Peter Morrell spends the night in this beautiful country house and enjoys a meal which is a celebration of food and wine from Sussex
Gravetye Manor was built in 1598 by Richard Infield, an ironmaster, for his new bride Katherine Compton. Its elevated position in the Sussex Weald gives it gorgeous views across the lush green countryside.
Its most famous owner was landscape gardener William Robinson, dedicated promoter of the concept of the English country garden. Robinson wrote an influential book on the subject, The Wild Garden. This and his magazine, The Garden, gave him the financial resources to buy Gravetye Manor, and in the garden, make his ideas a reality. Despite occupation by Canadian troops and a period of dereliction after World War II, Gravetye is now a hotel and the gardens have been restored to their former splendour by head gardener Tom Coward and his team.
The English Country Garden
My wife and I were spending the night in the Manor and dinner was going to be something special, a wine and food showcase of both Sussex and the produce from the Gravetye kitchen garden. We arrived early to take a look at realisation of Robinson’s horticultural dream. There was a profusion of colours in the border plants which framed formal lawns and nooks and crannies with tables and chairs where an afternoon tea can be savoured in the perfumed shade.
The Kitchen Garden
However the gardens are not just for decoration but a functional part of the hotel’s operation. We wandered up across the pristine, billiard table flat croquet lawn to the walled kitchen garden. It’s huge, and its oval shape, unique in England, is aligned with the points of the compass to ensure all parts of it get the sun.
As well as vegetables and herbs there were espaliered fruit trees on the walls, a bee hive producing honey and hens laying eggs, all destined for the Manor’s restaurant. Amongst all this the hotel’s head florist was busily cutting fresh flowers to decorate the public areas and the 17 guest bedrooms. We walked back passing orchards and greenhouses growing everything from tomatoes to peaches.
Back in the hotel it’s everything that an Elizabethan manor house should be, romantic, cosy, warm and welcoming. The sweet smell of wood smoke from the blazing logs in the hall fireplace added to the atmosphere as we admired the oak panelled walls, carved detailing on the over mantles and the decorative plasterwork on the ceilings. To complete the experience the staff are utterly charming.
Our bedroom was a delight, double aspect with stunning views. It was luxuriously appointed with quality fabrics and antique furniture and all the amenities of the 21st century like an Ipod docking station and Nespresso machine. The bathroom, with both bath and shower, was well equipped but above everything else the king size four poster bed was unimaginably comfortable.
The Sussex Wine Dinner
Our Sussex Wine Dinner started in the bar, with a glass of Ridgeview Blanc de Blanc 2011, this Chardonnay dominant sparkly had honey and yeast on the nose leading to tropical and citrus notes in the mouth which left a clean, crisp finish. Delicate canapés were served, the arancini balls being particularly notable.
Dinner would feature wines from three local vineyards, in addition to Ridgeview there were representatives from both the Bluebell and Bolney estates. During the evening they spoke about the grapes they produced, the growing conditions and the challenges they had overcome to make their world class wines
At table our Sussex wine safari continued, the first course was the fresh and uplifting Dorset cock crab with marinated cucumber and a citrus and buerre noisette mayonnaise. This dish and the entire meal, including the wine pairing, had been put together by head chef George Blogg who recently celebrated his first anniversary at Gravetye. It was evident from the first mouthful that George knows, loves and understands food. Couple this with the abundant ingredients from the kitchen garden makes for a winning combination.
The wine with this course was the Bluebell Classic Cuvée 2010, made with a predominance of chardonnay in the blend it was very fruit driven with shades of citrus on the palate and a pleasant, toasty finish.
Next on the menu was seared monkfish seasoned with ‘raz el hanout’, the exotic north African spice mix, a mango salsa and passion fruit tempura, it was another imaginative ensemble. The wine, one of my favourites, was the Bolney Bacchus 2014. This was highly aromatic with strong notes of gooseberry, nettles and elderflower and hints of spice in the background.
The main course was roast breast and faggot of squab pigeon with heritage beetroot, braised fennel and smoked mashed potato, The robust and competing flavours in this delicious dish needed wine that could hold its own. The Bolney Pinot Noir 2013 did the job admirably. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow in England but Bolney have done a great job, with the wine showing lots of red cherry fruit supported by a subtle background of oak and with a pleasing tannin complexity.
The cheese course was Sussex Ewe’s curd dressed with unfiltered honey from the hives and apples from the orchard. It was back to Ridgeview with their Blanc de Noirs 2010 to accompany this dish. This red grape driven sparkling beauty offering fresh summer fruits, earthy tones and a long complex finish.
The final course was pain perdue, fried brioche with dried fruit, complemented by toasted almond ice cream and poached quince. An interesting wine to finish, the Bluebell Seyval Blanc 2012. A hybrid of the French Seyval grape adapted for a northern climate has created an aromatic wine, appropriately redolent of an English country garden. Floral notes in the bouquet were followed by buttered toast and honeyed tones in the mouth. A very fitting end to the meal
This really had been a showcase of everything good about the cuisine of Sussex and England, credit must go to the gardeners, the chefs and the winemakers for all of their efforts in creating the perfect culinary experience.
The king sized four poster beckoned and I slept like a baby knowing that before leaving Gravetye Manor the next morning I would enjoy a ‘Full Sussex’ of local pork sausage and bacon, eggs from the hens and that delicious honey on a slice of home-baked oatmeal toast.
Although this dinner was a one-off the wines featured and George Blogg’s food are available all the year round. You can go to Gravetye Manor for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner and this will give you the opportunity to see one of England’s most beautiful natural gardens. The Manor is also an ideal base for a visit to Glyndebourne.
For more information, offers and news of themed dinners go to www.gravetyemanor.co.uk