WLC Eats: Sussex Pass at The White Hart

Douglas Blyde finds homegrown comforts when he makes his way to Wadhurst to visit Sussex Pass at The White Hart and explore some of the restaurant’s list of more than 100 English wines.

“On a sunny Friday evening this half-timbered 1910 inn looks like a typical village boozer, lively and loud with locals drinking out front,” noted The Times’ Gemma Bowes of The White Hart, Wadhurst, located between the parish church and a former oast house on the Sussex-Kent border. “Over the threshold, though, is a trendied-up interior, sharp food from a creative chef and a long English wine list,” added Bowles, who is also the author of “Extraordinary Escapes”.

Design

Improved over the five-and-a-half-year tenure of Sam Maynard (formerly of Hotel Du Vin and The Gallivant) and his wife, Harriet, The White Hart is currently the sole pub in operation in the centre of Wadhurst, a market town voted number one “Best Place to Live” in 2023 by the Sunday Times

Downstairs, the L-shaped saloon and dining room are divided by a velvet curtain. Studies of deer, first at martini, and later, soaked, by artist and self-proclaimed “anti-socialist”, Bill Talbot, adorn the walls, alongside an outsized map of the locale. The best tables are formed from former sewing machines. The soundtrack includes “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend and George Ezra’s “Pretty Shining People”. Like stilled fireworks, dried flowers are by Rare Nature Floristry.

The newly opened trio of bedrooms above, where the Maynards formerly lived and cured homemade charcuterie, are immaculate, possessing frighteningly powerful water pressure, and finished with care, and are intended to act as a base for guests wishing to discover local estates as part of an English Wine Weekend package. This includes an all-English wine-paired menu and an English Mimosa. As his team grows, Maynard aims to be able to devote time to act as a tour guide, driving guests, he says, to a selection of the “30 estates within a 40-minute drive” including Gary, Kathy and Christy Jordan’s Mousehall.

Drinks

Served in Lehmann glasses, and Simpson’s branded flutes, the majority of the list is English, featuring 65 homegrown sparkling wines, 29 white wines, 17 rosés and nine reds, all available by the glass. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the dentist on the adjacent table who effortlessly worked through three bottles of Piquepoul de Pinet in succession, not all visitors succumb to the idea of wines from our land, hence Maynard has included a world chapter, ranging from the Baron de Badassière Picpoul to a white Nebbiolo (Le Strette, Nas-Cëtta), Clairette Blanche from Santa Barbara (Railsback Frères) and Canadian Gamay (Haywire).

Dishes

Realised by head chef, Adam Sear, whose Facebook posts are not for the faint-hearted, dishes determinedly draw on local ingredients, with the exception of the bright olive oil made by Maynard’s father in Puglia. The most interesting way to experience these is via the extraordinarily good value £45 Chef’s Menu, which runs to seven courses, with the wine flight priced the same.

First, with an introductory board of home pickled veg, local charcuterie, including chorizo from Mangalitsa pigs raised in Eridge, a version of homemade focaccia, and impressive of stature olives, Maynard selected a red. Black Ram is from 2020, a year Maynard recalls working as a delivery driver for ASDA when he could not open his pub owing to Covid restrictions. This inky, even Malbec-like, organically farmed Dornfelder-Rondo from Cornwall’s Trevibban Mill, might strike some guests as an intense opening gambit, though felt refreshing a move given how many tasting menus linger in the white territory when the drinker dearly just wants to get to something red. It did however scrap with the vinegar of both veg and olives.

Next, with Sear’s pretty take on “vegan sushi”, including pressed watermelon standing in for tuna with cucumber, nori binding, and a black sesame, ponzu sauce, Maynard chose the 2018 still rosé from wine and cider producer, Tickerage. Its hue barely perceptible, the delicate Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier reaped from a five-acre site on the edge of the Sussex Weald proved the best vinous match of dinner.

With a tenderly cooked cod fillet with bouillabaisse, king prawn and, an alas, slightly blue potato terrine, Maynard brought to the table the peachy 2022 Pinot Blanc from Oastbrook, close to Bodiam Castle, an estate famed for its earthen Hobbit-style accommodation. So close is the relationship betwixt owner, America Brewer, who harks from Bahia, Brazil, and Maynard, that Maynard is allowed 24-hour access to Oastbrook’s cellar via code-lock to top up supplies.

Beautifully pink Stonegate lamb cutlets, followed on well-spiced dahl, with dramatic looking, crisp courgette bhaji. Although the dish wanted for no accompaniments, Maynard recalled “someone asking for mint sauce once.” With this, Maynard had prepared Chartham Pinot Noir from close to Canterbury, giving it air well in advance. Produced at Denbies, the wine felt a little underpowered and angular to tame chef’s gutsy flavours.

A raspberry Napoleon Cake with berry sorbet was paired with Dermot Sugrue’s inaugural sparkling rosé from Sugrue South Downs. The red-led blend 2016 Ex Machina “wine from the Gods” according to the back label, was made from fruit from Jenkyn Place. Expansive, it felt a harmonious match with the relatively savoury, excellent cake.

Finally, imaginatively served over ice in a rocks glass, the 2021 Ice Cyder from The Newt, Somerset brought bite and refreshment alongside cheeses brought to room temperature, including Black Bomber.

Last word

“The only time I’ve worn a shirt was at my wedding,” said the unpretentious Maynard during our stay, before adding, “I want people to come out and enjoy themselves.” With enthusiasm, curiosity and warmth, Maynard certainly brings heart to The White Hart, making a stay here memorable. Perhaps in recognition of his ambition to bring the evolving culture and even lifestyle of English wine to his guests is his tattoo which reads, “fortune favours the brave”. We look forward to keeping an eye on the ever-developing list, and to hearing more about Maynard’s vineyard tours.

Best for

  • English wine tasting alongside English charcuterie
  • Lesser-known labels
  • Exceptional value
  • New bedrooms

Value: 99, Size: 92, Range: 92, Originality: 94, Experience: 93; Total: 94

Sussex Pass at The White Hart – High Street, Wadhurst, TN5 6AP; 01892 351230; [email protected]; thewhitehartwadhurst.com

This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.

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