Have you ever flown in to Gatwick on a clear day and felt rather more upbeat at the prospect of returning to the UK than you might flying over, let’s say, the built-up residential sprawl that lays beneath the approach to Heathrow or City? Well, that’s because this small corner of Sussex is really rather wonderful.
Half an hour out of London on a good run, Gatwick is not only a quick and convenient escape to Europe but also an idyllic gateway to North Sussex.
Leaving the hustle and bustle of the arrival and departures hall and travelling a swift 15 minutes by taxi or an hour on foot you arrive at The Curious Pig in the Parlour which sits proudly in acres of rural landscape.
The hotel houses 13 boutique rooms, newly refurbed in country chic décor – or as I have come to term it in certain parts of London, “cuntry” chic décor – and just about makes a good job of it with hampers of freshly ground coffee and waters on the desk and a nice assortment of White Company products in the bathroom. Bathrobes hang from the open cupboard and the bed has the requisite ‘hop on’ effect to make it feel that little bit better than your own crib.
After freshening up I took a stroll around the nearby surroundings and found it all to be very agreeable. Horses plodded along the narrow roads and locals pruned their ample gardens while the chitter chatter of beer gardens sporadically broke the dulcet hum of the countryside.
The beer garden at The Curious Pig was undoubtedly a defining attribute and was filled with locals enjoying the extra recovery day that public holidays afford when I returned. I decided to let the overspill from Sunday lunch die down before enquiring about a table I had booked for 7:30. “Yes you’re on table 2”, the waitress informed me, before walking off.
Hinting that it might speed things up a little if she could be so kind as to show me where table 2 was, I sat down to peruse the menu only to be infuriated again. “Here at The Curious Pig in the Parlour we love our food”, the front page read. “So we keep things simple by doing our best to pick quality ingredients, cooked perfectly to give you lots of flavour”. I’m sorry, but if you have to notify me that you’re using fresh ingredients and serving flavoursome food, it doesn’t fill me with much optimism. For advice on how to avoid such culinary faux pas, please read here.
The food offering is geared towards pizza and steak, although there is what looks like a ‘main menu’ too with a handful of starters, sharers, mains and deserts. I started with a Spring vegetable, bean and tomato soup with pesto, hard Italian cheese and sourdough, which eschewed all the good promises made on the front of the menu scoring a big fat zero for flavour, freshness and any perceived passion for food.
A Smoked mackerel and king prawns pizza with confit garlic butter base, marinated mozzarella, mascarpone, rocket and a soft boiled egg for the main course made up for it somewhat, an interesting composition cooked to perfection. I’d hasten to add that it was a little too much on the garlicy side, but there was nothing drastically wrong.
Over all I felt rather underwhelmed by the meal, and it wasn’t until the desert menu arrived that I figured out what this place is doing wrong. Chocolate brownies, Knickerbocker glory, raspberry ripple; It’s all so juvenile. When you drill down there’s not much to separate this menu from a Beefeater, Garfunkel’s or Frankie and Benny’s, which given the setting is rather disappointing. I left the following morning feeling refreshed and relaxed, but with the feeling that Curious Pig could be so much more.