Review: The Pass spring tasting menu – inspired by surrealist art
Horsham isn’t somewhere I normally frequent but there is a special restaurant in the area that’s been on my radar for a while – The Pass at the South Lodge Hotel.
Three of Brighton’s great culinary talents – Stephen Edwards (Etch), Matt Gillian (Pike & Pine) and Johnny Stanford Pascere (until very recently), have all worked at the three AA rosette restaurant; and having eaten wonderful food by all three, my appetite for what the current chef had to offer, was high.
The South Lodge Hotel is a huge 19th-century country house set in 93 acres of land in the Sussex Downs. With “cosy” rooms starting at £250 per night and a suite a mere £645 a night – this is somewhere that’s a real treat experience for most.
Keen to be able to fully enjoy the 8-course tasting menu and wine pairings I hop on the number 17 Stagecoach from The Old Steine in Brighton, which conveniently drops you outside the hotel and arrive in the pitch black an hour later. I wander down the long gravel drive into the vast grounds and within minutes I am lost. Luckily a member of staff finds me and sends me off in the right direction.
At the entrance, I’m directed to a traditional-style, oak-panelled room with floral wallpaper, a well-stocked bar and round tables and chairs. It’s cosy in here and very different to the room I’ll later be dining in.
When we are all present and correct we are lead down a wooden staircase to the private Victorian Cellar where we meet the Exclusive Resorts team and Tom Surgery, a young (just 27), but very knowledgeable wine expert, who will pair drinks to the new spring menu we are here to sample.
A flute of Ridgeview Cavendish English sparkling comes my way and Tom explains how hyper-local this wine is and how it’s made. Produced just 25 minutes down the road in Ditchling, with a blend of Pinot (two-thirds), and Chardonnay (one-third) it’s not a million miles away from what you’d find in Champagne. The lemon citrus flavours side-by-side toasty brioche ones go down all too easily.
Snacks arrive and they are showstoppers. The first an olive oil and tomato gel placed precisely on a teensy round wafer crisp. It’s gone in a single mouthful but the flavours are of such a magnitude that the taste lingers long after it’s demolished. It’s wonderfully salty and sweet with a heavy dose of garlic on the finish. I’m speechless with how good it is.
Next is a theatrical spectacle, pitched as “a taste of the woodland”. It’s served and introduced to us by The Pass Head Chef Ian Swainson who will continue to do so as the evening goes on. There are oohs and ahhs and a flurry of camera shutter releases as the dish glides towards us with a misty fog cascading over the side of a fir leaf lined wooden box. Everyone wants to get the best shot of this and no one considerately touches it until we are all satisfied with the photos (blogger etiquette you see!). When I’m finally allowed to bite into it I discover a creamy mushroom risotto has been set on top of a crisp mushroom cracker, with crème fraîche, chives and a mushroom powder sprinkled on top. My taste buds are all aquiver with the pleasure it releases.
Then we head back upstairs to The Pass restaurant, which is a brightly lit space with a very open kitchen. It’s quite an unusual style – one I’m not sure on either. There’s a real mix of very old (original stone walls visible in the kitchen) and very modern (stainless steel work surfaces, and mauve high-level banquet seating). The oddest thing about it though is the lack of clamour or commotion that you’d expect in a restaurant kitchen, particularly one of this calibre. There are a lot of chefs in there beavering away but it’s like walking into a Catholic Church, such is the silence.
– Interior photos by Amy Murell –
Treacle and ale bread with bone marrow butter and black lava salt
We begin with what is my favourite part of dining – breads. Laugh if you will but I am serious. Bread is a humble thing and it’s eaten the world over but many chefs work a lot of creativity into it and it’s rarely the same from restaurant to restaurant. This evening was no different. Two loaves (one white and one brown) were plaited together to make a ‘tear and share’ treat. The brown bread made with a dark treacle and Porta ale; the white, topped with pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Bone marrow butter accompanies, with a side of black lava salt from Hawaiian (eek the air miles) and Essex sea salt (ok, better).
Oyster, Tabasco, pickled shallot + Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs, 2008
Our first proper course is paired with a second glass of Ridgeview sparkling, the 2008 Blanc de Blancs this time, made with 100% single estate Chardonnay grape from Ridgeview’s original vineyard. The starter is a gazpacho style soup with oyster, Tabasco and pickled shallot and I think it’s possibly the most wonderful thing I’ve put on my tongue. There’s a sweetness from the fresh basil leaves and chopped shallots as well as little pearl balls that burst with a creamy jus. Somehow with all this liquid, there’s a crunchy element too delivering the same satisfying crunch as biting an apple. It all ends on a high with a long peppery finish on the palate.
Rosemary smoked pigeon, red pepper, green peppercorns + Ridgeview, Victoria Rosé, 2009
Pigeon follows, with red pepper and green peppercorns. It’s cooked in a water bath to tenderise and smoked over dried rosemary to flavour. Our third Ridgeview is served alongside and this time it’s the 2009 Victorian Rosé which is a first vintage and 100% natural and without sugar. It’s full-bodied and has notes of sour cherry and raspberry.
Red mullet with spicy harissa, lobster bisque grapefruit + Quinta do Vallado, 10 yr Tawny Port
The next course is inspired by the Spanish painter Miró, known best for a bold used of colour. A pan-fried red mullet is given a Moroccan twist with a spicy red harissa chilli and red pepper purée with saffron and coriander in a creamy lobster bisque with pink grapefruit cooked in sugar to sweeten, alongside deep-fried, crispy leeks. It’s absolutely stunning and the Quinta do Vallado, a 10-year tawny port, pairs excellently with it – allowing the fish to bring out the acidity of the fortified wine.
Smoked pork rib, pistachio, barbecue sauce + Old vin Zinfandel, Gnarly Head, 2015
Course number four of eight is bijou but the level of work that goes into it is astonishing – it takes 3-days from start to finish to prepare – dedication most would not have! The cooking process begins with a salt and pepper cure of the pork rib for 12 hours. Then the meat is cooked in a smoker (without smoke to begin with) at a medium temperature for 8 hours. After that, the smoker is turned on and the rib is whisky oaked for a further 6 hours. Next, the temperature is turned right down and the meat is braised every half an hour in a BBQ sauce with no less than 27 ingredients! Finally, it’s cooked for another 6 hours before it’s pressed, cut, warmed then rolled in a pistachio crumb and served with the barbecue sauce. It’s really really tasty and although I can’t fathom putting in all work into one dish myself, I’m glad the chef has because the flavour is intense.
Tom pairs the rib with a rich, full-bodied plumy red wine – Old Vine Zinfandel, 2015 which goes really well with the BBQ sauce and complements the meat terrifically. I love it all.
John Dory, cauliflower, leek, sauce nero + Ridgeview Bloomsbury, NV
Our sixth course is poached John Dory served with a herb and cauliflower puree, leeks cooked in lashings of butter and a squid ink spaghetti. This is probably my least favourite dish of the night, although that’s not to say it’s not done well. The fish is cooked beautifully and perfectly moist – it’s just a very delicate, simple dish whereas I tend to enjoy big bold flavours.
With this Tom presents the Bloomsbury Sussex sparkling – Ridgeview’s flagship wine and dominate in the Chardonnay grape. It’s fresh on the palate with lemon citrus flavours and a perfect pairing with the delicate John Dory. We’re told that the grapes for this wine are handpicked from seven different English vineyards and around 40 different wines are blended together to ensure the consistent flavour in each bottle.
Black pudding stuffed rabbit saddle, cappuccino foam and wild garlic + Ridgeview, Blanc de Noirs, 2013
Our final savoury course is rabbit saddle (the cut of meat that runs from the end of the rib cage to the hind legs) – more deliciousness. The rabbit is stuffed with black pudding, rabbit mousse and wild garlic that’s roasted and pureéd and finally served with a cappuccino foam. Ian explains that the rabbit comes in from France because there it’s farmed better than in the UK. Finally, it’s time for desserts and we are treated to not one but two. The first is the headline dessert and it’s incredible – the second is more of a bit of fun to fit in with the surrealist art theme.
Apple, granola, rosemary + Monbazillac, L’Ancienne Cure, Jur de Fruit, 2014
Desert number one is introduced as a take on an apple tarte tatin crumble. There’s a crunchy pecan nut granola on the bottom, followed by small cubes of fresh crisp pink lady apple, a creamy rosemary ice cream, topped with the rose-shaped obulato (edible rice paper) brushed with yeast syrup to flavour and sprayed with edible gold. Somewhere inside all that there’s also compressed apples, grenadine apple sours and rose water. It’s beautiful and everyone seems impressed. More importantly though, it’s delicious and light – a perfect finish.
Edible paints + Moscato D’Asti, Pio Cesare, 2016
Served alongside the last dessert is the Moscato D’Asti, a light fizzy floral dessert wine that tastes of pear drops. It’s a lovely gentle end to a very rich dining experience.
Dessert number two is the fun one – edible ‘Chef’s Paints’ laid out on a wooden paint pallet alongside edible popcorn paper and paintbrushes. Sadly I don’t eat anything, as I’ve become consumed with creating an abstract work of art with the paints which are flavoured with coconut and lime, banana & pistachio, butterscotch, white chocolate & fig, Morello cherry and finally, salted caramel & peanut.
PRICE: 8 courses £80 + sommelier pairing £70
RATING: Must Go | Worth a Try | Give it a Miss
This is an incredible dining experience, you won’t regret travelling out of town for. The Pass gets my full recommendation – get this on your foodie bucket list!
South Lodge Hotel,
Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham,
What do you think of The Pass, is this somewhere you’d visit on a special occasion? Leave me a comment below and share and let me know.
*Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at The Pass, with an invite or without an invite, you will always receive my entirely honest feedback.