TheThe ewes, where Furk lives, have so far eluded my attention. Perhaps, like me, you got to Brighton, and then, distracted by the bright lights and lightness of the candy, never traveled further. I suspect that’s exactly what the locals like, being a little muffled by the noise of tourists ordering toffee apples or places to yell while wearing night sashes. Lewes is not like that: it is a very different land, quaint, quirky, charming and all sorts of other words that make you loiter wistfully in front of estate agents’ windows, after visiting Anne of Cleves House and buying some beans from Trading Post Coffee Roasters.
Until recently, rumor had it that the local restaurant scene was a bit limited, even as new Turkish spot Zorba breathed life into the city. Others told me to check out the super new Relais Cooden Beach refurbishment taking place in nearby Bexhill-on-Sea, so I went before the fork, hoping to catch a Sunday brunch like the cool cats order, but was reluctantly served a ciabatta sandwich. With a salty crunchy appetizer ready at 10:30am, because the chef is no longer at breakfast. By the time I got to Fork City, hunger was high and expectations were lowered. Fortunately, it was worth it to keep my appetite up.
The Fork is small and intimate, set in a grade II listed building painted in a pale grey. Don’t come here to conduct an unsavory affair and expect neighboring tables to not hear every word of your conversation; It may be your neighbor’s elbow in your soup. The room is sparse, with an open plan kitchen down one side, and there is a walled garden for dining during the sunny months. This is an independent, chef-led restaurant with modern aspirations: it’s more fancy and fanciful than gastronomic.
The Sunday menu when we visited was two courses for £30 or three for £38. For starters, there was a quenelle of rich chicken liver pate on sweet and moist brioche baked in-house with sautéed cucumber and quince jelly and a scattering of pistachio nuts. A dish like this instantly defines a restaurant stall: think Ledbury and not Toby Carvery at all. Every ingredient in this bowl is made from scratch and thought through, including the placement of baby cress seeds and pea sprouts.
The same goes for my favorite dish of the day, if not the month so far: Fork’s Cauliflower Veluti, which looks like a humble soup, but is actually hearty and complex. It has a hint of cruciferous, but is rich with blue cheese and hazelnuts, and topped with mini, slightly sweet beignets—a fancy word for mini donuts that knock out all the calories.
This is where I would very much like to succeed, times are precarious right now for restaurants, so if you can support places like Fork, please show a willingness. I feel like Pizza Express and Big Beasts will weather the coming storm, while chefs who dedicate hours to eating duck fat rosti sitting alongside organic sirloin, or making individual lobster pie to complement day-boat fish for just a handful of customers, will find things much harder. Use it or lose it will be the theme of winter 2022-2023, as we look to our high streets and wonder which restaurants might have radiators so we might save a few hours on fuel.
I can think of worse ways to spend January than with Fork’s exquisite chocolate fudge, or, for that matter, the plain-looking vanilla brulee, which, when prodded, gives way to a delicious pear compote and comes with a very good spicy ginger ice cream. Nowadays, Fork offers a Christmas menu where this ice cream is now served with baked Alaska and mont blanc with chestnut ice cream. They don’t do anything upfront like turkey with trimmings, but seasonal nods are present in the cheesecake with poached Calvados apple and in the first course of duck confit with spiced fig-apricot sauce.
Fork is a small neighborhood restaurant with a heart bursting with ambition. The team is enthusiastic and just the right level of seriousness, and the clientele are locals, presumably hoping the restaurant critic won’t get ahead and enjoy the texture of cauliflower so much that she blows their secret. With some shyness, then, I should do just that: If you’ve ever made it to Brighton, pop off, head to Lewis’s and dine at the Fork.
fork 14 Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex, 01273 809445. Open Tuesday to Sunday, lunch noon-2.30pm (3.30pm Sunday), dinner 6-9.30pm. Two courses: £30, three courses £38, plus drinks and service.