melon scented desert wine, produced in Tenderden, just ten miles away.
The Ewing, after some gentle persuading, ordered the chocolate fondant with orange sorbet. After her previous, less than successful, sampling of the pairing at The Pony and Trap, she remained rather sceptical of their merits of the two when combined. Luckily this dish did much to persuade her they can live in harmony on the same plate. The fondant was a textbook example, crispy shell and molten interior, the sorbet providing a refreshing zing of citrus and a nice temperature contrast.
Overall, a few awkward moments aside, our meal at the George was a very pleasant experience and made a perfect setting for some good British grub. It also proved to be great evening to catch the sun on the sea, and, after staggering out onto the cobbles and making our way down the harbour, we enjoyed soaking up the last few rays of a lovely late summer day at the seaside.