You have to go a long way to eat by the light of a roaring fire on a winter’s evening these days, but find it we did at Brighton’s favourite out of town pub half an hour down the A27, The Ram Inn at Firle.
For the walkers heading back down the Beacon, there’s no need to wait for nightfall for the fires to be lit and the pints to be poured in this quaint old country pub. Dusk falls early here as locals join walkers in a Covid?WhatCovid? huddle around the proper old bar, and fires are set in all three dining areas. No wonder The Ram is pulling in more than 300 covers a day at the weekends. No mean feat as the pandemic has paralysed so many of its competitors.
Everything is quaint in Firle; the 11th century village dates back to Edward the Confessor, and backs into the Beacon itself, stalling any possibility of through traffic and herding cars into the central car park to give its single road over to the walkers. Owned by Lord Gage and his ancestors since the 15th century, the village and everything in it is picture book pretty and packed with artists and writers whose rent lines his pockets in a feudal system that hasn’t noticed the passing of time.
No matter for the hordes of visitors who can’t quite believe that a place like this still exists. Suspending reality, as the village itself seems to have done, is rather a pleasant pastime, it seems.
Happily, the menu has managed to straddle Firle’s old-fashioned values and Instagram’s core requirements with beautiful dishes sourced locally and seasonally from some of the best farms in Sussex. The pan roast venison loin from nearby Heathfield is just about the most sustainable of meats you can eat – unless you fancy squirrel – and perched on dauphinoise potato with braised red cabbage and a red wine jus is a wintery dish just made to be snapped in Portrait mode by a roaring fire. The twice cooked confit duck leg with smoked pancetta, braised puy lentils and red wine jus or the grilled cod fillet with celeriac puree, roast hispi cabbage, caper, lemon and parsley oil are a picture of country gastro pub 2022. But it’s the Stout Cake, deep, dark malt and chocolatey with a rich Guinness sauce that brings Old England to the table in this timeless hostelry.
Prices are unsurprisingly modern, and with a good wine list, it’s an easy £100 for two. But if you gaze long enough into the flames licking the ancient chimney as you sip your digestif, you might just see the ghosts of former villagers Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and Katherine Mansfield who were known to pen a few lines over a half on a winter’s night. Priceless.