During a short break to Kent in November 2017 (where we stayed in The Granary) we were looking for a restaurant to enjoy a relaxing lunch. This area of the country doesn’t have a massive amount of Michelin starred establishments but we did come across Gravetye Manor in West Hoathly, Sussex. The restaurant is attached to a larger hotel, part of the upmarket Relais and Chateaux group. Located around 10–15 mins from the M23 and about 20–25 minutes from Gatwick Airport.
Gravetye Manor has held one Michelin Star since 2008 and prides itself in the locality of its produce. Its own kitchen garden is responsible for much of its fresh produce and we ate venison from the estate as part of the tasting menu as well.
Location and Decor
Gravetye Manor is very much a country manor house converted into an exclusive hotel. According to the Gravetye Manor website the hotel is the original home of William Robinson who lived there from 1884 as a professional botanist and gardener. Located in the middle of a massive, 52 acre, estate, even the drive to the hotel from the main road takes about 5 minutes. If you’re looking for somewhere to get away from it all, Gravetye Manor won’t disappoint!
When we visited, the dining room consisted of two traditional, wood panelled rooms of the house. As of January 2018 the hotel closed for 5 months to allow the construction of a new restaurant with a much more favourable outlook over the beautiful gardens. So if you visit from May 2018 when the restaurant reopens, what you’ll see will be very different.
The dining room is everything you would expect from a traditional country house, with wood panelling, tables set with white linen and an air of elegance throughout the rooms. Although the dress code is described as smart casual, it is clear that dressing up is certainly welcome and very much the norm. When we visited on a Tuesday lunch the dining room was pretty busy — mostly supported by the grey pound and a great value set-lunch, but more on that later!
Before dining we were offered a drink in the lounge area. On a cold November day the roaring log fire was too tempting to pass up and a much more relaxing area in which to peruse the menus. After ordering we were only shown to the table 5–10 minutes before our first course arrived. This was a lovely relaxing start to the meal.
Gravetye Manor offers a number of different menus depending on what you are looking for. When we visited the restaurant had a very good value set menu at £35 for three courses for lunch, and £45 for dinner. Most of the diners we saw took up this option and it looks really great value. It even included a small amuse bouche, although overall less bells and whistles than the more expensive menus. The a-la-carte menu, priced at £70 for 3-courses offers around 6 choices per course. Finally the 7-course tasting menu is a tour-de-force of everything Gravetye Manor has to offer for £85.
I’ve not talked too much about the Head Chef at Gravetye Manor, mainly because he’s not a name that everyone will know. George Blogg, according to his biography on the Gravetye Manor website, has had plenty of experience across great kitchens, but he’s not the sort of chef you’ll have seen on TV!
As we were only visiting once and the price of the a-la-carte was so similar to the tasting menu we decided to treat ourselves. We knew we were probably in for at least 2 hours worth of eating! After being seated in the dining room (we were in the small room that can be used as a private area, and only consisted of four tables), we were offered three choices of bread. Its sourdough all-the-way for us, but there was also a granary and rolls. This was topped up throughout the starters so don’t be afraid to take more.
Tasting Menu — Starters
The meal started with the Gravetye Garden Winter Salad, a lovely combination of vegetables and flowers from the kitchen garden. This is served with a sunshine yellow, confit egg yolk (cooked slowly in fat) that bursts across the vegetables as you eat. A great start, amazingly prepared and picture perfect food!
Our next course gave us Roast Breast and Leg of Norfolk Quail — one of the courses with ingredients that came furthest. Served with caramelised onions and a liver parfait. While not quite as aesthetically pleasing, it certainly delivered on taste!
Tasting Menu — Fish
Moving onto the fish, our first course provided a cold dish of Cured Hampshire Chalk Stream Trout. Served on top of pickled beetroot, with trout roe and given an Asian finish with a dashi broth served at the table. The bright pink trout was cool and refreshing and from a flavour perspective this dish really stood out for me.
Our second fish course was back to a hot dish of Isle of Gigha Halibut. Served with squid, salsify and the stand-out element of this dish — ink coloured bow-tie shaped (farfelle) pasta. While the squid ink doesn’t add a great deal of flavour it does provide much needed colour on what would otherwise be a very white dish! Overall a nice dish, but probably not our favourite.
Tasting Menu — Main Course
Now we were finally onto a main course, which during these winter months is invariably venison. The Pine Smoked Roe Venison dish was Gravetye Manor estate venison, smoked locally and served up as pure meat and then an extremely rich patty made up of other cuts of the venison. The richness is offset with a sweet vegetable puree (not exactly sure what vegetable, although I’d have to guess some type of squash) and deep Chartreuse sauce and toasted seeds. The dish was a great contrast to our earlier lighter starters, very rich and full of flavour. The patty in particular was extremely rich and I’d struggle to eat much more than provided.
Tasting Menu — Desserts
Our first dessert was a lovely, fresh, combination of Coriander and Coconut Parfait. This was a cool, extremely tasty palate cleanser after a rich venison course and the flavours certainly left me asking for more. Presented with a number of additions, what could have been two simple quenelles of parfait was a visually beautiful, if somewhat muted, dish. My favourite dish overall (admittedly I do have a sweet tooth) and I would easily demolish a double portion!
Our tasting menu at Gravetye Manor completed with their signature Roasted Acorn Soufflé. The soufflé is served to the table complete; then a sauce poured into the soufflé and a quenelle of acorn ice-cream placed on-top. Although I’ve eaten soufflé in a few good restaurants, its never my go-to dessert. It’s always exciting to wonder if the soufflé will rise (why wouldn’t it from somewhere so practiced!). This particular soufflé was light, airy and really tasty — a lovely nutty taste from the acorns throughout and a great way to tie the dessert back to nature.
Throughout our complete experience at Gravetye Manor we always felt really well looked after. When ordering it was slightly disconcerting to see people who arrived after us in the lounge and ordered after us seated first — but we were in no rush. The table service throughout was extremely professional. The staff, overall are fairly young and most that we met appeared to be French. Perhaps to get that level of service requires going to a country famed for restaurants like Gravetye Manor. Overall we felt really well looked after, without being swamped. Its easy in somewhere of this stature to feel stuffy or out of place, but it was so relaxed throughout that this never felt like this. As it should be the service enhanced what was an exemplary cooking display.
We finished our meal by moving into the lounge again for coffee. As a tea drinker it was nice to see a large selection of different blends. These were all served with a small tray of jellies and chocolates — all hand-made I would guess! Sitting in the lounge in front of the roaring fire was a great end to our relaxing experience and nearly led to a quick nap after lunch.
I’ve heavily covered the ambiance throughout this review. If you’re after somewhere with a hint of country house glamour then Gravetye Manor will certainly meet your requirements. It’s not new. It’s not trendy. That’s not what it tries to be. Old world charm and high end cuisine are where it excels.
Gravetye Manor — Overall
As you can probably tell from the review, we had a great time at Gravetye Manor. I’d really love to visit after the renovations as having this same meal in a restaurant with a view would even further enhance what it has to offer. I’d also love to try the bedrooms, which I’m sure will live up to the same high-standards.
If you’re seeking out an experience where you feel pampered and want to spend 2–3 hours eating beautiful food in beautiful surroundings then get Gravetye Manor on your list. The tasting menu is certainly a great way to try everything the restaurant has to offer, but if you’re on a budget then the daily set menu is within the reach of most people. I’d certainly expect Gravetye Manor to retain its Michelin star for the foreseeable future and maybe a new environment is everything it needs to make the next step up to two-stars?