Sunday Lunch at the Ram Inn, Firle, East Sussex
After a visit to the lovely Charleston (home to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, key artists within the Bloomsbury group) this Sunday, Gabriel, my mum, Tom and I went in search of a pub.
As Vanessa Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf, had lived in the nearby village of Firle it seemed only sensible to look for one there.
Firle itself was a delight, tucked away in the beautiful East Sussex countryside. Pretty and oozing a sense of community, with its Arts Trail in full swing and residents’ gardens opened up as impromptu cafes, all fluttery bunting and clinking tea cups, it revealed an identity many of us only get a chance to experience in books. And when we saw the pub with its red brick and flintstone walls , offset by the colourful flower baskets and tastefully cream and brown sun umbrellas and dark green paint work, we knew we’d made the right call.
Nestled within the space created by the L-shaped red brick and flintstone building was a large outdoor seating area which on this surprisingly still and warm Sunday was buzzing with life and colour, people constantly coming and going, and so we got a table quite easily. Excited by the menu we only hoped that we hadn’t cut it too fine to order lunch.
When the waitress emerged from an interesting side bar (‘The Farmers’ Bar’ decorated in a Farrow-and-Ball-Does-Muddy-Walking-Boots style which was rather wonderful. Dark walls, sparkly chandeliers, rustic barrels, deliberately aged ram painting, spit and sawdust floor), we knew that we had not.Although not usually one for a starter for a Sunday lunch, I agreed (big of me…) to share a cured fish and shellfish board. Mum was paying. And it did sound good. Delicious smoked salmon, smoked haddock, prawns…looked and tasted good too and the sharing board for two was more than enough to take the edge off the incredible hunger that the four of us had built up after walking round the small but perfectly formed Charleston garden…
As main course, three of us ordered roast beef, only Gabriel lured away from the charms of the traditional in favour of a Mediterranean tart. Must have been due to the surprisingly warm and sunny weather.
The drinks order came quickly, as did the starter.
Yet somehow the main course seemed pretty damned elusive for more than an hour. And we didn’t mind. Making the most of the sun and red wine, we people-watched, marvelling at the intricacies of the tattoos sported by the bearded young men on the table next to us, learning that the Cotswolds were not, contrary to what we had previously believed, the exclusive habitat of the pink trousers brigade, and enjoying the sight of so many dogs attached to serious walkers (sun hats, shorts and walking boots – had to be).
The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed with most dogs sleeping peacefully under their owners’ seats, occasionally giving each other a gentle nuzzle before being roused to carry on their blissful country walk. Happy. Companionable. What an advert for having a dog of one’s own!
And this picture of a rural idyll just got even more idyllic when two riders ‘parked’ up their trusty steeds and came over for a drink.
‘A beef and a chicken?’ A young waiter asked shyly. We said that we hadn’t ordered the chicken causing him to scurry back in with both plates and us to realise that we’d been waiting for over an hour. Thankfully a mere ten minutes later two beefs appeared. When it was clear that the remaining two plates weren’t going to be appearing any time soon mum and I reluctantly started to eat.
With no staff around Gabriel went in to find out if there was any problem with the order. There was. They had forgotten about it. With a party of 30 inside, the warm weather, not to mention the village art trail, attracting a never ending flow of customers looking for that perfect Sunday lunch in a quintessential English village, chaos had descended on the kitchen.
Thankfully Gabriel and Tom got their lunch. And they enjoyed it. As mum and I did ours.
The beef was pink and soft and served with a mustardy cauliflower that was not overdone and a delicious chunky home-made horseradish sauce. I don’t know if it was because I had to wait for so long, my senses thus heightened, but even the kale, not my favourite vegetable, had a depth of flavour that married well with the meaty gravy. And Gabriel loved his little tart…So, fab food.
But we declined the pudding. This time.
And inspite of the long wait we’d had a magical afternoon in a bustling pub in a charming village.
Address: The Ram Inn
The Street, Firle
Tel: 01273 858222
The bill came to £84 for 4 people. Great value given the quality of the food and wine.
Service: Despite the pressures of an incredibly busy day the waiting staff remained polite and accommodating throughout. As did the customers when left waiting for their food. Good, kind people, mistakes and all, on both sides.
Walks (which I will definitely fit in next time – and there will be a next time – I visit Firle)
Firle circular walk : a six and a half mile walk that takes approximately two and three-quarter hours.
Firle and fine downland views walk : a 4 mile walk that takes two hours.
This hidden gem of a village has no road markings, streetlights or through traffic which contribute to its calm and timeless feel.
To find out a little more about Virginia Woolf’s association with the village click on http://www.virginiawoolfsociety.co.uk/vw_res.firle.htm