The Fountain Inn, Ashurst A Classic Sussex Pub

The Fountain Inn, Ashurst A Classic Sussex Pub

When it comes to dining out, my wife and I rarely venture out of Brighton and Hove, as the city’s dynamic foodie scene has so much to offer in terms of quality and variation.  Both coming from rural roots, we have had our fair share of traditional country-style pubs.  Our dining habits may have to change however, as our recent rare adventure into the countryside brought us to the Fountain Inn in Ashurst, just 30 minutes outside of Brighton.  This is possibly the most elegant cosy, warm and welcoming country pub we have ever visited, with some of the most delicious locally sourced home cooked cuisine to boot.

Arriving on a lovely warm summers evening, we were immediately impressed by the beauty and grandeur of this 16th Century  grade 2 listed building and its beautiful tranquil waterside garden. As we got out of the car and took a deep breath of the country air, we could see drinkers and diners scattered around the garden chatting whilst enjoying the quite serene atmosphere that sucks you in and relaxes you as soon as you arrive.   Situated in the picturesque village of Ashurst , the Fountain Inn exudes a certain character and charm that is both majestic and inviting at the same time.

Entering the Inn instantly transports you back in time, ducking down to avoid bumping my head on the low ceiling and exposed timbers and making our way along the narrow corridor to the quaint bar area where locals were perched conversing over a fine selection of cask ales. Uneven flagstone floors and fireplaces are decorated with all manner of memorabilia, which you could spend hours admiring. I can imagine coming in to the warmth of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s evening and never wanting to leave.

Warmly greeted by the manager Rachael, we were offered the option of dining inside and out.  Knowing my wife is a bit susceptible to the cold when the sun goes down, we opted to dine in one of the charming dining rooms adjacent to the bar.

After giving us some space to settle in and peruse the drinks menu, Rachael reappeared and took our order.  Being the designated driver I opted to try a cask APA which Rachael said was popular with the local drinkers. I planned to nurse my pint for the duration of the meal as I could only have one, but the delicious nectar seemed to evaporate as I was choosing my main.  I perused the select wine list, which is easy to navigate as the wines are divided into sub-headings based on the palate so even the most novice wine drinker can pick out one to suit their taste.  My wife played it safe anyway and went for the house red, Carignan Vin de France, which did not disappoint.  A full bodied little number bursting with fruity flavours, she opted for just a glass at first, but soon after ordered a carafe. I was more than a little jealous and made a mental note to get my wife some driving lessons for her birthday.

At first glance the menu looks like what you would expect from such an establishment; a selection bar nibbles and sharer boards, small and large plates, sides, and a selection of deserts. Delve deeper and you can tell a lot of care and attention has gone into selecting the menu, with a mix of classic hearty pub favourites such as chicken and ham shortcrust pie, and Ribeye steak with pepper sauce, as well as some more exotic dishes such as chickpea tagine, tabbouleh and flat bread, and gin-cured sea trout. Where possible the locally sourced ingredients are listed beneath each dish. We opted to share a charcuterie board to nibble on to begin with, followed by the Gin Cured Sea Trout and Chicken Liver Parfait as a starters. For main my wife plumped for Sea Trout, Cod and Cray Fish Cakes with tomato and red onion salad and lemon mayonnaise, whereas I could not resist the Pan Fried Pigeon Breast with herb roasted potatoes, toasted hazelnuts and balsamic reduction from the specials board.

Sensing we were genuinely impressed with what we had seen so far, Rachael suggested we take a look around while the chef prepared the Charcuterie. We exited the back door and found an impressive selection of vintage cars parked in the rear carpark, which Rachel later explained was one of the local car clubs which they run monthly throughout the year. Circling the building and crossing the duck pond, we stumbled across the barn, which we noticed on arrival as it is simply huge and been converted into a function room. Peering in, it looked even more impressive on the inside. Huge beams crossed the ceiling, giant elongated tables, the piano and enormous fireplace seemed to take up very little space in this grandiose yet cosy room. It even had a skittle ally which they have big plans for in the near future. Watch this space for updates.

We returned to the table just in time for our charcuterie to arrive and greedily tucked in to some of the most flavoursome freshest cured meats we have ever experienced. The hot smoked chorizo has a lovely bite to it but is not too overpowering The Coppa ham and Bresaola were a delight and we could have quite happily had an entire plate of the fennel salami!  All was complimented with pickles, grilled artichoke, sun-blushed tomatoes, homemade hummus and sticks of light crispy toasted olive bread. Rachael explained the meats were all locally sourced from Calcott farm, which would explain the amazing fresh full flavours of the meats. A great start!

The small plates were next to arrive. My chicken liver parfait was simply incredible. It was so light and fluffy it could have floated off the table and yet creamy and flavoursome to boot. The parfait was beautifully paired with onion marmalade which you might think would overpower, but it actually complimented it and made this a well-balanced dish that left me wanting more. My wife’s Sea trout was also a delight – a dish so pretty it was almost a shame to tuck in! Dainty Trout florets intertwined with laces of pickles cucumber and drizzled with a dill emulsion. I sneaked a forkful as my wife was admiring it and it was an enchanting blend of flavours, with the subtle gin notes adding a not-unpleasant sharpness to the mix. Impressed so far, we hoped the mains would live up to expectations!

Thankfully the main event was equally as impressive. My wife has an affinity towards fishcakes and tends to order them regularly if they are on the menu, and she happily explained they were some of the best she had tasted. Not a lover of fishcakes myself I tried a bite, and had to agree with her.  They were perfectly light and fluffy with a thick crisp shell, and you could actually taste the fresh fish in each bite, with the crayfish particularly standing out, and the lemon mayo bringing out the flavour even more so. My pigeon dish simply oozed hearty earthy flavours and I could not get enough of it. The tender meat, the crunchy char-grilled broccoli walnuts and balsamic reduction all working in harmony to produce down to earth yet bold flavours. I could not have been happier!

Rachael returned and could obviously sense we were enjoying ourselves immensely as she had a knowing smile on her face, and when she offered dessert she was met with a resounding yes. We picked from the select menu of classic homemade favourites, knowing we were in for a treat and we were not wrong. We shared a wonderfully gooey chocolate brownie with rich chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream, and a huge slab of classic creamy banoffee pie with salted caramel ice cream. A great way to finish a wonderful dining experience that will be etched in our memories until we return.

As we sipped our coffees, we reflected that we will definitely be making the worthwhile trip out of Brighton again. We chatted to Rachael who informed us that there is always something going on at the Fountain.  Throughout the summer they have barbecues which are so popular they are planning on continuing them throughout the winter, combining dishes cooked on the barbecue with their now famous Sunday roasts!  The Fountain Inn is well worth a visit no matter what the occasion.

Tony Shattell