Fans of understatement, look away. It’s OK if I die tomorrow. Well, maybe not tomorrow, I still haven’t finished Breaking Bad.
I’d needed a rest that wasn’t a tiring distance from London. I’d been to Rye before with friends, so I knew it was sweet, but I hadn’t remembered it being this magical. It’s a quaint, cobbled idyll, packed with tiny independent shops full of antiques. There are beautiful linens, vintage kitchen gadgets and all other conceivable nicknacks. There are churches and cottages swimming in literary history. It’s my Mum’s idea of heaven. This is code for ‘it’s my idea of heaven.’
There’s an old fashioned sweet shop run by a man who hates children. When I popped in, he engaged me in a jovial chat about fatal heart disease. Standard.
The George hotel, where I stayed, is the height of dapper. If Mad Men was made in the future about the most beautiful, decadent and stylish lives of 2015, this was like being on the set. The rooms were co-designed by the owner Katie Clark. Each one is unique, elegant and more characterful that Sacha Baron Cohen. There’s nothing stuffy or traditional about any of it, but fresh and demure. Fiona Bruce, not Tim Wonnacott. I stayed in the same room George Clooney stayed in while filming Monument Men. I thought it smelled of successful wives.
There’s a warmth, charm and quirkiness in the bar. I spent a few hours writing there in the afternoon, on a comfy chair at a chunky table. It came complete with an old man repeatedly trying to order a pint of ‘Old Fart’, to everyone’s baffled amusement. He was drinking a clear looking pale ale called ‘Old Dairy.’
The restaurant, or ‘Grill’ is a clear step up from pub dining but with all the best elements of that retained. You can see into the kitchen, I’ve always loved that. It means you can smell into the kitchen, too, and that energy spills into where you eat, the anticipation: it was exciting.
I didn’t feel like a melon, dining on my own. I loved the normality of the staff, I didn’t feel like anyone was just pretending to be nice or happy, because it was their job. That’s part of what made it so special. I felt so well attended to but never in a way that made me feel like some sort of spoilt dick. There, having the shit pampered out of you feels somehow perfectly natural.
To start, I chose herb encrusted scallops from the daily specials list. It was like an edible Matisse. Three giant, perfectly al dente scallops sat on top of a rich beetroot and slightly aniseed purée. Topped with toasted herby breadcrumbs. It was scattered all over with peppery pea-shoots and meaty, moreish lardons. The scallops were so juicy. They burst with that delicate taste, set off in a mouth symphony by the orchestra of all those other, belting flavours. The crunchy crumb, the smooth, earthy, acidic purée and the salt and pepper of the bacon and leaves. Yum yum yum. What’s that? Yum? Yes.
Already wallowing in opulence like some sort of rapper or pope, I thought, ‘go the whole lavish way you luxury twat’. So for mains I had a steak. A giant 10oz square of rib-eye. It came next to a griddled field mushroom and a tomato topped with some sort of divine basil reduction. Riding on that were the three best onion rings I’d ever had in my life. It had its own little reservoir of Béarnaise sauce. Beside that was a completely separate giant bowl of stunning hand cut, skin on chips. Where to start? The wine.
I had a large glass of 2011 Argentinian Malbec because I think it’s hard to get that wrong. I love wine that’s got weight and prominence without ever tasting fusty or sharp. I prefer spice to flowers for wine with red meat and this was lush. It rang around all those yummy food tastes like a dream.
The steak. Holy Cow! It was hearty, succulent, seasoned and seared just right. The tomato and mushroom were fancy versions of their usual pub incarnations, herbs and garlic dripping off them. The chips were dreamy, almost thin cut and designed, rightly, for absorption as much as ought else. The Béarnaise was a raging knock out. It richly and creamily rounded it all up like a sexy sheepdog but for food. A food dog.
The underdogs which earned a place in my memory bank forever were those onion rings. Who knew they would ever be the thing to shine on that plate? The onion inside was so fresh and crisp still and the batter so light a feather could have sunk it. Yes please. All this gastro grub was under £40.
A delightful dins, in a dear town, at a darling hotel, full of doting people and disarming allium.
The George in Rye (Hotel and Restaurant)
Address: 98 High Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7JT
Tel: 01797 222114
Restaurant Opening Hours: 12.00-15.00 and 18.00-21.30
Accessible: Sadly not, all built into listed building. Wide doorways, and restaurant and bar access both step free but not step-free access to toilets and not designated accessible toilet.