Rather than blow a fortune on a romantic weekend in Whitstable, with dinner at the Sportsman, we decided to cancel our reservation and cycle to Bill's in Lewes, near Brighton instead. We’d heard such great things about a little place called Bill’s that we felt we had no option.
So at 10am on a sunny Saturday we set off to the South Coast on our bicycles… We left Balham, Tooting and Mitcham in our wake before emerging in Surrey rather than Sussex. In our infinite wisdom we’d decided against taking a map. Rather than taking the direct route on the A237 we had gone on a tangent on the A217. Banstead Downs, it turns out, is around 12 miles off course from Caterham, which was our gateway out of London and into Sussex. Cowie only told me how far we had deviated when we got to Lewes. Hopefully the map below will help you to understand how much further we had to cycle. What it doesn’t show is the small mountain range that runs through South London…
Having got back on track we were then assaulted by a disgusting hill coming out of Caterham. My cheeks were bright red and the air was blue with cursing. But when we got to the top of the hill the view across the M25 was spectacular.
The London traffic dispersed and the fields opened up. We found ourselves wiggling along down beautiful country roads. Planes rhythmically lined up to land at Gatwick, spewing carbon dioxide only marginally more disastrously than my lungs.
We’d been told to avoid the A22 and if we landed up in East Grinstead, then we’d gone badly wrong. So what did we do? We found ourselves rumbling along the A22, which if you hadn’t guessed, is the main trunk road from London to Eastboune. Every now and then we could hear the squeal of tyres as a motorist got too close for comfort. Lorries the size of Simon Cowell’s ego and huge buses of pensioners did their best to barge us off the road. And then we landed up in East Grinstead! Apparently we should have taken the little country roads that run parallel – by contrast they are safe and pretty.
So when we got to East Grinstead we popped into a BP garage to sneak a peak at a map. The assistant went one better and told us we were not only on course but only 15 miles away. This gave us second wind as we calculated being only an hour or so from lunch.
On leaving East Grinstead we discovered Ben Nevis. If you were under the illusion that Nevis is in Scotland, then you are very, very wrong. It’s 2 miles south of East Grinstead on the A22. We snaked up the mountain, constantly being deceived by the way the road curled back on itself. Several false summits later we stopped and gathered our breath before our final assault. We stormed to the top, only to be confronted by the most soul destroying road sign, I’ve ever seen which looked something like this…
Feeling despondent we ploughed on and were delighted to discover that it was downhill all the way to Lewes. We zoomed along ridges, flanked by cows and dive bombed by birds. This final stretch of cycling was spectacular.
We arrived at Bill’s at 3 o’clock. I was so hungry that I’d considered eating my front wheel and bicycle chain. It was throbbingly busy with people devouring breakfasts and wolfing down impeccably sourced food.
Bill’s is famed in Sussex for serving stonkingly good organic produce. But most importantly, they do one of the best breakfasts in the South East.
When we ordered pretty much everything on the breakfast menu the waiter suggested we had asked for too much. So we asked for some crumpets as well!
My full English was excellent. Plump sausage competed for primacy with two wonderfully poached eggs, two rashers of immaculate bacon and a mushroom, that had been dusted with thyme leaves. The only concern was an over exuberant application of basil leaves and a paucity of sourdough toast.
Cowie’s scrambled eggs with smoked salmon was served cold. So we sent it back. We listened to a tell tale ping but none came. Moments later Cowie was tucking into a fantastic pillow of runny scrambled eggs, that oozed over a generous sheet of smoked salmon. Apart from the false start, this deserved full marks.
Cowie, being Cowie, devoured a platter of salads and vegetables with indecent speed as I guzzled my rhubarb smoothie like a child who likes annoying everyone when they suck the final dregs out of the glass.
We had several long chats to the staff who were charming throughout who were giggling at the fact that we’d cycled 61 miles to be there. They all clearly love working at Bill’s and their passion ensures all the customers leave with a smile on their faces.
We loved our cycling expedition so much we’re going to make it into a series. Although I doubt we’ll do too many that require 5 hours of cycling! If Michelin gives stars to restaurants depending on how far you’d drive out of your way to eat at them, then it might well be time for Bianchi or Trek to launch a new guide that is based on how far you’d cycle for breakfast. We’d suggest that Bill’s deserves the full 3 star rating.