The Bell has been a key part of Ticehurst life since the 15th century and things continue to hot up, with Head Chef Mark Charker launching a new five-course tasting menu
The Stables by Mark Charker is the new fine dining menu at The Bell. Launched on Wednesday 8 February, and available on Wednesday–Saturday, the five-course tasting menu is offered alongside paired wines and bespoke cocktails. Absolutely Sussex spoke to Mark to find out more about it.
A couple of history questions to get us started. What can you tell us about the history of The Bell?
Dating back to the 15th century, The Bell has always been at the very heart of Ticehurst village. The Bell’s design is eclectic in the truest sense of the word – the building looks as if an eccentric nobleman has travelled the world and filled his house full of curiosities from his travels. The result is quirky and utterly charming. We have 11 individually designed guest rooms, with features including silver birch branches, a nod to the derivation of Ticehurst’s name, which is “the wooded hill where goats graze”, huge copper bathtubs, hand painted murals tiles. Each of the rooms has its own distinctive name, from “The Benefit of the Doubt” to “Smiles of Memories.”
And yourself Mark, what is your background in the food and drink industry?
I started this journey when I was 16-years-old working in a local fish and chip shop where I grew up, before working in a couple of local pubs, whilst studying at City college in Brighton. I was lucky enough to work at Ockenden Manor Hotel at the early age of 18, working under their Michelin Star chef, which informed a lot of my style and approach to food, which is essentially British cuisine with French influences. From there I moved on to a new venture in The Gingerman Group, where I started as sous chef at The Ginger Fox in Albourne for a year and a bit. The owner Ben Mckellar gave me the opportunity to be Head Chef at his flagship fine dining restaurant, The Gingerman in Brighton.
After 4 or 5 years I moved away from the Brighton scene and landed the head chef job at The Fig Tree, where I worked with a good friend of mine James Dearden, this was during the tricky times of lockdown and covid, where we did something neither of us, and many others probably have never done, which is take away fine dining food style, whilst trying to not compromise our standards.
It’s from there I went to The Bell in Ticehurst, where the proposition of the Head Chef was a fresh challenge, and also a very exciting long-term project.
What experiences to date have really left an impression on you?
At 23, I was the youngest successful candidate for the Roux Scholarship.
When did you come across The Bell?
In November 2021.
What do you want to offer when first launching The Stables?
I want The Stables to be a unique fine dining experience, which is fun and exciting and not to follow other trends. Maybe quirky is a better word for it, which is what The Bell is known for.
The new five-course tasting menu launches in February – what did you want to offer with that?
I think first and foremost I want to offer a great food experience to our guests. I try to source as many local ingredients as possible, providing it doesn’t jeopardise the quality, so it must taste good and not be used for the sake of it. Value for money is important, to show the guests we care about them and to feel valued by us.
Can you give us an idea of the kind of dishes that will be on it?
It’s a surprise menu on the night but to whet the appetite, sample dishes might include Lamb with Jerusalem Artichoke and Hen of the Woods and Caramelised Milk Chocolate, Toffee and Fig Leaf Milk Sorbet.
Are there particular dishes that you personally are loving right now?
I am loving using Cabrito Goat Meat at the moment, as it has a purpose to be on our menu, due to the history of The Bell.
Do you make full use of Sussex when it comes to sourcing produce?
Yes, absolutely. This is a special occasion menu which takes guests on a journey from the sea to the best lands in Sussex and the garden of England, including locally sourced meat, fantastic day boat fish, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and cheeses. Suppliers include local crab, scallops and halibut from Chapmans, Wagyu Sussex beef from Trenchmore Farm, free-range eggs from Spurs Farm and a bespoke chocolate made from scratch, using fresh cocoa beans, from J.Cocoa in West Sussex.
Do you have more plans for launches in the future?
We are currently in the process of extending the hotel, which will have more rooms and a brand new open plan kitchen with a stunning barn restaurant, where we will look to continue our fine dining approach.