south east 1820

Gravetye Manor

East Grinstead, Sussex

Many restaurants these days can be style over substance. To be “instagrammable” and cultivate a following quickly they employ the Hyacinth Bucket school of marketing, where pretension prevails and wisteria builds hysteria.

Some places don’t need to as they just ooze understated wood-pannelled class. Gravetye Manor in West Sussex may feel like a film set but it is no Saltburn: it doesn’t need to try too hard and certainly doesn’t leave you thinking you wasted two hours on something so two-dimensional. Everything at Gravetye is in 3D and, above all, authentic: this magnificent Elizabethan building set within a thousand acres of land has been a hotel for just over 60 years, with a new dining room built in 2018. The main focal point though is the gardens created by visionary William Robinson in the 19th century. Now maintained by Tom Coward, the 35 acres comprise an orchard, flower garden, meadows, a croquet lawn and, most crucially, the walled kitchen garden. It’s a mere hour from London by train but feels a world away, the only reminder of frenetic civilisation being the occasional plane on the Gatwick flight path (hopefully not tossing about with turbulence).

Nothing is more enticing, more quintessentially English, than those Gravetye grounds in the summer. Choosing a sunny day to visit, let alone being lucky enough to get a table on one, is a tricky task though when we’re facing the wettest summer since 1912. But equally there can be no better test of style v. substance on a day of bruised skies and horizontal rain, when drenched customers have exchanged sun lotion for drizzle oil.

Said customers, at least if this visit is anything to go by, seem to be a mix of golfers, genteel dilettanti or extras from 90s sitcom Waiting for God; a demographic that probably voted a certain way in the 2016 referendum and would welcome national service, but no matter what anyone’s views are, one thing that unites in the natural light of the dining room is the food. Breaking brioche with people you don’t necessarily agree with can restore more than the soul.

There’s nothing outré or overwrought; each dish, and bonus dish between each dish, is vibrant and invigorating

Executive chef George Blogg, who has previously worked with industry titans Philip Howard at The Square and David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage, has been at the stoves a decade now – a longevity which is somewhat rare but he is clearly doing something right. He and his team make full use of that garden in much the same way as Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons but at a slightly less ruinous price point (the set lunch here is £78 versus Le Manoir’s £220; both have a hefty mark-up on wine).

As for the food, there are no tired ideas stuck in 2014. There’s nothing outré or overwrought; each dish, and bonus dish between each dish, is vibrant and invigorating, inspired mostly by the garden’s bounty or the occasional waft of the smokehouse.

To start, a generous bread basket was presented with a sculpted beehive of butter drizzled in honey. Then some gougères and a miniature assemblage of edible flowers, wild herbs and vegetables which reminded me of the epic 58-ingredient salad at (now closed) Raby Hunt.

Orkney scallop, served ceviche-style, with green strawberries and pickled rhubarb was delightfully fresh. Each ingredient had been prepared with meticulous care, and the pickling provided some lip-smacking zing, though to truly emulate a ceviche it could’ve had a tad more kick.

Next up, an artistically-presented plate of young chicken with green asparagus, morels and black truffle may have looked like the latest example of shrinkflation but each element was perfectly executed, all brought together in harmony by a wonderful reduction. A red Côte de Beaune accompanied this well.

The attention to detail showed no signs of letting up with the ethically-sourced Islands chocolate dessert: an eye-shaped quenelle on top of a chocolate tart with roasted dandelion and cocoa husk syrup. Simply lovely.

The service was also excellent from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure. They also understand the crucial concept that any meal has a three act structure: act one is the aperitif stage (there’s nothing more soul-destroying than receiving your curtain-raising tipple after your starter arrives, or being rushed to the table when there’s a bar – the bar here was actively encouraged for preprandial martinis); act two is the meal itself; and act three is the coffee and digestif stage, either at the table or in a separate lounge area. Gravetye Manor, like so many British country hotels, adheres to this model perfectly (and may be why cantankerous old souls like me like it).

There were only two issues – not major but nevertheless noticeable annoyances, like a wasp at a picnic or Farage getting more airtime on BBC One. The red wine to accompany the main course didn’t arrive and needed chasing, whilst on the neighbouring table a polite senior citizen made the unprecedented move of vocally complaining about his delayed gooseberry soufflé (though perhaps didn’t appreciate they’re made à la minute and take a good 20 minutes). The staff handled both issues admirably, and that’s the main thing.

To finish, the staff recommended a stroll around the grounds and enthusiastically provided umbrellas and wellies. Alas, another downpour put paid to that idea mid-walk; instead, slumping in an armchair with a Negroni seemed the more appealing option. Whilst the grounds couldn’t be appreciated in their full glory the overall experience proved that the beauty of Gravetye is more than skin-deep. Returning to East Grinstead with great reluctance, I vowed to come back to Gravetye if and when we actually get a summer, but knowing it can be enjoyed in any weather.

Gravetye Manor
Food & Drink5.56
about our grading system

Vowels Lane
East Grinstead
RH19 4LJ

June 2024


You Might Also Like