Battle's culinary scene, besieged by dodgy pub grub, is saved by the new bistro at the Food Rooms, which offers excellent dishes made from local produce. The perfect respite from the cut and thrust - and you can even take the food home

Every October, several hundred grown men and a few women spend the weekend dressed up as Normans and Saxons, to shout and hammer at each other with pretend swords and wooden shields in the grounds of Battle Abbey near Hastings. It was, predictably, the alpha male of the family's idea to visit East Sussex when that part of the country was gripped by the worst floods for more than 40 years, to watch the re-enactment of a battle that took place 934 years ago. Southern England has remained relatively peaceful and increasingly prosperous since then. But gender differences still lead to outbreaks of exasperation, if not actual hostility, and a different sort of war was being waged in at least two of the region's households that day.

Every October, several hundred grown men and a few women spend the weekend dressed up as Normans and Saxons, to shout and hammer at each other with pretend swords and wooden shields in the grounds of Battle Abbey near Hastings. It was, predictably, the alpha male of the family's idea to visit East Sussex when that part of the country was gripped by the worst floods for more than 40 years, to watch the re-enactment of a battle that took place 934 years ago. Southern England has remained relatively peaceful and increasingly prosperous since then. But gender differences still lead to outbreaks of exasperation, if not actual hostility, and a different sort of war was being waged in at least two of the region's households that day.

He'd arranged with a friend for both families to meet up in Battle. We arrived at Victoria Station to find all trains to Hastings and that stretch of coast were cancelled. The train we caught from Charing Cross stopped halfway, decanted the passengers into buses, drove us at breakneck speed down country roads to a couple of stops down the waterlogged line, returning to a train for the last leg to Battle. Still with me? I'd understand if you wanted to bail out. I felt the same. At this point it began to rain.

We met the others in a pub in Battle, where men with scary facial hair and the occasional scraggy ponytail dressed in dishcloth armour knitted by their mums, jostled around the real ale pumps, addressing each other as... Norman. This was a pub that could screw up sticking scampi in the fryer, and render frozen chips soggy. Even the kids wouldn't eat them.

With two hours to go before battle commenced, some camp followers were still hungry and restive. As is traditional when war is brewing, we separated along gender lines; women and daughters headed off for civilised refreshments and a look at the charity shops, trading invective on the subject of men and their ambitious Saturday excursions. We passed a couple of "tea shoppes", a worthy healthfood shop, Boots, pubs that welcomed Normans and Saxons alike, and then we came to what looked like a new deli. Open-mouthed, we entered what could have been a mirage, so closely did it resemble the food shop and café of our dreams. We inspected the fruit and veg cart laden with apples and pears, pumpkins, squashes and more locally-grown produce at the front, the shelves of pasta, olive oils and biscuits, the meat and cheese counters, the organic loaves coming out of a spanking new oven, and marvelled at the number of staff and diversity of shoppers. At the far end, with daylight pouring in through glass doors leading to a wood-decked terrace, people were eating. A table for two was free. There were four of us. A couple offered to move to the smaller table, to make room for us. We almost kissed their feet in gratitude.

What serendipity. The Food Rooms had only been open about three weeks. It is a grocery store, dedicated to supporting local producers of everything from eggs and free range chickens to soups and ice cream. More ambitious than a café, what they call the brasserie runs to the likes of grilled fillet of Charolais beef with chicory, walnuts and red wine jus for £10.75, or roast pork tenderloin wrapped in Parma ham with mustard and cream sauce, £8.50 - and a children's high tea menu for around £5, including a hot dish, ice cream and apple juice or milk. Plus there are cheeses and charcuterie from the counter to eat any time.

Felt tips and colouring books kept the kids occupied until our bread, olives and peppery oil - any of which can be bought to take home - arrived and were pounced on appreciatively. Saturday lunch is, it turns out, a more modest affair than the rest of the week; what there was, though, was just what we wanted. With really fine ingredients to hand, and a couple of chefs capable of making game terrine, boeuf à la bourgignon, navarin of lamb, salmon fishcakes and chocolate cakes for the traiteur counter, the café has everything required to provide simply great meals. Susan, an American expat who is particular about the provenance of her food, approved of the organic smoked salmon. As the fish isn't fed on coloured pellets, it's a paler pink than usual; nor was it especially oily. Like proper New York Jewish lox, she thought. Her salad of mixed leaves, chorizo, Parma ham and large crispy croutons with an egg comprised the finest examples of each component to crisp, rustled-up-on-the-spot satisfaction. She went off to buy the chorizo afterwards.

There wasn't much for vegetarians; char-grilled sausages with braised cabbage was the one hot dish we didn't have, plates of cheese or charcuterie completed the menu. I had a poached egg on pigeon breast and black pudding. "What is black pudding?" Susan asked. "Blood and fat. Want to try some?" She'd formed such a good impression of the place she almost did. This was a superior, fine-grained oatmealy, and more bloody than fatty sausage. The pigeon breast was plump and tender, the small organic egg, its yolk richly golden, poached just right and the sprig of flat leaf parsley in peak condition. All this for £4.50. You could easily pay £7.50 for a tired equivalent from a metropolitan brunch menu. Susan's phone rang; "I'm in heaven" she answered to the question, "where are you?" posed from the other end.

We weren't going to hurry back to the front, but though puddings proved to be an Achilles' heel - only pancakes or ice creams from September Dairy were available - we spun out our enjoyment over a good cafe latte. A fruit tart would have rounded things off beautifully.

After lunch and spending £20 altogether (tips aren't accepted - someone chased us into the shop to return the change we'd left) we picked up bread, salami, cheese from Sussex, biscuits, and a joint of local lamb for Sunday on the way out. After this fantastic, unexpected forage, we arrived quietly triumphant on the battlefield, joining our dejected menfolk to witness another England defeat. But The Food Rooms had saved the day. Peace reigned in Battle.

The Food Rooms, The Chapel, 53-55 Battle High Street, Battle, East Sussex (telephone 01424 775537); shop open Mon-Fri 8am-7.30pm, Sat 8am-6.30pm, Sun 8am-4pm. Café open daily 9am-noon, lunch 12-3pm, Mon-Sat children's teas until 6.30pm. Unlicensed. No disabled access. Visa and Mastercard accepted

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