Our journey to The Foresters Arms, Graffham, felt like travelling to the end of the universe. Travelling along the rural winding roads and being blighted by the occasional near miss of a suicidal pheasant meant the historic Country Free House was most certainly a sight for sore eyes.
Within minutes we were shown to a round wooden table and soon shook off our coats, letting the gentle firelight and soft sounds of jazz playing sooth off the trials of our travels. It would be the perfect location for a romantic date, however I am joined by my sister who announces she would like to stay, work or live here within the first ten minutes of being inside.
Traditionally decorated, heavy beams and cream walls dominate the inside of the building. With colour added in the splashes of green in the accent walls and curtains and by a littering of frames dot the walls. Nice little touches include the old church chairs, still baring their book holders, and a windowsill full of board games. All this means it effortlessly manages to be the perfect balance of homely but stylish.
Sipping our drinks our attention turns to the menu which induces slight sibling rivalry as we debate who gets to have the filo basket filled with prawns and squid and finished with a chorizo and sun blushed vinaigrette. I let my sister win, like normal, and instead plump for the shell-on crevettes with paprika mayonnaise and dressed baby salad.
Luckily when they arrive neither of us are disappointed. I am not sure what my baby salad is dressed in but it tastes delicious, so much so I enquire about its identity and am told it is the house dressing which is made with Spanish oil, French mustard and honey. The rest of the dish doesn’t let it down either as the sizable crevettes burst with juicy freshness meaning the paprika mayonnaise, despite being delicious, is a choice rather than a flavour necessity.
Meanwhile, across the table, the light crunch of the filo pasty is being nicely complemented by the chewy chorizo, whereas the expertly cooked squid just melts in the mouth. Joined together by the prawns and subtle vinaigrette the dish is managing the impossible – to keep my sister quiet.
For main course there is no competition. My sister is understandably seduced by the salad of smoked duck breast and fresh mango with raspberry dressing. "Technically this will be two of my five-a-day!” she exclaims happily. While my attention is drawn to the black squid ink risotto with seared tiger prawns, char grilled chilli peppers and baby squid topped with rocket.
"It’s so nice to have something which is not just the typical duck dish,” says my sister after a forkful and a contented sigh. "And normally when you have a salad like this you find before long all you are left with is leaves. But this has good balanced proportions of everything.”
My risotto is a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach. The rich blackness of the inky rice providing a stunning backdrop for the crisp white squid, and the flavours complement each other even better. The rice is fragrant while the rocket gives it a peppery kick before the meaty seafood acts as a pit stop for the taste buds before they are lifted by the chillies. This is then nicely soothed by the generous shavings of parmesan, all this in the time it takes my fork to get back to the dish for more.
It is then that the menu’s description of being "British with a touch of the Mediterranean,” makes complete sense. The Foresters Arms aims to provide a "little slice of sunny Provence with a sprinkling of good old Sussex, a smattering of Tuscany and a pinch of Andalucia.” And it certainly does all that, while it is nice to know they make a real effort to sourced their ingredients from as close to home as possible all while keeping the seasons in mind.
I, attempting to be adventurous, opt for the cardamom tart. And it is full of surprises from the start. The topping cracks like the top of a sugary brûlée while the pastry base switches between being both substantial and delicate. As for the filling? It is provides citrus and earthy flavours in equal, tasty and bewildering portions. In the end I put down my cutlery defeated but happy.
The service is polite and relaxed which encourages you to take your time to enjoy the food, company and surroundings. Speaking of which The Foresters Arms is perfectly located for people looking to make the most of the beautiful Sussex countryside.
Just a short drive and you can be at the famous Cowdray Park Estate or the beautiful Blue Flag beaches of Littlehampton and West Wittering. And worry not, if all that sounds like too much for one day The Foresters also have three beautiful bedrooms.