Gravetye Manor is a magnificent country house hotel that has been tucked away just south of East Grinstead in Sussex for over 400 years. William Robinson, who bought the property in the late 19th century, created the magnificent gardens, including the walled vegetable garden that used to supply much of the restaurants fruit and vegetables in times gone by when we actually used to have a summer.
Peter Herbert bought the house in 1958 and created one of the first and still considered amongst the best country house hotels in England. It is still privately owned, now by retired fund manager Jeremy Hosking - a founder of Marathon AM, a $46bn investment fund, who bought the hotel out of administration in 2010. Perhaps its proximity to the Bluebell Railway was a deciding factor. Mr Hosking has what might be described as a healthy love of trains, owning a not insignificant amount of steam locomotives which are loaned out to various heritage railways throughout the UK.
The house itself is in the middle of the rolling sussex hills, down a mile-long driveway which takes you through some of the 1000 acres of gardens. Inside its just what one would expect and want to find in such an establishment...faultless classical English upper-class style.
A very friendly welcome from the maitre-d introduced us to our surroundings and swaddled us in the inglenook luxury of one of the 3 drawing rooms, where we took an aperitif. Some canape's were brought along with the drinks - a perfect cylinder of duck pate with little spheres of orange balanced atop; a smoked salmon and cream cheese lasagne and a very rich camembert with some brittle pastry dippers. All very nice.
Three menu's were presented - a set 4-course table d'hote menu at £40; the a la carte and a 7-course tasting menu priced at £85.
It was my birthday.
We had the tasting menu.
Provenance and and locality are obviously very important to the chef. The 5 or 6 main suppliers are listed on a front page of the menu and all were within a 25 mile radius of the hotel.
Bread was a choice between sweet onion rolls, sourdough and focaccia, all homemade. I took rather a liking to the sweet onion rolls and took slight advantage of the generosity of the bread waitress who seemed to appear every few minutes offering more.
I thought the room itself very attractive. Perhaps 10 tables, well-spaced in the main room, and a smaller room with 4 tables adjoins this.
Longhorn Beef, jerusalen artichoke and spring truffle. Upon completing the dish I asked how the beef had been prepared and was told by a rather too enthusiastic waiter that the chef dusts the beef in icing sugar before searing. There was a slight sweetness that I had put down to the wonderful tender beef itself, and I was a little disappointed to be told the chef dusts it in bloody sugar first. Anyway, a pleasing start to the meal, the artichoke and slivers of truffle being very happy bedfellows to the beef.
Hebridean Langoustine, Carpaccio of Middle White pork brawn and parsnip. This came as a thin rectangle of brawn upon which sat a single langoustine cut in half with a frothed shellfish sauce with parsnip crisps and slivers of parsnip that had been poached in butter. The sauce was extremely rich and strikingly pink, the buttered parsnips having fantastic sweet flavour.
Spiced Rougie Fois Gras, pain d'epice and prune. A thumb-sized cycliner of fois gras parfait with some bread crisps, prune emulsion and prunes. Nice fois gras and combination of flavours. Simple dish, nicely constructed but did little to show me what they can do in the kitchen.
Ash Cured Line Caught Haddock, slow poached Gravetye egg and granola. A fantastic dish of very strong flavours. Now, I have never had a slow-cooked egg before so am not sure if the white was in fact just egg white, or had been replaced by something. It had a wonderful texture of fluffy yoghurt. The granola gave a nice crunch and sweetness to the dish, which was required to counter the incredibly strong, salty flavours of the fish, presented again as as a cyliner. Taken together, this was a fabulous plate of food.
Milk Fed Lamb, tomato, polenta and garlic. A waitress brought a gleaming miniature copper pan of fantastic...I'm going to call it gravy. Another great dish, the lamb came with a small twist of kidney, a rich and sticky garlic clove and a breadcrumbed cheesey-potato thing (is there a name for these?). Rich and satisfying, this was up there with the haddock for pure eating pleasure.
Artisan cheeses in miniature, frozen grapes and walnuts. Very nicely presented on a slate with a small glass cloche, the four cheeses were tiny slivers. I could definitely have eaten more. The frozen grapes were a nice touch. despite the punctuation on the menu, the walnuts were not frozen!
White Chocolate and Green Olives, lemon curd. A cracking desert. Another cylinder, this time of white chocolate ice cream, was held off the plate by two pyramid wafers with bits of green olive and drops of lemon curd. Another first for me, the slightly salty olives with the sweet ice cream was a great flavour combination.
Coffee & Petit Fours. Top quality coffee. A huge box of chocolates was brought to the table with a selection of truffles, white and dark chocolates.
Overall a very good meal in beautiful surroundings. Service was very good throughout. A bottle of £35 wine (as you can imagine very much at the cheaper end of the list) and the bill was £250 for the two of us.
I would return. I am not sure I would opt for the tasting menu again though. This was my first tasting menu and I do like the format. My only reservations are that for £85 I am not convinced these dishes offer great value for money. There was not a great deal of luxury ingredients included nor was I wowed by the effort involved in most of these dishes. That said, it was a very enjoyable meal.
I'm still pondering on this. I feel that I need another tasting menu or two, perhaps at the Ledbury, for comparison. Purely for educational purposes, of course.
Edited by offcentre, 11 April 2013 - 03:28 AM.