Tuesday, 29 November 2011

[Restaurant - Organic Cafe] Spoilt by (Not Having a) Choice; The Sharp Thorne of Sharpthorne, East Grinstead

Location - Sharpethorne, West Sussex [UK]

Sharp thinking, quick wits, lightning reflexes. None of these coincided with my decision for a meal at the Sharp Thorne of Sharpthorne, West Blunt Bush Sussex. Rather this came about from yet another failed market visit, resulting in a trip all the way to Brighton, and with lunch nowhere to be found. Fortunately, detouring towards the Plaw Hatch Dairy for some grocery shopping, and another denied chance of lunch there, I was pointed sharply towards a lunch option. 

Appropriately ravenous, I turned up outside this diminutive cafe, located in a small town that had appeared but five minutes down the road from the Plaw Hatch Dairy, seemingly the first sign of civilisation amongst the empty forest roads and farms passed by up until now. Easy to miss, its understated aesthetics did not ease me, but I was far too reluctant to trace up the several Farm restaurants and cafe's I had passed on the way to Plaw Hatch, so I digressed, stepping in, making sure not to cut myself [Hah!].

I was greeted by, no-one. A simple layout was laid out in front of me however, an ample space brightened by ample windows, plenty of lightening, and lots of white paint. If that sounds like a description of a hospital, fortunately that was not the effect. What struck most however was the open plan kitchen counter, which lent the space a rather homely feel. Or a cookery school. The sofas in the back room did not quell this notion either, and as such I subconsciously demanded the requisite honest home-cooked meal these displays promised. Choosing between all three or so available dishes, I was ready. Ignoring the cakes. For now. 

For starter, mains, sides, only available sustenance, et al, I went for the Leek and Goat's Cheese Quiche with three salad sides, seeing as it sounded ever so slightly more fulfilling, yet no less nefariously boring than the other options available. This is me, being picky, despite taking the option of driving two minutes down the road from the middle of nowhere. What eventually was placed before me was gargantuan. 

Talk about farm-to-table eating, it seemed like a chunk of farm acreage had found itself on my plate. A sizeable slice of the quiche was surrounded by an overgrown jumble of lettuce, some pickled carrot and beetroot coleslaw, and some cucumber with yoghurt. Naturally, I started with the fibre to "smooth" the way out for the rich looking paving stone of a quiche. No need to describe leaves of lettuce, other than they were abundant, crunchy and fresh. The mesmerising moment came with a forkful of the carrot and beetroot salad. It was, immense. Putting aside the innate awesomeness of beetroot and carrots as they are, this combination was really quite lovely, despite the seasons not being at the prime. Or at least I do not think they are. Sweet, earthy, yet not weighed down and overly starchy, helped in part by the delicate and slightly spiced pickling that did not melt my mouth. The cucumber was much less life re-affirming, at least in the context of vegetables, but was still deliciously creamy, punctuated by the clean and boring cucumber. 

Holding off the "pies" for as long as I could, without any more healthy vegetables left on the plate, I duly proceeded towards the guilty pleasure of cheese, and pie. In slab form. Fork through the dense filling, and breaking through the appropriately thick pastry, I mulled over the pleasantly subtle flavours. Slightly buttery, tinged with a fresh, slightly green onion bite from the leek, amongst a fluffy, slightly eggy filling, before breaking through the dense, buttery pastry. What surprised however, was the goat's cheese, or the rather the lack of a face imploding tang - the only evidence of the cheese was a slight "fresh cream" nuance, perhaps a minutely salty tang amongst the other gentle flavours. Regardless, it was still well played, with fresh, subtle flavours, hearty constitution, and gargantuan proportions, though I was hoping to be floored. Not that any crumbs were left. And despite which, I still persisted with the notion of requiring dessert, in an apparent mission to cause a stomach eruption the scale of which would include countless victims. Before that however, I would require a coffee. Or in this case, Caro. A Chicory, acorn, rye, dolphin tear and fairy dust based coffee replacement. Yeah, really. 

No, I was not being a hippy, ignoring for now the unpasteurised bottles of milk in the car, and my travelling to a Farmer's Market on the same day. And dining at an organic cafe.


Anyway. It arrived. It at least looked like coffee.

I approached it..

Smelled like coffee.. 

Took a sip. 

By Joe [hah!] it even almost tasted like coffee! Well, once I got through the heaping frothed milk. These hippies seem to have broken some ground here. Granted, the intensity was lacking, the toasty grainyness of the drink starting to build an impression of coffee, only to stop dead in its tracks and not really go anywhere, it however, was semi-convincing. Awash with a need to hug a tree, I quickly rushed to make amends and consume big, sugary calories. Preferably something with meat or that needed to be killed to redress this emasculated balance. Though I figured a slice of Spanish Almond Cake should do. 

And it more than just "did". Crumbly yet moist, buttery and not overly sweet, the gentlest of nutty notes was apparent in the slice, and it was generally just wholesomely satisfying. Not much of an almond prevalence, which I guess is refreshing and perhaps indicative of actual almonds being used - I cannot stand the rather obvious, almost chemical "almond extract" laced desserts that try to recreate the almond insinuated in their names. And not breaking their short tradition of providing ridiculously oversized portions, I left a minute slither of the cake over, more for conscience sake than anything.

So I emerged, with nary a cut, plenty satisfied, even surprised - the proprietor seemed to be Italian despite being based in the middle of nowhere, not that it netted me any discounts - and even feeling a bit of a tree-hugger. It was disgusting. Not burdened by the enigmas of choice and complications, the cafe was simple and pared back in its presentation, and its food. Fresh, bright and simplistic. Food, and cafe! On top of that, being organic, I also kept the ire of Greenpeace at bay, and brought joy to a family of woodland critters and whatnot. Could not ask for more. Now to return home, drink my unpasteurised kefir and hug a tree.

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