Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore Restaurant
Hastings Food and Wine Festival
Now in its eighth year the Hastings Food and Wine Festival is a celebration of all things British, especially local wines and fish. Hastings is the perfect venue, organised by the famous fishermen’s huts in the Stade open space, it had something for everyone.
Everywhere I looked I could see people eating the excellent produce cooked in front of them. Many restaurants were here including Noble’s from Battle, Hasting’s very own Webbe’s and bread from the award winning Judge’s Bakery, voted by the Independent as one of the best 50 food shops in Britain. Carr Taylor, Biddenden Vineyards and Sedlescombe biodynamic English Wines were all there to fly the flag for great British wines. And quite splendid they were to. Sparkling, fruit, rose, reds were all present for tasting. A little know fact is that there are 35 vineyards in Sussex and Kent alone. If that all sound too much then why not sign up for a wine appreciation lessons at The Essential Wine School, they run a whole variety of tutored tastings to professional qualifications. The director Edward Bacon said “ British wine has come a long way in the last 40 years, it can now compete with the best in Europe, especially the sparkling wines”.
But it wasn’t all wine there were some terrific chillies and jams to taste from Love Chillies. And on that theme how about the superb invention of chilli and orange fudge created by Kay, The Fudge Queen at House of Fudge. Kay started her business less than ten years ago in her kitchen and has gone from strength to strength. Food demonstrations are always a big part of the festival and this year was no exception, Paul Webbe demonstrated his culinary prowess with filleting fish and Sussex Coast College gave us a glimpse of the talent of the future.
There is so much to do in Hastings on a weekend like this, a visit to the Fisherman’s museum with the all knowing and friendly Pete as your guide is a must. The Old Town offers some of the most picturesque architecture in the country and the little alleys that join up the main roads know in Sussex as ‘twittens’ are unique and well worth investigating.
Slightly more unusual food can be found here as well, I came across Stratta a company making all sorts of fruit based products, oils, vinegars, balsamic dressings and preserves. Run by Mary and Jon Stratton they sell locally. One of the standout tastes was their fruit vinegars sold in little bottles of six. Perfect as a gift or to keep.
We lunched at Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore, one of Paul and Rebecca Webbe’s four restaurants in the area. After nibbling our way through some fresh bread and balsamic with oil while we read the menu. I kicked off with an excellent dressed crab with Bramley jelly and a Granny Smith salad. The combination of tart slices of apple paired with crab was new to me but it tasted wonderful. The crab was divided into white and dark meats. I preferred the white, especially with the Bramley jelly.
I was with another journalist and his partner and having had the same starters we went our different ways for the next course. A full tasting char grilled Tottongworth Farm sirloin steak with spinach and a wild mushroom sauce was full of flavour. The sauce was just right, not too heavy and allowing the beef to shine through. I had new potatoes for a side, which steamed with alluring perfection. Around the table a very generous grilled plaice was finished in no time and a steamed panache of fish with a saffron sauce was enjoyed to last morsel.
Diane who looked after us so well was also keeping an eye out for the owner’s requests for more fish as he was demonstrating outside and running their pop up restaurant. The extension of duties for the restaurant and its staff didn’t stop her tending to our every need. Talking of needs Paul Webbe runs cookery courses at the restaurant if you feel the need to learn how to buy knowledgably at a fish market, prepare your purchase, cook it and then eat it, all in one morning. It’s just the sort of lesson all school children (and adults for that matter) should attend at least once. All these valuable skills are in danger of dying out unless we keep them going. This is only one of many courses that Paul runs, so if you have a preference for something else he can probably help you out.
Puddings here are worth saving room for. I had a deconstructed lemon curd Eton mess – perfect in every way, sweet, tart and gooey. I loved it. A raspberry crème brulée was gone in no time and berry sorbets in a generous brandy snap basket produced lots of oo’s and ahh’s from its recipient. All in all an excellent lunch served with aplomb in a family restaurant run by people who know what they are doing. What more could you ask for?
So would I come again? A definite yes, Hastings has so much to offer for the foodie and weekender alike. I stayed at the White Rock Hotel, which was very comfortable and serves up a mean full English breakfast.
When the festival isn’t on there are still wonderful food opportunities to discover, there always seems to be an interesting little restaurant in George Street in the Old Town worth trying and of course if you like your fish then head for Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore restaurant where we had such an enjoyable lunch. The architecture is enchanting there are local wines to sip and watch the sunset with and of course lets not forget Hasting’s biggest star and provider – the sea.