There was once a little tea room in Lewes called the Garden Room. It was run by a woman named Cynthia Parrott who was one-of-a-kind. I took my first job there washing dishes aged just thirteen or fourteen, but I didn’t last long. I spent most of the few days I worked there longing to make the sandwiches instead of scrubbing the plates – a mindset that seems to have stuck. An abiding memory of my time there is of the day I wore blue jelly shoes to work and went home with bleeding feet.
The Garden Room premises are now home to a bistro called Limetree Kitchen. I have wanted to try it out since they opened in 2011 and last night I finally went there for dinner. Walking in, I was hit by a strong sense of nostalgia. Everything and everyone looked comfortingly familiar and, even though I grew up in Lewes, I still think this is impressive. When we arrived we were told that Cynthia passed away at the end of February aged 83. I later found a nice little interview with Cynthia online, and thought it was worth sharing here in her memory.
It being a Friday night, we were lucky to get a table at Limetree Kitchen without booking. The space is compact, but the decor is clean and bright, with reclaimed whitewashed furniture, French posters and dresser, and sheet music papered to the walls. Service is informal but attentive and most importantly, the menu is short and sweet, using locally-sourced produce and changing every week.
Starters and desserts are around £7 and the meat, fish and vegetarian mains are £14-£18.50. Keane and me both chose the special: 8oz steak served with fries, béarnaise sauce and a rocket and Parmesan salad. I should apologise here because against my (rather weak) journalistic instinct I didn’t note down any menu details but, luckily for me, there is a sample menu on their website. In fact, I was so relaxed at Limetree Kitchen that I didn’t consider work at all, I just leaned back against the wall and enjoyed the company.
The red wine we had with our meal was delicious.* Not knowing much about plonk, it’s really nice when you come across a list that does all the work for you so you can just choose your price. It was really fruity and round and not too heavy. The steak was generously portioned, perfectly cooked and served with crisp, salty French fries and a zingy sauce. Keane said it was ‘Bang on. One of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten.’
Although there was a creative selection of ‘grown up’ ice creams on the dessert menu, we opted to share a cheeseboard at £8. It was the perfect end to a brilliantly curated (ahem) selection of unusual cheeses from nearby and further away, served with crackers and quince jelly.
Like the Garden Room before it, Limetree Kitchen is a homely, unpretentious place. I imagine the menus and the space will become more interesting each year, like a French brasserie with walls covered floor to ceiling with photos of regulars. I had totally forgotten about the privvy too. Nothing like a crooked path to an outdoor toilet to endear me to a place, yes, I am serious.
The thing that really sets Limetree Kitchen apart from many other eateries I know, is the informal, honest and hospitable atmosphere. I can say so, because after working at The Garden Room for a few weeks one summer, for one reason or another I never stepped foot in the place again.
*We drank Tradition,Vin de Pays de l’Aude, Dom. Bousquet, ’10 at £18.50
Limetree Kitchen, 14 Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2DA. 01273 478 636. firstname.lastname@example.org
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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