What it’s like at The Highdown in Worthing
- Credit: Brunning and Price
Laura Paton visits The Highdown near Worthing which delivers moments of greatness
There's nothing quite like a death-defying experience to induce a loss of appetite. That is something, of course, to be avoided at all costs when you're on your way to review a restaurant. But, crossing four lanes of rush-hour traffic to reach said restaurant is my only option - so that's what I do. You're welcome.
The newest addition to the 71-strong pub chain Brunning & Price sits on the southern slopes of the Downs, between Littlehampton and Worthing. Adjacent to a vineyard and nestled within popular walking country, The Highdown boasts a large bar, restaurant, terrace and tea rooms, as well as 13 bedrooms.
Leaving the A259 behind, I scale a steep lane to find the pub riding the crest of the wave. I thank the heavens for my cast-iron constitution - my appetite has returned.
Like its name, The Highdown is full of contradictions. The first is that behind its stone exterior I find a sumptuous grandeur to the tune of polished parquet floors, oriental rugs and chandeliers, and every inch of every oak-panelled wall is covered with framed pictures, from countryside scenes to Art Deco prints.
Tonight's clientele spans the ages, from leg-swinging six-year-olds to members of the senior crowd. Balloons bob at tables where friends celebrate (and commiserate) milestone birthdays, a group of 30-something lads engage in light-hearted banter and middle-aged couples eat in companionable silence.
The extensive menu (there are a whopping 14 main courses) is classic British with a smattering of global inspiration from Italy, India, Morocco and Japan. There's a good wine list, starting at £17.95 a bottle (£3.30 a glass), although I'm disappointed to see that wine from the neighbouring vineyard can't be bought by the glass. I choose, instead, a Marsanne Viognier (£3.65). It's caramelised peaches in liquid form.
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A plate of pan-fried scallops (£10.95) calls to mind the sunset colours of a Mark Rothko painting. There's a slather of butternut squash puree, three accurately cooked scallops, arancini and a scattering of sun-blushed cherry tomatoes. The arancini - fried balls of rice stuffed with nuggets of chorizo - are the size of golf balls, and satisfy my soul.
Sadly, the katsu chicken curry (£14.95) is disappointing. A large pool of sauce, the colour of the stuff you get from the chip shop, tastes only of star anise. The kitchen staff have, at least, had the sense not to pour it all over the crisp bread-crumbed chicken. The meat is moist but there's an unappealing layer of sticky batter beneath the crumb coating. The coconut rice is overcooked and sickly, and the carrot and cucumber ribbons have been hanging around in a hot kitchen for too long. Not the Japanese favourite I was hoping for.
Fortunately, dessert provides a sky-high ending to the meal. The strawberry and raspberry Eton mess (£6.50) is a cloud of whipped cream, fruit and meringue, topped with a scoop of raspberry sorbet and a sprinkling of toasted oats, putting a cranachan-style twist on an English classic. The light drizzle of ginger syrup is a master stroke.
It's a shame that the katsu curry left a bad taste in my mouth because, overall, I liked The Highdown. I liked that it wasn't an identikit gastro pub with exposed brick and industrial-style lighting, and I very much liked the scallops and the Eton mess 'a la Highdown'. Was it a meal worth risking life and limb for? Maybe not. But I can always drive next time.
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