“The kind of place I really want to succeed” – restaurant review

Lewes, where Fork lives, had escaped my notice until now. Maybe, like me, you went all the way to Brighton and then, distracted by bright lights and cotton candy, you never traveled further. I suspect that’s exactly how the locals like it, slightly ignored by the hubbub of tourists demanding candy apples or places to shout while wearing hen night scarves. Lewes is not like that: it is a completely different land, picturesque, quirky, charming and all sorts of other words that make you wander nostalgically through the windows of estate agents, after visiting Anne of Cleves’ house and purchased coffee beans from Trading Post Coffee Roasters.

Until recently, rumors had it that the local dining landscape was a bit limited, although the new Turkish Zorba Square has breathed life into the town. Others told me to check out the new Superhip Relais Cooden Beach hotel redesign underway near Bexhill-on-Sea, where I’ve been before Fork, hoping for a Sunday brunch like the cats order cool, but I was reluctantly served an untoasted ciabatta sandwich with an all-salty crispy filling at 10:30, as the chef was no longer making breakfast. By the time I reached Fork, my hunger was great and my expectations thwarted. Luckily, it was worth keeping my appetite up.

Fork is small and intimate, and set in a Grade II listed building painted pale gray. Don’t come here to conduct sordid business and expect adjacent tables not to hear every word of your conversation; your neighbor’s elbows might just be in your soup. The room is sparse, with an open kitchen to one side, and there is an enclosed garden for dining in during the sunny months. This is a chef-led independent restaurant with modern aspirations: it’s chic and imaginative, rather than hearty.

The Sunday menu when we visited was two courses for 30 or three for 38. On entrees was a quenelle of rich chicken liver pate on a soft and fluffy homemade brioche with fried pickles, jelly quince and a pinch of pistachio. A dish like this immediately enhances a restaurant stall: think Ledbury and definitely not Toby Carvery. Every element of this bowl is crafted from scratch and thoughtful, including the placement of the micro watercress and pea shoots.

The same goes for my favorite dish of the day, if not the month so far: Fork’s Cauliflower Soup, which looks like a humble soup, but is actually filling and complex. It has a hint of cruciferous, but is rich in blue cheese and hazelnuts, and topped with lightly sweetened little donuts – a fancy word for tiny donuts that strip away all their calories.

It’s the kind of place I really want to make it, and times are tough right now for restaurants, so if you can support places like Fork, be willing. My guess is that Pizza Express and the big beasts will weather the coming storm, while chefs who spend hours on duck fat rösti to perch alongside organic sirloin, or cook individual lobster wontons for complete day boat fish for only a handful of customers, will find things much more difficult. Use them or lose them will be the theme of winter 2022-23, as we look down our main streets and wonder which restaurants might have the heaters on, so we can save a few hours of gas.

I can think of worse ways to spend January than eating Fork’s glorious chocolate dessert, or, for that matter, the artfully simple vanilla brulée, which, when pushed, gives way to a delicious compote of pear and is accompanied by a very good spicy ginger ice cream. Currently, Fork has a Christmas menu where this ice cream is now served with baked alaska and mont blanc with chestnut ice cream. They don’t do anything as straightforward as the turkey with the toppings, but the nods to the season are there in the cheesecake with calvados-poached apples and in a first course of duck confit pastilla with a chutney of figs and spicy apricots.

Fork is a small neighborhood restaurant with a heart brimming with ambition. The team is enthusiastic and just the right amount of seriousness, and the clientele is local, probably hoping that a restaurant critic won’t jump in and enjoy a cauliflower velouté so much as to blow their secret. So it’s with some modesty that I have to do just that: if you’ve made it all the way to Brighton, then blow to Brighton, head to Lewes and dine at Fork.

  • Fork 14 Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex, 01273 809445. Open Tuesday to Sunday, lunch 12pm-2.30pm (3.30pm Sunday), dinner 6pm-9.30pm. Two courses £30, three £38, both plus drinks and service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *