Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th June 2006.
I like hotels that spark the imagination. Immured in an unseasonably chilly London, I start dreaming of an idyllic country inn in a lost, Woosterian England. “Let’s go for a spin in the two-seater and spend the night at a country pub,” I say to my husband. “We don’t have a two-seater” he reminds me tartly, “we have a family-sized mobile dustbin”.
We crawl rather than spin through a string of suburbs, but Fletching feels just right for my daydream, a one-street village with the Griffin Inn at its centre: nothing fancy on the outside, glowing on the inside. Darkness has fallen, so we'll have to wait till morning for one of the Griffin’s big assets: its view.
The gastropub was invented here. When Nigel and Bridget Pullan took over the 400-year-old inn in the late 1970s, they kept all the best elements of an English pub, including its two cricket teams, and added food for which you would drive from the next county; attractive bedrooms; and a slice of laid back style. Hence old beams and hunting prints, panelling and patterned carpets, backslapping, bonhomie and well-kept ales in the bar, plus an interesting wine list and six chefs in the kitchen. It’s now run by son James, a bouncy charmer in designer specs and hippy necklace who keeps the atmosphere animated and the young staff tight-knit and friendly. Never muted, with live jazz on Fridays, this place is packed at weekends and seething in summer, when the garden becomes a sea of white parasols and ‘pacific rim’ barbecues take over. “Oh yes”, says James with a grin “we entertain the jeunesse dorée of East Sussex here”.
If it has a fault, the Griffin has become a victim of its own success: the sheer numbers of people who come through, especially at weekends, have left their mark. Our bedroom, in the converted coach house across the courtyard, is approached via a stair carpet that should have been renewed; in constant use, the bedroom too will need refreshing and upgrading before long.
But this is a pub, with prices to match, worn at the edges, lived in but not unloved. All eight bedrooms (two less peaceful ones are directly above the bar) are cosy and attractive without being frumpy, with four-posters, crisp white linen and fresh flowers. Even better are the strikingly tiled bathrooms with Victorian baths and big showerheads; and organic shampoo and shower gel in large bottles rather than the mean miniatures that such places normally provide. And in two weeks time, in the building next door, five brand new bedrooms “of the highest quality” will be opening. They don’t sit still at the Griffin.
Installed in front of a blazing log fire in the bar (the restaurant being too sophisticated for our purposes) my yearning for comfort and conviviality morphs into reality. While I wait for my tasty carrot, honey and ginger soup and not quite al dente spaghetti vongole, I eat far too much home-baked foccacio dipped in green and spicy Sicilian olive oil, accompanied by a crisp glass of white wine from the same estate, Planeta, with which the Pullans have close ties.
The morning brings the view from the elevated garden: a beautiful Sussex landscape with not a building in site, just the Ouse Valley and Sheffield Park, famed for its colours reflected in four lakes, laid out below.
A wicked breakfast, a walk in Ashdown Forest, and we head for home, spinning all the way.
Fletching, East Sussex (01825 722890; www.thegriffininn.co.uk). Doubles from £80 to £130 per night, including breakfast).