Once thought to be the haunt of choice for the smugglers and poachers that roamed the East Sussex countryside, The Blue Anchor in Crowborough attracts a far more civilised clientele these days, but the pub’s lawless roots are certainly not forgotten in its food.
With a name like The Blue Anchor, you’d be forgiven for thinking the cosy 18th-century pub that sits nestled along the A26 was predominately a fish restaurant.
And while the East Sussex connections with the sea and its smugglers are not forgotten, the eclectic menu celebrates many of the other local ingredients that the region has become well known for, too.
Under starter’s orders
You get a distinct continental feel in this classic pub, not just in the almost brasserie-style feel of the dining area, with its well-spaced country house tables and warm autumnal colour decor scheme, but also the menu borrows influence from many European nations and locally.
Oysters that come from outside of Kent are a rarity in these parts, but the Tipsy Maldon Oysters (half dozen £12) at The Blue Anchor show that Essex produces such delicacies that are every bit as sweet as their South East rivals.
“There’s a good range of lighter bites and vegetarian options, with nibbles including whitebait, smoked garlic hummus and marinated olives”
Another must-try item for the seafood lover is the baby octopus. This was served with sauteed chorizo and a carrot puree (£7.95) during our visit, but the chef also has another Spanish take on the dish, serving it with patatas bravos (£9), making it almost a meal in itself.
There’s a good range of lighter bites and vegetarian options, with nibbles from whitebait and smoked garlic hummus to marinated olives (all £4.50), making it a perfect spot for a tipple and a light bite.
The main event
Fish plays a large part among the mains choices. The ubiquitous pub classic cod and chips (£14.95) along with pan-fried sea bass (£15.95) were both on our menu, with skate wing (£16) and Harissa Monkfish (£18) also often served as specials.
But meat is certainly not forgotten, and after a fishy starter the slow-cooked (12-hour) pork belly (£16.95) proved highly tempting.
The pork was as tender as you’d imagine after such a long, slow roast, and as it came complete with superb, crispy crackling and fennel mash, it made for the perfect winter comforter.
There is no shortage of other carnivorous options on the menu here, with lamb rump (£15.50) and a range of burgers (£13) on offer.
The buttermilk fried chicken burger (£13.95) is worthy of attention for those after a lunchtime bite or something less substantial for dinner. The haberno and mango mayo give it a real kick.
The Blue Anchor is one of those establishments where it is hard to leave, and the ample dessert and cheese board menu will have you loosening your belt to make room for more.
Of course, there are liqueurs and coffees on offer, too, to end the night on a flourish.
Perhaps the biggest strength of The Blue Anchor when it comes to its menu is just how much it changes. No two visits are ever the same, with the team opting to make the most of what is fresh, in season, and available.
There are also regular pizza nights courtesy of the pub’s popular outdoor pizza oven, along with plenty of room for events and celebrating special occasions.
With such a choice of great pubs and restaurants in the local area, The Blue Anchor ranks among the best of them – partly because of the great effort the establishment goes to in order to make the most of the best Kent and East Sussex has to offer, combined with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that will have you returning time and time again.