Monday, 3 August 2020

The Gallivant, Camber Sands

A few weeks after restaurants and pubs started reopening in earnest, the novelty of going out and have a professional chef cook meals for me is still nowhere near wearing off. Maybe - hopefully - it never will. I like to think I never exactly took the hospitality industry for granted - it's given me way too much joy over the years for that - but over the last few months I've watched in awe as restaurants I already held in high regard pivoted to delivery, delis, home kits and YouTube instructional videos with enthusiasm and creativity, finding a myriad of new ways of sharing their talent with a covid-battered country.

You'll no doubt all have your own lockdown favourites but I should make special mention of the Belzan/Madre team in Liverpool whose home meal kits were a real treat, Passyunk Avenue in London whose clear instructions managed to guide even this rubbish cook towards excellent buffalo wings & Philly cheese steaks, the Ethical Butcher, who delivered just about the best steak I've ever eaten in my life, and Clays Hyderabadi Kitchen who were kind enough to gift me enough excellent curry to sink a battleship. Oh and Bombay Bustle, the highest of high-end Indian delivery services but for a special occasion, absolutely worth the money and then some.

But as I say, it's nice to be back eating food where the only instructions are to sanitise your hands before sitting down, and to follow the one-way system to the toilets. The Gallivant is a tranquil, sun-kissed beachside hotel just a few minutes out of the pretty medieval town of Rye, and as well as being a rather nice place to stay (as I discovered back in 2014) in recent years they've spent a lot of energy upping their food game, recently hiring a new head chef Jamie Guy and stripping back what was a rather large and unweildy menu into a short, tasteful selection of local seasonal produce.

These are whelk fritters, and were lovely, which is more than I can say for normal raw whelks, the horrible snotty little things. Here, they had sensibly been transformed beyond all recognition into a soft mixture and deep-fried, a bit like seafood satay, and presented with a nice tangy tartare.

Courgettes came both green, sliced thin, and yellow, roasted as chunks. Sat on a bed of nice oily home made hummus they were a colourful and wholesome starter, making the most of local ingredients and would have lit up the room with the joys of summer even if it had been bucketing down, I'm sure.

Only slightly less successful was another starter of gem lettuce, which was crunchy and fresh enough but I'm afraid seemed to have no sign of the advertised Kent Blue cheese at all. And while baby gem covered in buttermilk, parmesan and chives is perfectly nice to eat, it really could have done with some big chunks of tangy blue cheese to lift it. Just some would have been nice.

There's a little section for sandwiches on the Gallivant lunch menu, which is a lovely unpretentious touch and will suit anyone not willing to commit to a full 3-course menu of a lunchtime. This is a "crispy plaice" sandwich, the fish being moist and crunchy in all the right places and a great sandwich ingredient - think posh fish fingers. But better still was a pile of what I can only describe as 'ribbon fries', a worryingly addictive invention somewhere between pommes soufflé and a cornershop snack, which demands you throw great fistfuls of it down your throat until they're all gone and then wish you had some more. I'm usually pretty terrible at food trend predictions, but I'll be very surprised if you don't start seeing these at your favourite local gastropub some time soon.

You'd hope a restaurant sat right on the beach would know how to cook a bit of fish, but quite how stunningly realised and executed this dish was came as a delightful shock. It was, in every way, the perfect fish dish. Not only was the skin on the bream crisp and delicate, and the flesh moist and timed perfectly, but the Mediterranean tomato sauce (a kind of panzanella) underneath, studded with crunchy sourdough croutons and fresh herbs, was a riot of flavour and colour, worth the price of admission even if it hadn't been topped with such blindingly good seafood.

So there we have it - a charming little operation altogether, striking exactly the right balance between smart and unpretentious, that would be a highpoint of any day trip to East Sussex. The bill for 3 people came to a very reasonable £87.75 including service charge, although I should point out that 3 glasses of excellent English sparkling (from Oxney organic vineyard just up the road) did very kindly not appear on the bill, so that would have bumped the cost up a bit. Even so, it's hardly an amount of money you'd begrudge paying to sit in this garden in the sun and eat whelk fritters, ribbon fries and sea bream. In fact, I'd go back the very next chance I get.


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