Once upon a time – and I must be going back at least 15 years, if not longer – The Stirling Arms in Hove was the Foragers pub; a venue that was renowned with the city’s lovers of food not only for the level of cooking but it was also possibly the first pub of note in Brighton and Hove that actually took sourcing locally seriously.
Now part of the Good Times pubs group – currently managing seven sites across the city including well-known watering holes such as The Basketmakers Arms and The Cricketers – the interiors have had a complete revamp and are welcomingly bright and airy even on a wet and grey February day.
I’m forever on the hunt for decent Sunday roasts, and if I’m perfectly honest, in the past year or so only a couple have come close to cutting the proverbial mustard. Of course, cooking Sunday lunch for a pub is somewhat more of a logistical challenge than popping around to your grans for beef and Yorkshires, but – heavens – I’ve had some appalling cold, soggy, tough, over-salted, under-seasoned and gravy-swamped (delate as appropriate) approximations of this British classic.
After a busy week, it was high time for our weekly family catch-up – and having been intrigued by some of the photos coming from The Stirling Arms’ instagram page – ma, pa and my sister joined me for an early doors Sunday lunch. Arriving at 12.30, I was taken aback that the sizeable pub was already pretty much full and on closer inspection empty tables had reserved signs for not one but two afternoon sittings. With around 100 covers, that’s a lot of hungry roast lovers to cater for once in a day never mind twice. I have to admit a little alarm-bell was ringing in my head: this could either go very badly or knock it out of the park.
I ordered my obligatory Brighton Gin and tonic to calm my nerves and had a lovely chat with the bar team who have a really good grasp of the food and drinks on offer, which more often than not isn’t the case in a local boozer where the local kids have been rolled in to run plates. Service with a smile and knowledge of the menu? Things were looking up.
And so to the menu, priced at £16-18 its the most comprehensive list of Sunday lunching I think I’ve ever seen. Topside of beef, leg of lamb, chicken, pork belly and two ‘Wellingtons’ suitable for both vegans and vegetarians. There was even venison and plenty of gluten-free options. I was starting to feel rather optimistic that the team genuinely knew what they were doing.
Although I’d typically opt for lamb as its not something I’d cook at home, I ordered the Sussex beef as I know that’s clearly the go-to for most. The hearty plate was beautifully presented with cabbage, kale, red cabbage, carrot and swede mash and – thankfully – properly cooked roast potatoes that were lightly crisp on the outside and delightfully fluffy on the inside.
The pièce de résistance – as it should be – was the beef: two generously thick cuts of meat that my knife cut through like butter. I should also add that the gravy was also something to behold – thick and flavoursome and not some slap-dash after thought – so whoever’s heading the kitchen clearly has an eye on the details. The additional gravy boat that appeared on the table without asking didn’t go unnoticed either.
I had a little nibble of my dad’s dish of 12 hour cooked pork belly and no complaints there either. The pub is definitely sourcing well as this dish screamed quality with structure and flavour, whereas all-to-often pub pork belly is either dried out or a stomach churning slab of sloppy fat. I dare say on my next visit, I’ll be ordering a slice or two out of Peppa.
Tempting as the traditional desserts were, there was no room in my tummy after the main event but I’m assured they are all made in-house so I’ve no doubt they’re impressive.
A cursory look over the week day food menu revealed a decent selection of well-priced mains and small plates that are a combination of classics and International flavours. Drinks are typical pub prices and there’s a decent selection of Sussex beers, spirits and wines including two stills from Kinsbrook Vineyard near Pulborough that I’d highly recommend having tasted last year.
The food, service, drinks and ambiance of The Stirling Arms is impressive for a back street pub, but clearly the locals know that and might have been keeping it to themselves. Sorry, Hoveites – the secret’s out!
The Stirling Arms, 3 Stirling Place, Hove BN3 3YU
01273 733 134 • www.thestirlingarms.pub