A review of the Talbot in Cuckfield, October 2011
Last Friday was largely spent chasing the first leaves of autumn around the garden. The trees surrounding the garden remain ominously green and full of the portent of the deluge of foliage that will rain down upon us over the coming weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I love this season with its golden hues and chilly nights which merit a smooth glass of a sensuous red in front of a roaring fire. Not to mention of course the abundance of produce available. But the russet and ochre canopies will soon disperse and that means the endless task of sweeping up leaves. Leaf sweeping is, however, an excellent way in which to build up an appetite, which is precisely what I was doing last week.
With appetites in hand, Billy and I entered the Talbot in Cuckfield with a degree intrepidation. We had visited the restaurant shortly after it opened and had been impressed by chef Ben Goldsmith’s menu with its understated descriptions for quite complex dishes. Billy and I had revelled in the Dexter tribute plate which was a veritable butchers shop with several different cuts from the animal represented. These included juicy fillet, slowly braised shoulder, skirt and cheek (the latter had been shredded and formed into a crisp crumbed croquet), liver and tongue. Definitely not for the squeamish but deliciously irony and a wonderful mix of textures which all finished by melting in the mouth. However, we had heard on the grapevine that the owners had been disappointed in the tepid reception the Talbot had received and Goldsmith had moved on to pastures new. It seemed that Cuckfield did not hanker for a quality restaurant serving inspired and accomplished dishes but rather it wanted a clone of the Talbot’s successful sister pub, The Half Moon in Warninglid, which is more your bangers and mash type of gastro pub.
Our friends had insisted that despite the change of chef and menu the food was still good. The normally spacious bar was crammed with diners as well as drinkers indicating the Talbot had regained some of its popularity. We took our seats upstairs in the main restaurant with its immense ceilings and mossy green walls and began to look at the menu. The menu did indeed resemble that of the Half Moon including gastro pub favourites such as cod and chips and burgers. I chose the cured salmon with lemon, chilli and chorizo oil to start. The soft folds of the salmon slices were garnished with various micro herbs and did look very pretty on the plate. The chorizo oil was touch too subtle but on the whole it was a good starter as were the moules marinier that my friend had. Billy had opted for the seared pigeon breast which alas had spent far too long in the pan. What should have been oozing with ruby juiciness was grey and leathery. This unfortunately set the tone for the remainder of our meal. Billy’s main of liver and bacon was also over cooked leaving him feeling rather like someone who had entered a gum chewing endurance test to see who could masticate for the longest. I had optimistically ordered the grilled plaice with a lemon and caper buerre noisette. The butter had evaporated leaving a residue of brittle capers on top of the fish’s charred skin. Plaice is normally a soft, delicate fleshed fish but this one had been transformed into a dry and tasteless offering. Our friends said that their cod and chips and steak were good (although the steak was served medium rather than the medium rare requested) but it was impossible for Billy and I not to lament the Talbot of old.
And yet despite the food, the restaurant, like the bar, was packed. Perhaps sausages, burgers and fish and chips are the type of food people crave when they go out for a meal. From a business perspective the owners of the Talbot have been very astute. They have a formula that works very well at the Half Moon. They attempted to woo the inhabitants of this corner ofSussexwith a more intriguing approach to pub food but were royally snubbed. Clearly this has compelled them to revert to what they know. But Billy and I are saddened by the loss of a good restaurant only to be replaced by yet another mediocre gastro pub.