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West Sussex: A Surf and Turf Tour

West Sussex: A Surf and Turf Tour
Tiffany Kaba: It’s not every day that a great British chef takes a two-burner hob and ice bucket to the beach for a fish fry-up.
 
It’s a crisp April morning on Hove’s seafront and Michelin-starred Chef Stephen Crane is preparing some Newhaven-landed plaice and jersey royals in crème fraiche, topped with foraged wild garlic. It’s not every day that one of Britain’s greatest chefs takes his two burner hob and an ice bucket onto the beach for an alfresco fish fry-up.
 
Accompanied by Stephen and his team, I’m on a surf and turf tour of the West Sussex countryside, in some of the richest and most abundant landscape in the country. As head chef of the idyllic Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, Stephen’s luxurious cooking and flawless technique heavily relies upon quality, locally sourced Sussex ingredients and strong relationships with local suppliers. I’m witnessing this team effort from field to fork which enables Stephen to create menus that mix innovation and tradition. I’m also getting a feel for what to expect on my plate at Ockendon Manor this evening where we will sample five courses of Stephen’s delicious cooking.
 
We stock up for our seaside picnic at Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, a wholesale and retail fish outlet on Shoreham Harbour selling day-caught local fish. Come early on a Saturday to avoid the long queues for the best catches. Their flatfish, particularly the south-coast plaice and lemon sole are the best in the country and highly sought after by a number of London’s leading restaurants. Among crates of cuttlefish, crab and black bream, I open a box labelled ‘Marcus Wareing Turbot’. Inside are two large, beautiful turbots.
 
Wondering how many mouths this will feed, I am told that around 40 delectable, Wareing-sized portions will be
West Sussex: A Surf and Turf Tour
created with these two fish. As we are about to try our hand at gutting and scaling some monkfish, a small day boat arrives back in port. We gather outside to welcome fisherman Adrian Gray who has been scouring the seas for cuttlefish since 5am that morning. No easy task, made all the more frustrating when restaurateurs insist on using the more widely recognised ‘Cornish’ prefix on their menus, rather than staying true to the provenance of the ingredients. It’s Selsey lobster here and I can personally attest that is every bit as good to its equivalent further down the coastline.
 
We head back inland to Trenchmore Farm for some grass-fed Sussex red Wagyu and red Angus beef, which I am promised is also on this evening’s menu.
 
Trenchmore’s cross-bred cattle produce fine slow-grown 28-day dry aged beef. Run by the lovely Andrew and Joanne who long dreamed of owning their own farm, Trenchmore is now home to over 100 cows and an impressive red Angus bull, amusingly described by Joanne as ‘a lover, not a fighter’ when we visit the animals in the Roundhouse Barn. Along with silage and hay, the animals are treated to some sweet nutty grains from the nearby Kings Brewery in Horsham to ensure there is enough fat for the meat to age properly. A testament to its success, Trenchmore beef is a royal favourite with the Queen who owns the largest Sussex herd in the country. Once again, Stephen is on hand to prepare a delicious beef BBQ of steak and burgers, washed down with some of Joanne’s first crop of Cowfold Cider.
 
With the sun setting on the South Downs, it’s time to sample some of the country’s best sparkling wine at the Ridgeview Estate. Started in 1994 when Mike and Christine Roberts sold their successful computer software company, this second generation family business is one of the first vineyards in England to concentrate solely on sparkling wine in the style of Champagne.
 
Surprisingly, the French region has a similar climate and soil structure, lying just 88 miles south of the hilltops. Only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are planted here and all have achieved astounding success, in particular a Grosvenor 2006 Blanc de Blanc which propelled Ridgeview onto the global stage when it won Best Sparkling Wine in the World in 2012.Over a tray of Stephen’s smoked salmon and olive blinis, we sample seven award winning Ridgeview wines, my favourite being the Knightsbridge, a golden coloured blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes with expressive fruit aromas.
 
Back on home turf, Stephen’s Michelin-star tasting menu awaits in the oak-panelled private dining room. The flavours ‘du jour’ include a dainty Selsey Crab lasagne, Trenchmore beef filet with oxtail and bone marrow and home smoked mackerel salad with beetroot and horseradish cream. Each course is a delight, paired with a selection of Ridgeview’s finest; a cinnamon spiced rosé with the crab and a trusty Blanc de Blanc with the mackerel. My favourite Pinot Noir accompanies the succulent beef fillet, bringing out the subtle flavours of wild leaf garlic and celeriac purée. We indulge in the Assiette of Chocolate, a warm chocolate and hazelnut emulsion with dark chocolate sorbet, caramel delice and a white chocolate and vanilla macaroon.
 
My enormous spa suite with its own roof garden overlooking the stunning Downs was perfectly situated for a quick plunge in the indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub, followed by a Himalayan Salt Body Scrub. Successfully promising to eliminate stress and exhaustion through a holistic experience, I walked away feeling fresh and revitalised for the week ahead. We weren’t allowed to leave the Manor without a quick bite of Ockenden’s signature afternoon tea, taken on the terrace as is customary. Stephen’s scones were melt-in the mouth fluffiness and his raspberry cream fruit tarts the most beautifully presented I’ve seen outside of his beloved France.
 
As I sipped the Manor’s traditional afternoon tea blend, mini éclair in hand, I couldn’t help thinking there’s nothing quite like your own Michelin chef accompanying you on your travels, on hand to whip up delightful meals at every stop.
 
Tiffany Kaba was a guest of Ockenden Manor. Rates for a stay at Ockenden Manor start from £239 per room per night, based on two sharing a Standard Room on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. www.hshotels.co.uk; 01444 416 111.
 
 
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