A Sussex market town steeped in history and tradition, Lewes is best known for hosting the most dramatic Bonfire Night celebrations in the country. Yet it still remains entertaining at other times of year, its pubs offering an eclectic range of live music in the evenings, alongside ale from the local Harvey’s brewery.
The picturesque slopes of Lewes are brimming with restaurants, cafés and independent shops. Here is our guide to the best options for eating, drinking and shopping in Lewes, like a local.
Café du Jardin (15 Malling Street) occupies indoor and outdoor space in the courtyard of the Pastorale Antiques centre. It offers a secluded setting in which to consume simple French-themed food, including breakfast omelettes, steak frites and herb crêpes. A French theme is continued in the basement with its antique lampshades, sofas, mirrors and vintage signs. The café is predominantly a daytime venue, but features a bar serving fine wines, craft beers and cocktails during special events or Friday and Saturday evenings.
For the best bread in town head to Flint Owl Bakery (209 High Street). Their long-fermented breads are additive-free and lovingly handcrafted using only stoneground organic flour, sea salt and water from the local Glynde spring. The Flint Owl café is a good place to buy a wide range of their breads, of which there are a lot of sourdough varieties, as well as luxurious cakes, pastries and savouries. The tastefully designed garden provides a fine-weather setting for trying their breakfasts, lunches, cakes and beverages.
Le Magasin (50A Cliffe High Street) has developed a well-deserved reputation for its decent food offering. The fully licensed French-style bistro and café serves food throughout the day plus evening meals three nights a week. Breakfasts range from waffles and croissants to Eggs Florentine or a cooked breakfast. The menu later in the day might entail anything from gourmet sandwiches and burgers to fillets of seabass or unusual salads featuring ingredients like smoked pigeon, blackberries and figs.
Shoppers in Lewes are spoilt for choice when it comes to high quality independent shops. Those looking for collectables will be pleased to find at least ten outlets selling antiques and second-hand books, plus auctions taking place regularly in the town. Art enthusiasts have their needs catered for by a handful of small commercial galleries offering work in most types of media.
There are several specialist food shops in Lewes, which is not surprising for a town that worships all things edible. Of particular note is Tina’s Kitchen (90 High Street), which has developed a loyal following because of its organic, nutritionally balanced and gluten free products. Run by nutritional therapist, Tina Deubert, it is home to a health food shop and café. Freshly prepared dishes include soups, stews and seasonal salads matched with proteins such as egg frittatas and seedjacks, which are the kitchen’s trademark savoury flapjacks.
The Friday and Saturday markets are also an excellent source of organically grown and ethically farmed produce. Lewes Food Market (The Market Tower) displays the fares of businesses within a 30-mile radius and takes place every Friday morning. The relatively small space under The Market Tower brims with stalls selling all manner of goodies, including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, bread, cheese, cakes, pastries, salads, olive oil and speciality teas and coffees. Some of the more unusual offerings are delicious raw vegan chocolates handmade by Nik of RAWnCHi Chocolate.
Gift shops come in all manner of guises, forever tempting the curious passer-by. Leadbetter & Good (33 Cliffe High Street) is a safe bet for small gifts like books, stationary, candles and toiletries. It also stocks some elegant, British-made textiles, ceramics and prints. The designs of many products feature artwork by national treasures from past and present, such as Eric Ravilious and Angie Lewin.
Another popular independent gift shop is Wickle (24 High Street). Loved by local families, Wickle is crammed full of children’s gifts and toys alongside homeware, clothes and accessories that aren’t normally found on the high street. Many of the clothes are made from organically produced materials and are Fair Trade, such as jumpers hand-knitted in Nepal. Additionally, a small café can be found tucked away at the back of the shop.
Short-term lets and pop-up shops have added even greater diversity to the Lewes shopping experience. The historic Needlemakers (West Street) has the highest concentration of these. Arty or unique gifts are available from stores occupying the nooks and crannies of this building’s multiple floors, such as the neon-themed Popsicle shop.
Bus Club (Eastgate) serves some of the best pizzas in Lewes, which are made in a traditional Neapolitan way. Normally packed with locals, the pizzeria has a lively atmosphere where you can witness the tasty creations being cooked in a wood-fired oven. Bus Club rests unconventionally above the town’s bus station and has its own Bakehouse situated downstairs, which sells artisan breads, pizza slices and pastries.
Those looking for a fine dining experience involving local and seasonal ingredients should head to Limetree Kitchen (14 Station Street). This friendly restaurant serves innovative starters and main courses in addition to tapas-style small plates. This can all be washed down with a custom-made gin and tonic from their extensive range of gins.
Erawan (34 Lansdown Place) is a popular bistro and takeaway where experienced Thai chefs prepare deliciously authentic food. Attention to detail is obvious in everything from the presentation of the cosy wood-panelled seating area, to the decoration of dishes with orchid petals or flowers delicately carved out of vegetables. It is worth noting that diners must bring their own alcohol to the restaurant, for which a small corkage fee applies.
Pubs featuring live music
With almost 20 pubs in the town, Lewes has no shortage of places to eat, drink, and be merry. Many of the pubs serve cask ales from Harvey’s Brewery, which stands majestically on Bridge Wharf next to the River Ouse. Visitors to the town may even catch sight of the horse-drawn dray cart delivering beer fortnightly on Tuesdays.
Over the years a handful of pubs in Lewes have developed a reputation for top-class live music. A key venue is The Snowdrop Inn (119 South Street). Its name relates to a disastrous avalanche that occurred in 1836 where the pub is now located. It was the most deadly avalanche in British history killing eight unfortunate residents. Stepping inside The Snowdrop Inn visitors are distracted from this tragedy by its quirky interior design, home cooked food and excellent live music. On Monday nights it hosts famous jazz nights of a high standard.
Situated at the top of the High Street is the Con Club (139 High Street), which, although not technically a pub, is one of the best live music venues in Lewes. This not-for-profit social club, run by its members, showcases a broad range of acts that include local bands, international musicians, tribute artists and comedians. It also has a well-stocked bar, large patio area and garden.
The Elephant and Castle (White Hill) offers something a bit different. Its Headstrong Club holds debates on all kinds of topics, inspired by Thomas Paine’s club of the same name that existed in the 1700s. Every Saturday evening the pub also hosts performances of folk music and song. Lewes Saturday Folk Club organises these sessions as well as several all-day workshops that people will travel to from far and wide.