We find out what it’s like at The Ash Tree in Ashburnham

The Ash Tree in Ashburnham (Photo by Laura Paton)

The Ash Tree in Ashburnham (Photo by Laura Paton) - Credit: Archant

We enjoy a good pub lunch at The Ash Tree in Ashburnham

Rural Ashburnham isn't somewhere you expect to receive much passing trade.

Five miles outside Battle and made up of a labyrinth of winding lanes, visitors to the village are most likely hikers traversing the 1066 route, finding themselves in desperate need of a pint and a calorie-rich fix before hitting the trail again. Thankfully, the Ash Tree Inn is happy to oblige, with the added bonus of a beer garden with awe-inspiring views of the High Weald.

In contrast to a video I came across of a recent Abba tribute event, the pub is quiet tonight. The hop-festooned, 17th century beams aren't lit with flashes of neon and there's no sign of a patent-booted duo belting out Waterloo to a room of dancing queens (and the odd king).

I'm a little disappointed. Instead, a few locals stand around the small bar sipping pints of ale, and a couple of tables are occupied by diners. At first, we feel like strangers interrupting a private conversation between old friends, but with warm smiles from the staff we're quickly welcomed into the fold.

We peruse the menus, which are chalked up on boards near the bar. There's a really good selection of traditional pub mains on offer, from steak and kidney pudding (£13.50) to beer-battered fish and chips (£13.95), plus starters, vegetarian options, specials using seasonal ingredients, and lots of dishes centred around local produce too.

Glistening with melted butter and topped with a poached egg and a crack of black pepper, the local asparagus starter (£7) is a delight. The spears are just tender, the yolk perfectly runny, but the best thing about this dish is the hollandaise. A far cry from the overly rich and claggy versions I've often experienced, it's a light, silky sauce with a good hit of palate-cleansing citrus.

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It's a shame that the same level of care and attention hasn't been taken with the baked camembert (£7.25). Removing the cheese from its box and baking it in paper is one thing, but serving it in the charred remains of that same paper, causing flakes of black ash to fall over the rind, bread, salad and chutney, is quite another. And what should be a gloriously gooey, creamy cheese is instead hard and overcooked. We push the plate to one side and share what's left of the asparagus.

Our main courses soon heave into view. Taking up half the plate, the chargrilled local sirloin steak (£22) has an appealingly dark crust and is served with crisp thick-cut chips, grilled tomatoes and a peppercorn sauce. The smooth, creamy sauce provides all the piquancy a juicy steak requires, without the occasional shock of biting into a whole corn.

A great exercise in how to balance sweet and salty flavours, the panko-breaded halloumi burger (£12.95) consists of thick wedges of cheese covered in dried breadcrumbs and fried until impossibly crisp and golden, served in a brioche bun with gem lettuce and a flat mushroom. Sides are sweet potato fries, 'proper' onion rings, a well-dressed side salad and a smoky red pepper relish. Top marks.

I start to fear I'll need to be rolled out to the car park. But duty calls, so before I can change my mind I order the cardamom panna cotta with poached rhubarb and rhubarb granita (£6). Pretty in various shades of pink, it's the perfect union of sweet, sour, warming and refreshing needed to round off a meal with a delicately placed full stop.

See more of Laura Paton's reviews at scribblinginthekitchen.wordpress.com

Ash Tree Inn, Brown Bread Street, Ashburnham TN33 9NX


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