Barbera d’Alba and Birds custard with Marco Pierre White

23 Jan

The best bottle of wine we’ve drunk in the past week was with the former enfant terrible Marco Pierre White,  youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars back in the day.  It was a fine Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne 2009, listed at the Rainbow Inn in Cooksfield, East Sussex.  This charming eatery looks like a pub but is actually a proper restaurant which Marco has recently put his stamp on under the Wheelers Brand, and it has a very decent list.  It was good to see a Petaluma Cab Sauv from Australia, a Malbec from the excellent Catena winery in Argentina and a Californian Pinot Noir from Calera among the reds and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner as well as a Rully, one of the unsung stars of Burgundy, among the whites.

The food was as fine as you might expect, though since handing back his Michelin stars several years ago and stepping away from the stove, Marco has made it his mission to dispel food snobbery.  He defends his commercials for stock cubes by insisting they are used in many top French kitchens(we were shocked, but will take his word for that), and takes a childlike delight in the fact the Wheelers signature pea and ham soup is made with the frozen variety from Birds Eye.   No quibble with that – frozen petits pois are invariably smaller, greener and sweeter than all but the freshest in the pod on supermarket shelves – but it was surprising to hear him swear that only half the custard in the excellent sherry trifle was made from scratch and topped up with the product of a Birds packet. It bears the name of one Wally Ladd, the chef who crreated this particular trifle recipe at the Connaught, so one can only hope MPW was not playing a little joke at his expense.

Other good things at the Rainbow – a starter of quails eggs on a crispy base spread with mushroom duxelles and enrobed with rich hollandaise sauce, a rib-eye steak with perfect bearnaise and sensational triple-cooked chips, and hot raspberry souffle for dessert.  Marco has installed nostalgic white lace tablecloths and some stunning modern sculptures, as well as  wall to wall Jax cartoons from his personal collection, and the room overlooking the floodlit garden would be an enchanting place to have dinner.   Worth trying at the bar are Marco’s own ale and cider brews, though alas with so many other pubs to oversee around the country, you’re not likely to find him in residence to trade sparkling banter very often.   Still, the new Rainbow should prove a welcome addition to the Lewes dining scene, and prices are very reasonable for food of this quality.

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