The Gallivant, Camber: ‘Unfussy and extremely satisfying cooking’ – restaurant review – The Guardian

Restaurant News

The Gallivant, Camber, East Sussex TN31 7RB (01797 225 057). Small plates £6-£8, mains £14-£32.50, desserts £7-£8, and wines from £24

Sunshine. That’s what stays in the memory after lunch at the Gallivant, a small hotel and restaurant by Camber Sands in Rye. Lots of sunshine. It’s not simply that the sun is literally shining when the taxi drops us there, although it is – a pale, milky sunlight of the sort you find close to the sea in winter. It is the whitewashed dining room itself, with its slat-board panelling and, framed under glass, myriad swimsuits attesting to the glorious variety of the human form. There are rubber plants and blond wood floorboards.

Last week, at the Seabird, high above London’s Blackfriars Road, a similar design felt like an affectation, one seemingly conceived by someone who had only ever seen a child’s drawing of a beach house, perhaps while coming round from an anaesthetic. Obviously, the Gallivant is no less thought out. The current dining room is a new addition from 2018. A mood board was probably involved. It may have come complete with shots of tousle-haired blond children in sand dunes, of the sort Boden likes to use to flog its wrap dresses.

Lamb chops on a plate with crisped fat, slightly pink meat pink and bright green sauce dotted across

In its low-key way it’s all gloriously aspirational. A yoga class is finishing up in the space behind the dining room as we arrive. I feel virtuous merely for walking past it. Later, I leave the Gallivant certain I want to be the me in that dining room all the time. I think it works because here there really is an embarrassment of beach. It’s one we never see because we are far too interested in our lunch – a succession of rugged, big-thighed dishes, the appeal of which often disguises the care that has gone into them.

On my computer I have a file listing restaurants I should consider for review; places I think will both show me a good time and give me something to write about. Some go on the list and come off again within weeks, because I’ve dived in at the first opportunity. Others are there so long they’ve closed before I’ve got anywhere near them. And then there are places like the Gallivant that have been staring at me literally for years. New chefs have come and gone and I’ve never quite made it.

A round white plate with a blue rim with an oval of hispi cabbage on it and a herby butter sauce on top

Late last year they announced the appointment of another chef, Jamie Guy, formerly group head chef for Mark Hix. At last, with cause to be in Rye, I had a good reason to visit. I’m glad I did. Guy’s cooking carries the fat thumb print of his time with Hix. It’s unfussy and extremely satisfying. Behold: whelk fritters. Whelks have an image problem. They sound less like food than something you need to get lasered off an intimate area. As in, sotto voce: “I’ve just had my whelks removed.” They often have a chewability problem, too, courtesy of over-cooking. It’s why we send most of ours to Korea. They know how to treat them well. Here, the umami-tastic molluscs are chopped up, mixed in with a batter and deep fried. Alongside is a coarse-chopped tartare sauce. It’s a very good start.

Guy has a smart way of using seafood as a flavouring. Half a hispi cabbage is grilled and drenched with a mussel butter, which sounds like a cheery thing to do to almost any ingredient. There’s a crumb of crisped bacon across the top. It’s a humble hispi in a bespoke suit. Jerusalem artichokes are roasted until almost toffee-like and laid across a thick surf of whipped goat’s cheese with the funky farmyard whiff that only goaty things can deliver. Both plates are £7.

A round white plate with a circle of jerusalem artichoke rounds and leaves on top

The main course menu is dominated by choices cooked on an open wood fire. The eye-rolling cynic in me wants to whine about how the industrial revolution was actually a great idea when it comes to the drudgery of cookery; how I love electric ovens and gas rings because they’re so easy to control, and do we all really want to retreat into playing fantasy caveman by burning twigs? Then again, if a cook knows what they’re doing, food cooked over wood can be stupidly lovely. Here, there’s whole turbot, or a pork chop with capers and sage, or cauliflower with chickpeas and a curried purée. Or there’s what I have for a mildly extravagant £22: sturdy lamb chops from animals that have literally patrolled the waterfront down on the nearby Romney Marsh. They are curled up on themselves like edible commas, the fat crisped, the meat pink. There is a bright, acidic ribbon of green sauce streaking across the plate.

Elsewhere, a beef cheek has been braised until ready to fall apart with a nudge. It is glazed with a glossy jus. Alongside, lubricated by more of the sauce, is a mess of fermented barley. It’s risotto’s grown-up cousin; the one that’s developed a liquor habit and started watching filthy movies. It’s serious and dark. To stop the whole thing becoming a crashing, savoury bore, there’s a big hit of fresh horseradish grated over the top. We have greens on the side because we are good people who care about our bodies.

A round white plate with an oblong of rhubarb pieces and an oval of custard on top, and pink juice on the plate

The desserts make me think they need to employ a pastry chef, or at least someone who can bake, for they are basically creamy things. That said, they are very good creamy things. Rhubarb, the bright pink that only the forced variety can deliver, is stewed and served with a scoop of a thick baked custard with a crust of caramelised sugar. There’s a very dark chocolate mousse with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and sugared hazelnuts. Alternatively, try the local cheese: the Burwash Rose, the Ashmore or the Kentish Blue.

That commitment to locality is reflected in the wine list, which has a long selection of English wines with notes on the distance from where we are sitting to the winery, the closest being just 10 miles away. A few years ago, this would have been grandstanding over quality. It’s still a bit of an affectation. Few of these homegrown bottles are immediately affordable. You’ll still have to look to the Spanish and French section for that. But the quality is definitely there. A glass of Hush Heath Pinot Blanc-Chardonnay is gentle and soft. As is the cheery service, which knows when to be there and when to stay away. I sip a mint tea as the winter sunlight drains from the sky, and give thanks I finally made it to the Gallivant in Rye. That’s one I can tick off the list, and very happily so.

News bites

Elsewhere in Rye, I have a jolly late supper at the Standard Inn, from an eclectic menu designed to help soak up the beer. Local scallops are grilled on the shell with garlic butter. There’s spiced potted Dungeness crab, a very well-made chicken liver parfait and, slightly randomly, some properly messy Korean chicken wings. Random they may be; welcome they are (

The AA, which has been handing out rosettes to British restaurants since the 1950s, has told those with one or two rosettes that they will now have to pay £180 to be included in the AA Guide. Those that are up to the standard but decline to pay will not be included. The change effects standalone restaurants, rather than those in hotels, which already pay under a variety of other schemes.

Following news that Marlon Abela’s Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant The Square was shut down recently by administrators during lunch service, the two Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Umu has also now gone into administration. Likewise, Abela’s nearby members club Morton’s has also ceased trading. It’s a remarkable turnaround. In the early naughties Abela, the scion of a wealthy Lebanese family with a fortune from mass catering, was said to be worth nine figures.

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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