When former oil industry executive Richard Hutley moved to the East Sussex coastal town of Rye for a more relaxed pace of life, he probably didn’t imagine he’d be getting up at 4am every morning to bake sourdough loaves. But thanks to a bread-making course, which ignited his love of the craft, that’s exactly what he does. Richard set up Lazy Bakery in an disused shipping container two years ago and now sells his bread from the corner of Whitehouse cafe, on Rye’s picture-perfect main street. He’s part of the area’s new guard, bringing fresh ideas to one of the country’s most abundant foodie corners.
The past few years have seen a reinvigoration of Rye’s food scene, with a strong emphasis on its high-quality local produce: there’s fish from Rye Bay, lamb from sheep that graze the wild herb grasslands of Romney Marsh and fruit from Kent’s ancient orchards. Nearby, vineyards are flourishing, thanks to rich soil and a warm microclimate.
Rye is perched on a hilltop with steep, cobbled streets, medieval passageways and preserved Georgian, Tudor and Victorian architecture.
The town’s high street has a stylish mix of tasteful independent shops, including art galleries, interiors stores, bookshops and attractive cafes. The best place to stay is The George in Rye, a beautiful Georgian building renovated by London émigrés Alex and Katie Clarke. It’s a stylish contemporary boutique hotel and a great place to eat and drink — whether it’s a glass of local fizz in the cosy beamed bar or dinner in the George Grill, where local fish and meat are cooked in a charcoal-fired Josper oven.
Nearby is The Fig, a buzzy cafe with contemporary decor and a huge Georgian window flooding the room with light. Opened two years ago by Rosie Furnival, a chef and local farmer’s daughter, it serves a small menu that includes homemade soups, a quiche of the day, innovative salads and excellent cakes. Further down the hill is The Standard Inn a cosy pub set in a 15th-century building with carved beams and a log fire. Tuck into pub classics like Romney Marsh lamb.
Down the hill from the centre, Rye Harbour is a thriving port, supplying the town with the freshest seafood, including scallops, from January to March. To try some of the local catch, head to Market Fisheries on Simmons Quay, where a stall sells the catch of the day, from wild sea bass to mackerel.
For the best local meat, head a little out of town to the Ship’s Store at Winchelsea. A little further, behind the dunes of Camber Sands is The Gallivant, a Hamptons-style boutique-hotel and yoga retreat with a restaurant serving locally sourced food. It’s particularly good for fish, often accompanied by foraged ingredients such as sea perslane and samphire. Just down the road, local chef Kyle Tatner runs a street food truck, Tatner’s Kitchen. His Rye Bay fish sub roll is legendary — fresh cod with chunky homemade tartare sauce.
Meanwhile, if you’re keen to explore the region’s vineyards, take the pretty 10-minute drive to Gusbourne Estate in the village of Apppledore to sample its premium sparkling wines, including a minerally blanc de blancs. Sixty acres here are planted with champagne grapes, plus there’s a new cellar door open for tastings and tours.
As featured in Issue 4 National Geographic Traveller Food.