A culinary experience like no other: Richard Esling September 22

From the moment you operate the intercom, swing through the iron gates, drive past a group of wallabies with vineyards in the background, you know you are arriving somewhere special.

Monday, 21st September 2020, 4:08 pm
Interlude restaurant SUS-200921-155241001

The Interlude Restaurant is located in an impressive Georgian mansion, set in the recently revived Grade I listed Leonardslee Gardens in Lower Beeding, West Sussex.

Making the setting even more special, is a fabulous, tall, metal tree fountain centre stage outside the restaurant entrance, named by my four-year-old grandson as the ‘Magic Rain Tree’, on an earlier visit.

Leonardslee Gardens, which includes the Interlude Restaurant, is now owned by the entrepreneur Penny Streeter OBE, together with the nearby Mannings Heath Golf and Wine Estate. Running the Benguela Cove wine estate in South Africa, where Penny spends most of her time, her ambitious winemaking plans were brought to Sussex. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines were planted several years ago at Mannings Heath, with a view to making sparkling wine. More recently, the South African variety Pinotage has been planted at Leonardslee, the first planting of this variety in the UK, a daring gamble on the effects of global warming.

Dining at Interlude is not so much about having a meal, but more of a culinary experience. Jean Delport , the executive chef of Restaurant Interlude, gained his first Michelin star after only one year from opening. Originally from South Africa, he embraces his culture past and present. British and French cooking form the base of Jean’s ideas, along with seasonality. And the ideas are innovative, inspired and impressive. At first glance, a tasting menu of either 14 or 19 dishes appears daunting, but the actual experience is anything but.

At Interlude, you may be inside an elegant Georgian dining room, but the garden outside comes to you. The concept of the menus puts foraging on a different level altogether. Flowers, seeds, herbs and berries from different parts of the 240-acre woodland garden, are used to both visual and gustatory effect in Jean’s creative dishes. With names which may initially sound pretentious, the dishes are true to their simply described ingredients. ‘Duck liver, bulrush, seasons of juniper’ is exactly that, with the flavours in perfect harmony.

Another extract of a dish from the menu cards reads ‘Ashed foot – fire salt. Often discarded as waste, we wanted to showcase how beautiful a chicken foot can really be. Better known as a walkie talkie back home (South Africa) they are a delicacy amongst the locals, as the foot contains loads of flavour. We have served it with wild celery and ashes from the estate, with our homemade fire salt made using the embers from the fire.’

Extraordinarily unusual, this is a dining experience not to be missed. The wine list is also impressive, with a natural leaning towards wines from South Africa and the New World.

The excellent range of wines from Penny Streeter’s Benguela Estate, pair exceptionally well with Jean Delport’s dishes. Start with a glass of Benguela Cove Joie de Vivre 2014 sparkling Brut and then let yourself be seduced by the never-ending supply of delicious dishes. Epicurean bliss!