One of the pleasures of entertaining weekend guests is introducing them to the sights and views of our local area, but it’s a greater pleasure when London friends fall as much in love with our favourite country brasserie as we have.
The Wingrove House brasserie and boutique hotel nestles on the edge of the picturesque village of Alfriston, a jewel of the South Downs to which the Wingrove adds stylish, modern, yet relaxed sparkle. We were shown first into the lounge bar area, a haven of leather sofas and armchairs, set off by a hunting lodge theme. Under a bad design eye, antelope antler wall hangings, potted ferns, African and Asian artefacts, antiques, muted cream décor and low lighting, could have been kitsch and messy, but house managers Nick and Elisa have created a warm, comfortable space for pre-dinner drinks.
We chose sparkling water, a Plymouth gin and lemonade, and a glass of Pinot Grigio to start the evening, which didn’t quite come off. The young bar waiter brought a gin and ginger, and two glasses of wine instead of the required one. However, the second wine was offered as ‘a free extra’, and a gin and lemonade followed swiftly, with great charm, so, no real dent to the Wingrove reputation there.
The restaurant décor was as understated as the lounge was not, and tables were well spaced. A couple, like ours, had a view of the village green, which added an extra rustic touch to our Lighthouse Bakery bread, brought to the table on its own board with knife and butter. My partner and I kept the country theme with a wild garlic soup starter, while our friends opted for the richer pan-fried king prawns with endives and sauce vierge, and chicken liver and foie gras parfait with onion confit and toasted brioche. The sweet brioche was a good counterbalance to the tangy confit and smooth parfait.
I was happy with the subtlety of my soup, as I didn’t want to spoil my roast rump of new season Sussex lamb main, which was well worth favouring; it melted in the mouth, and the cubes of mint jelly that accompanied it were inspired. The Wingrove’s chef, Ian Workman, only arrived in February from Newick Park Hotel, but he’s made his mark with a menu of classic English dishes (with a few Spanish twists he picked up there over a two-year period). All eggs, fruit and vegetables are sourced locally, and menus change every six–seven weeks. A Sussex fillet steak from the ‘Classics’ menu and a soft, strong-flavoured, well-cooked monkfish with samphire garnish completed an excellent middle section.
We set the food off with a stunning bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut, and it turns out that Coppola is as good at producing a decent Californian sip as he is at directing an Oscar winner.
I’m not a dessert-lover, and, despite being a feast for the eyes, Ian’s choices aren’t going to convert me. We selected a lavender crème brulee with homemade lavender shortbread, which was good but not exceptional. A cappuccino semi freddo – frozen mousse, milk foam, crème Chantilly and drinking chocolate – was beautifully presented in a cappuccino cup with a biscuit spoon, but the flavours weren’t contrasted enough to match up to what had gone before. The stars were a Tornagus (semi-hard Surrey cheese), a Colston Basset stilton and a Sussex Blue from the cheeseboard, set off with an excellent dessert wine, a last-minute substitute for the listed Muscat, which, sadly, had run out. We finished the evening off with superb homemade petit fours and espresso in the lounge.
Everything was well priced (starters from £5.00, mains from £12.00 and desserts from £3.95) and beautifully presented, with a sense of unhurried ease and a good gap between courses that gave us time to enjoy the excellent wine and cogitate life’s finer points. Our friends are now thinking seriously of moving to the country – it’s amazing what a superb local restaurant can do for the property market.
**Wingrove House:** Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5TD. Tel: 01323 870276. For more information, please visit www.wingrovehousealfriston.com
**Reviewed by:** Bryony Weaver