Monday, 12 May 2014
The George Grill, Rye
The are some incredibly talented people working at the George, a handsome old hotel and bar on the High St in Rye. Whoever designed the menu, for example, knows exactly what they're doing - it's a minor work of art, with a "Crustacea" section with oysters three ways, lobster, and 1/2 pint of prawns for very little money indeed. There are half a dozen starters, half a dozen mains, occasionally namechecking local suppliers and seasonal ingredients, and a "From our Josper charcoal oven" section with keenly-priced steaks from butcher Donald Russell, with chips and bearnaise included. So far, so good.
And whoever's heading up the kitchen brigade, too, should be very pleased with themselves. Without exception, the food we ate, given the prices they charged, could hardly be faulted - good ingredients, treated well, honestly presented. No superfluous trills or frills, no sprigs of parsley finding their way into places they don't belong, just good, no-nonsense, grub.
The problem, for the customer at least, is that progressing from the 'menu' stage to the 'eating' stage involves dealing with a front of house that, while often well-meaning, are clearly still struggling with the whole arse/elbow dichotomy, and which on more than one occasion threatened to derail the whole affair.
But let's start where it matters. Our plan, and I hope you'll agree it wasn't a particularly complex one, was to share 1/4 dozen oysters each as a starter, one portion 'natural' and one 'Rockefeller' (grilled), then I wanted a starter-sized portion of scallops as a main, my friend a half pint of prawns, and a portion of chips to share. Not a vast lunch, admittedly, but we were mindful of a huge dinner we had looming in the Gallivant that evening, and the seafood section of the menu did seem the most appealing.
The first thing we did, though, was order two glasses of prosecco. These were very nice, and only unusual insofar as they were one of the precious few items that appeared on time, and as expected. From here on, things got a bit more... tricky.
Oyster Rockefellers, here, and you may notice there are four of them. Maths was never my favourite subject in school but I still find myself regularly labouring under the misapprehension that a quarter of twelve is three, not four. Still, at least this was an error in our favour, and they were bloody lovely, just the right amount of herby salsa under a gentle baked parmesan crust.
We waited as long as was comfortable for my equivalent "au natural" portion to arrive, but there was still no sign even as we'd given up and shared the Rockefeller between us. As the plate was cleared, I mentioned the mystery of the missing bivalves to our waitress who, to her credit, looked genuinely surprised and offered to find out what had happened. Meantime, our next courses arrived, suspiciously sans chips.
But who needs chips, anyway, with food this good? The 1/2 pint of prawns were presented with a bowl of excellent lemon mayonnaise - aioli seems to be more usual these days but this made a very good case for the traditional British version - and a slab of light, focaccia-like white bread.
Rye Bay Scallops were super, too; I loved the fact they'd left the roe on, I loved the sweet, mildly alcoholic liquor, I loved the nuggets of salty ham, I loved the pile of bright-green wild garlic. I loved all of it. There are surely few better ways of spending £10 than this piping hot bowl of fresh, colourful springtime joy.
At some point, the raw oysters arrived, bumped up in number to a full dozen to apologise for the delay, which was a nice gesture but as my friend doesn't eat them turned my starter-as-was into a bit more of a bushtucker trial than I'd anticipated. Still, with a clever rotation of garnishes (mignionette on one, lemon on the next, tabasco, black pepper, combinations of all of the above) it wasn't too much of a hardship to finish them off. I'm good like that.
The bill arrived with the non-existent chips on. Well, of course it did, but by this point we were past caring, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Nobody was rude or lazy, just a bit baffled, and very often attitude makes up in spades for the lack of, well, general competence. They were soon removed, albeit with no apology for them having been forgotten about then charged for in the first place, and I'm not sure if the 7.5% service charge is normal or just accurate self-appraisal, but it seemed fair all things considered. Ultimately, we left very happy, and you can't put a price on that. Well, you can - £25 a head - but you know what I mean.