Moonrakers Restaurant, East Sussex - Restaurant Review

Lulu Larkin journeys to the historic village of Alfriston where she discovers the gourmet food available at Moonrakers resaurant...

Moonrakers Restaurant,High Street, Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TDtel: 01323 871199 (closed Mons and Tues) 

Magic by Moonlight

ALTHOUGH we’ve all had to tighten our belt a few notches lately, dining out is still one of life’s affordable pleasures. But as paying customers, we are increasingly more discerning and have higher expectations of the entire restaurant experience.

 Culinary wizardry with its thermo-dynamic chemical concoctions may be oh so witty, but the restaurants which offer honest-to-goodness, scrumptious food in convivial surroundings win hands down.   And, of course, we want value for money – quite right, too. If you are spending �100 on a meal, you want it have the ‘wow!’ factor.  You should come home singing, dancing and smacking your lips rather than thinking, well, that was all right I suppose.  

 Complacent staff, waiters who make you do the waiting, sloppy service, indifferent food, hidden charges, horrendously overpriced wine and a patronising ‘no problems’ attitude that the customer is always wrong, are no longer options - a fact that restauranteurs and chefs have been quick to recognise. 

 It’s no coincidence that the popularity of gourmet evenings and taster menus has rocketed: not only an opportunity to sample  the very best the restaurant has to offer with well-chosen wines to accompany each course, but they’re terrific value and good fun, too. On your behalf (yes, I know, selfless as ever), I visited four restaurants which regular host demonstrations of culinary excellence. Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats as the show is about to begin.

 Moonrakers snuggles in the middle of the medieval Alfriston High Street and is utterly enchanting.The low-beamed dining room is suffused with candlelight, the walls are adorned with sophisticated paintings by local artists and the tables have fresh flowers and pretty naperie.  There is a cottage garden terrace at the back which overlooks the Tye – a splendid sward swooping down to the Cuckmere river – and the majestic Cathedral of the South Downs, St Andrews church, graveyard and Clergy House. A village idyll. 

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 But everything at Moonrakers is idyllic. Daniel and I visited  when Robin Bextor (yes, father of Sophie Ellis) and Polly (yes, daughter of international artist Harold Mockford) were hosting one of their regular ten-course ‘Sussex Tasting Menu and Wine’ evenings – an opportunity to showcase the excellence of local produce and suppliers and for head chef Ross Pavey to flaunt his culinary skills, which he did to perfection.  

 There were sixteen of us for dinner that night, mostly strangers to one another, but Robin and Polly are consummate hosts and after a glass of fizz and some scrummy morsels on the patio, we all mingled and were made to feel like special guests at a convivial country house party.  After showing us to our (separate) tables, Robin welcomed everyone with a liberal glass of Rioja and introduced Ian Jarman of Cooden Cellars in Eastbourne, who’d chosen six wines from around the world to accompany each course. We were invited to comment on each and how well they complemented the food and a few heated debates ensued but it was all taken in good part and added to the lively ambience.  

 Our first course was a demitasse of forget-the-calories-and-just-enjoy- it creamy lobster broth with delicious bread still warm from the oven. The smoked pigeon, guinea fowl and ham hock terrine which followed was a colourful masterpiece of design as was the orientally-inspired Gressingham duck breast with coleslaw, melba toast and 1,000 island ‘gastrique’ dressing. (Why 1,000 island, incidentally? Perhaps a kind reader will let me know.) 

 After a tiny shot of refreshing Sauternes jelly with Granny Smith apple sorbet - an inspired combination – came a double ‘chop’ of wild sea bass with bean cassoulet. I thought I’d be flagging at this point but the portions are perfectly proportioned so I was easily able to enjoy the mango puree, the dark chocolate brownie and a morceau  of Brie de Meaux mousse.    Jellies, chocolate and fudge the size of dolly mixtures were served with the coffee and Head Chef, Ross Pavey, emerged from the kitchen to a well-deserved round of applause. Bravo!

If this has whetted your appetite, and I do hope it has, Moonrakers will be hosting their next Gourmet evening on Thursday, 4 February with an 8-course menu including tasting flights of wine for just �85.  

  And if you’re wondering where you may have come across Moonraker before, it was the eleventh James Bond film starring Roger Moore and generally acknowledged as the worst Bond movie ever. Unlike Moonrakers restaurant, which was simply the best. Bon appetit!

   Three other Tasting Sensations    

The Wild Mushroom, Woodgate House, Westfield Lane, Westfield, East Sussex TN35 4SB tel: 01424 751137 An elegant, converted barn in a rural setting near Rye, Rebecca Webbe’s restaurant provides food reflecting her love of foraging for the finest local ingredients. They have a �32 tasting menu all year round but are hosting a gourmet Valentine’s Day dinner. At �55 for 7 courses with wine and a drink on arrival, it’s a perfect gift. Webbe's at the Fish Caf� & Webbe’s at Rock-a-Nore17 Tower Street, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7ATtel: 01797 222226; 1 Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3DW tel: 01424 721650 Following the success of his Rye fish restaurant, Rebecca’s husband Paul recently launched Webbe’s at Rock-a-Nore by the old fishing quarters in Hastings, where one of the main attractions is a seafood, oyster and crustacean Taster Bar. Paul regularly hosts Webbe’s Cookery School mornings where for �50 you can learn how to buy and prepare local seafood and then enjoy the fruits of  your labour over a five-course lunch.   The Mirabelle,  The Grand Hotel, King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4EQtel: 01323 412345; Gerald Roser, Chairman of the Master Chefs of Great Britain and head chef extraordinaire’s  sensational tasting menu is available all year round but on 3 February he will display his culinary skills to the full with a special six-course ‘Wines of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’ gourmet dinner. He hosts another gourmet evening and champagne reception on 3 March and then again on 7 April for �65pp including wine. Extraordinary value.

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