Review of Rathfinny Tasting Room & Cellar Door
“Provenance on a plate at The Rathfinny Tasting Room”
Head east of Brighton along the coast for long enough and you’ll come to one of the most gorgeous viewpoints Sussex has to offer – Seven Sisters & Birling Gap.
Until recently this was the only reason for me head this way but now I have another – The Rathfinny Tasting Room & Cellar Door, nestled between the Sussex Downs on Alfriston’s doorstep.
The Tasting Room is a brand new fine-dining restaurant on the family-owned Rathfinny Wine Estate – England’s greenest and largest vineyard.
Sussex to rival Champagne
Rathfinny was established in 2010 by husband and wife (Mark Driver, ex-Hedge Fund Manager and Sarah Driver, a former City solicitor). Their aim being to produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines and elevate the reputation of Sussex Sparkling to compete with Champagne.
Originally the site was a working arable farm but over the last eight years, the impressive 400 acres have been transformed to include the vineyard and winery, both self-sufficient in both energy and water, plus the restaurant and Flint Barns – providing B&B accommodation.
The perfect terroir
With its south-facing slope, chalk soil and aspect, the terroir at Rathfinny is almost identical to that in the Champagne region and along with the climate, it is perfectly suited for producing Sussex sparkling wine.
Rathfinny produces four styles of sparkling currently, Blanc de Blancs – made from 100% Chardonnay, Blanc de Noirs – made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, a Rosé and a Classic Cuvée, crafted in the Traditional Method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and aged on the lees for a minimum of 24 months.
A limited edition vintage
The estate expect to be able to produce over one million bottles of Sussex fizz annually but it’s first vintage, the 2014 Blanc de Blancs, was only released in a limited capacity in June this year – so, unfortunately, you cannot buy it to take home just yet!
The Blanc de Blanc delivers “creamy apricot and acacia notes on the nose, nuances of yuzu and lemon meringue on the palate and a rich, apple-strudel finish.
The Rosé has “the nose of Chantilly cream drizzled strawberries – and a long, elegant peachy finish”.
Pick for your supper
I made my visit exactly a month ago – just one day after the harvest had finished and I discovered an impressive 377 tonnes of grapes had been handpicked from the Estate.
In a bid to embrace local as much as possible, Rathfinny invited locals and tourists to stay in The Flint Barns for two-three weeks, paying just £24 per night for dinner and B&B board. In exchange, guests helped pick the grapes for the first three hours for free – a sort of working holiday.
A restaurant worth going off the beaten track for
Now I’ve covered off the wine, its time to talk about the main attraction for me – the restaurant.
And the first thing to say is this is definitely the sort of place you need a chauffeur to get to because the location is a little out of the way and definitely not walkable late at night. And, with wine this sublime, once you’ve had your first sip you’re not going to want to stop after just one glass.
The best option though is to stay the Flint Barns and make a whole day and night of your visit here. Starting at £125 a room it’s a treat well worth splashing out on.
Dishes that change day to day
Michelin star chef Chris Bailey heads up the kitchen at Rathfinny, with a menu that combines Asian influences with Iberian flourishes. Keen that everything at the restaurant is seasonal and locally sourced he changes dishes week-to-week and often day to day.
Dine with panoramic views
The Tasting Room sits directly above the winery and there’s a gorgeous brick arched corridor that takes you from the reception through to the dining room, looking out to breath-taking panoramic views of the vines and the Sussex Downs.
Once in the dining room, you’ll be seated in either low, red leather riveted chairs, against exposed brickwork walls.
Or, if you have one the best tables, you’ll be directly in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the vineyard, either on the high top wishbone chairs or the lower red leather seats.
I came for lunch on a weekday and despite it being so tucked away, there were several visitors taking advantage of the two and three-course lunch menu.
The attention to detail was clear from the start, with the menus printed on thick laid white paper with the Rathfinny logo elegantly embossed with a red foiling – a pricey decision no doubt – but one that set a high standard for what was to come.
Then there was the cutlery – weighty and well-balanced and placed alongside thick, freshly-pressed cotton napkins. I’m pretty excited already and I haven’t even seen food.
Locally sourced, quality ingredients
Before our three course lunch was brought out, we have a selection of tasty breads; a treacle and soda bread from the Flint Owl bakery down the road in Lewes, a homemade Rosemary and grape focaccia and a homemade sourdough, alongside a selection of pickles and Samphire Brighton Butter, made from Sussex dairy cows by Helen Craig-Daffern (who I’ve interviewed on the blog before).
Then it’s starters, first up sea trout tartar (which comes from Newhaven) and wagyu calves tongue, the beef of which came from Trenchmore Farm in Cowfold, Sussex (another favourite I’ve featured before).
A well-balanced starter
Both dishes are lovely but if I had to choose one, the sea trout would win it for me, served with charred cucumber, caviar and a dusting of horseradish granita on top, alongside a herbal shiso tea. The punchy flavour of the horseradish with the freshness of the cucumber and sea trout made for a perfectly balanced starter.
The wagyu dish was less bold in its flavour and came piled on top of bright purple chicory leaves, firm-to-bite green soya beans, thin crisp slices of radish and a jug of roast onion broth to drizzle on top.
The venison steals the show
For mains, we ordered the venison saddle, sat on a bed of spinach with a local naga onion dusted with ash. There was also a beautiful ragu hot pot topped with thin slices of potato with this dish that was deliciously rich and satisfying.
Our second main was a chestnut, sage & ricotta risotto but this had less of a wow effect for me and was a tad undercooked. It didn’t quite have the layers of flavour I expected so I wouldn’t order this again.
Then we move onto puddings, opting for the sticky stout pudding and quince terrine with praline parfait. The sticky stout was absolutely divine with miniature Bambinella pears, clotted cream and hazelnuts but the terrine is less of a hit for me due to it’s jelly-like in texture.
PRICE: £60 for 2 people (not including drinks)
RATING: Must Go | Worth A Try | Give It A Miss
The only challenge for this spot will be it’s rural location, because service, surroundings, quality of ingredients and the fizz are first class and make it a must-go in my books.
Need to know
- A Rathfinny wine tour and tasting + three-course lunch costs £55pp and runs from May-September (and could be a great Christmas gift to give this year).
- Lunch is served 12-3pm with a two-course lunch priced at £30pp and three-courses at £35pp.
- Dinner is served 6-9pm with the six-course ‘Land’ & ‘Sea’ menus for £65pp and Garden (vegetarian) £55pp.
- A light bites menu is also offered 11am-5pm for smaller appetites with the average price of a dish £6.
- Children aged 12 and over are welcome in the restaurant but dogs aren’t permitted – unless they are guide dogs.
Rathfinny Wine Estate – Tasting Room & Cellar Door
Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5TU
*Disclaimer: I was invited to dine but rest assured, when things aren’t up to scratch I still say so.
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