[Rye, East Sussex] The Mermaid

Please allow me a little rant about Tripadvisor before I get on to this dinner. I usually post reviews to TA, as well as here and, from time to time, I can let myself get quite irritated about their “ratings”. Sometimes it’s easy. I know when a restaurant is “excellent” and I know when one is “terrible”. But WTF is an "average restaurant. TA offers no guidance - which means almost every restaurant you look at has been rated as “excellent” by the vast majority of diners. Almost 50% of reviewers have rated the Mermaid as “excellent”. Does that mean that they had a vastly different experience to ours? Does that mean they have limited experience of eating in restaurants so that, for them, the Mermaid is top flight? Anyway, I wrote this review to post on TA - and gave it the title "Wish there was a “good” button - place is better than “average” but not “very good”. So, here it is. First dinner of our few days away on the south coast.

"I often find it tricky to use Tripadvisor ratings in any meaningful way, not least because TA offers no guidance about what it means by, for example, “average”. Is that a statistical average, as in what most places are like. I think it must be so. Just think of the places that are less than average – the many that you walk past without a second thought of eating there. Tripadvisor lists 80 restaurants for the Rye area, of which the Mermaid is currently rated 29th. So, most new places where I have dinner are “average” places. As good as many but not “excellent” as a Michelin starred place might be. Or “very good” as most of the places that I regularly return to. In my book, an average dinner is a win. So, I wish Tripadvisor had a “good” rating, because the Mermaid is better than most places.

It’s an atmospheric room, the sense of history dripping off it. And service is warm and efficient – entirely “proper” if you will. A plus point for us is that they have a short menu. That’s usually a good sign that the kitchen wants to concentrate on doing a few things well. They’ve also taken their Covid arrangements seriously. Although I doubt whether tables had been distanced more than in pre-Covid times, it didn’t feel uncomfortable. And staff were masked. And a window was open.

As to the food, there was a prawn, brown shrimp and crayfish cocktail to start. A generous portion, dressed in mayo, rather than the usual tangy cocktail sauce, with a bit of crunch from ribbons of cucumber. The other starter was a summer vegetable salad – rocket, strips of cucumber and the like, topped with a wodge of very mild goats cheese and a quail’s egg.

For the next course, a squash and lentil pithivier was not my best ever choice. Nothing wrong with it as such – nice crisp pastry encasing, erm, squash and lentils. It was just boring. There were some crisp leaves and a spoonful of pickled vegetables, both of which worked to give a bit of life to the plate. Across the table, local seabass had been accurately cooked - the kitchen understands the need for crisp skin. It came with broccoli flavoured risotto, wedges of orange, and a scattering of cashew nuts and pea shoots. An eclectic combo if ever there was one.

We didn’t fancy dessert, so just finished with good espresso. "

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When I lived in the UK in the 90’s my parents loved to come visit and explore different parts of the country. We did a Southeast swing once and stayed at The Mermaid Inn. It became a family joke that the mattresses on the beds were as old as the inn. Good trip in general though.

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Hah. And I bet those mattresses are still there - it’s that sort of place.

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My main memory of a short day trip to Rye many years ago is having a cream tea at Simon the Pie Man. I didn’t have much experience with cream teas back in those early times, but I never forgot the name.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold