Chef Richard Falk is bringing expertise gained from stints at the Dairy and the Ledbury to Lewes, with a menu designed for the locals and focused on Sussex produce. Andy Lynes pays a visit.
Richard Falk, former head chef at the Dairy in London, opened Fork on 1 June in the rural Sussex town of Lewes. The restaurant is set on a side street between the high street and the train station, and specialises in modern, creative dishes focusing on Sussex produce. But it was nearly something very different.
"There was a job advertised for a head chef in a Chinese restaurant. I'd been made redundant from my position as executive chef for Wright & Bell, so I was applying for everything," says Falk, who moved from London to Lewes in 2019.
"I met the leaseholders and told them that I wasn't comfortable doing noodles from a cultural appropriation standpoint, but that I was comfortable with systems and operations and I could give a hand. As the conversation developed, I realised they weren't really set on the idea of doing a Chinese restaurant."
So Fork was born. Under normal circumstances, there is space for 26 diners, including eight seated at the counter of the open kitchen in the wood-panelled dining room. However, current Covid restrictions have reduced that to 18, so the secluded and covered garden space at the rear, with room for a further 14 diners, provides a welcome boost to capacity.
Lunch and dinner menus will be offered Wednesday to Friday, with brunch and dinner on Saturdays and brunch only on Sunday. Falk will head a team of three and plans to open six days a week once he has the staff to do so.
On the lunch menu is a salad of British grains, tahini, fresh peas, celery and mint (£8) and Trenchmore flank, salsa verde, smoked bone marrow with toasted milk bread (£10). "What we tried to achieve in the lunch-dinner split is recognising that people at lunchtime might want to come in and have something a bit more casual at a bit more of an accessible, repeatable price point," Falk explains.
Menus will change "often" ("What I don't want to do is change every day. It's a nightmare from a from a front of house perspective, from a till perspective and from an operational perspective") and will be built around whole animals. "We are going to try and buy an animal and use it before we buy another one," Falk explains. "If we're going to buy a lamb, that week's standard protein will be lamb. We can keep our prime, pink cuts for dinner, where we can command a slightly higher price point and do things with a bit of plated finesse. Things like ribs and shoulders, we can shred them down and have in a sandwich at lunchtime. Then we can honestly use everything that we've bought; it doesn't become too much of a challenge."
With limited space to cook (there's no room for a separate prep kitchen at the restaurant) Falk is keeping things simple. He intends to finish a lot of proteins and some vegetables over coal using a Japanese-style Konro grill, but a rack of lamb from nearby Steyning (£18) which might be served with English peas, broad beans and wild garlic flowers (picked a few streets away from Falk's home), is "cooked with care and attention in a pan and in the oven".
In addition to a classic lamb sauce to finish the dish, Falk prepares a Middle Eastern-inflected dressing from a sesame seed, lemon, garlic, sugar, salt and oil paste, which is emulsified with water. "I've been exposed to a lot of that kind of flavour profile when I was younger. My mum is Indian and my grandparents were from India and Burma. Their lineage is there and a bit Middle Eastern; I'd like to incorporate that as a nod to the things I'm really comfortable eating. I like heat, I like spice. [That could] be in a little sprinkle of crushed mustard seeds, or a little drop of a spice oil or couple of really pungent or perfumed flowers. It's in a mouthful, but not in every mouthful."
Falk's impressive CV, which includes winning the title of Best Chef at the Young British Foodie Awards and a stint at the Ledbury, has stirred up interest locally, with a buzz on social media and strong early bookings, which could easily translate into national attention (the restaurant has already had a mention in Jay Rayner's column in The Observer). However Falk isn't letting that cloud his clear vision for the restaurant.
"If we opened up as an international foodie destination, it would be really alienating to the people who live here. I think people from further afield will come and eat and they'll say, ‘Fuck, I wish I lived here.' But we're still a neighbourhood restaurant."
14 Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2DA
01273 809 445
From the menu
- Caramelised onion tart, Sussex leaves and fresh ricotta £6.50
- Pork terrine, condiments £6
- Whipped cod roe, Rickslade Farm greens £6
- Trenchmore flank, salsa verde, smoked bone marrow, toasted milk bread £10
- Courgettes, peas and broad beans, smoked potato, tahini and warm spices £13
- Brill roasted over coal, session IPA, sorrel and cabbage £17
- English strawberries, whipped yogurt, elderflower and feuilletine £5.50
Photography: PrincipleContent/Hikaru Funnell
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