Travelling over the Downs from Brighton to Hurstpierpoint is always a joy – there’s something different in the air over there. The calmness is palpable and the cuteness is paraded along every higgledy-piggledy cottage and hedgerow on the High Street. Nestled in the heart of the village is The Fig Tree restaurant, created, operated and owned by couple Jodie and James who grew up in Hurstpierpoint. Their love for their hometown is evident, and they’re on a mission to treat the community, and those from further afield, to fabulous food and seriously good wine.
When a restaurant offers a tasting menu, you know the chef means business. The Fig Tree is a showcase of skill, experience and execution, and the frequently changing array of dishes sets out to celebrate all the Sussex countryside has to offer.
Art & architecture
From the fig tree motif to the chapel-like windows, and modern-yet-countryside-comfy décor, this is a serene environment, perfect for sampling some of Sussex’s finest cuisine. It’s all smiles when you walk in and the relaxed but semi-formal atmosphere envelops you. Our evening menu was presented with knowledge and flair – the team know the food and understand the nuances of the chef’s intentions. We were in for a treat: six courses, a wild span of fancies, and an array of food groups.
Two homemade glazed bread rolls, wrapped for warmth in a white napkin, appeared first. Each was swirled into a neat shape that screamed out to be undone and in-mouthed.
To set the scene were truffle and cheddar ‘gougère’ balls, the light pastry oozing with gooey cheese and topped with quince. These were accompanied by two snacks on taco shells: tandoor salmon, and beef with cubed tomatoes. These are mouthfuls to write home about and supply different flavours aplenty.
The delicate presentation abilities of the chef, and attention to detail, came into play with the tomato, courgette, basil and burrata, which is served in a thin, light pastry case. The skinless tomatoes have absorbed oils and herbs to become acidic and sweet, with the al dente thinly sliced courgette adding bite to the dish. Then there’s a sneaky, creamy burrata base hidden beneath. These are elevated canapes that would liven up any party, and the dish is a treat for the eyes.
But, y’know, things just get better and better at The Fig Tree. Possibly the most divine course was the lobster pasta with sweetcorn, served in an oversized white bowl and covered in a sea-foam for added theatrics. Generous portions of sweet lobster and corn were stuffed inside a ravioli casing; every forkful was tongue-twistingly good.
The chef showed off his meat skills with the next course of lamb, which was perfectly cooked and juicy pink, arranged beautifully with charred onion and confit potato. Aubergine and wild garlic were not overpowering but enhanced the dish in all the right ways. This was some properly good food with jus and oils hugging everything together.
We opted to add the cheese board to the journey, mainly because we love cheese, but also because it comes with Port. The charcoal cheddar was deliciously creamy and the board is a heartily recommended indulgence if you have room.
There are two desserts on the tasting menu – one to cleanse the palette and the next to indulge it. The peach, vanilla and meringue lightly welcomed us into sweetland, with its fresh raspberries and gooey meringue textures.
The dessert taste crown, however, went to the ‘chocolate, hazelnut and coffee’ which was presented like a piece of art. Crisp brittle with smooth swirls of hazelnut and spongy sponge with crunchy hazelnut and a quenelle of smooth ice cream; it’s a smorgasbord of flavours and textures that works wonders on every spoon.
It’s clear that The Fig Tree is the gastronomic heart of Hurstpierpoint and the happy faces in the dining room were a testament to the chef’s capabilities. A real treat, just 15 minutes from the city centre, but a world away.