Tasting menus can be a hit or miss affair, often a mix of the two, with a few stellar dishes among some so-so ones and a failure or two. But the new Restaurant Interlude at recently restored Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in Horsham, West Sussex offers that very rare thing, a tasting menu that delivers dish after dish of excellence, with a generous scattering of creativity.
The History of Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens
The Leonardslee estate was created in 1801 when a portion of St Leonard’s Forest (granted by King Charles II to his physician Sir Edward Greaves, and passed down into the Aldridge family) were sold to Charles George Beauclerk. The Beauclerk family were avid botanical collectors, and planted species purchased from all around the world, to create the impressive woodland that forms the heart of the estate today. In 1852 they sold the estate to the Hubbard family, who erected the modestly scaled but grandly designed Italaniate mansion house, designed by architect Thomas Leverton Donaldson.
Edmund Loder, who married into the Hubbard family, planted additional exotic flora, introduced gazelle, beavers, kangaroos and wallabies to the estate, and commissioned a large rock garden and caves built by James Pulham. Robin Loder, the last Loder to own the estate, created four new lakes and extended planting across the east of the valley.
At this time, the beautiful, mature gardens were open to the public until the Loder family sold the property in 2010. Initially purchased by a Middle Eastern buyer, perhaps put off by the large scale of investment needed to refurbish and maintain Leonardslee, it was sold again in 2017, this time to current owner Penny Streeter OBE.
New Owners: The Benguela Collection
Penny Streeter moved to the UK at the age of 12, after a childhood in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Having created successful businesses in recruiting and health services, Streeter moved back to South Africa, buying a home on a wine estate in Hermanus. When the owners of the estate in which she lived passed away, she decided to buy the estate and to make a success of the vineyard, creating a new boutique wine brand, Benguela Cove Lagoon.
Two key focal points for the Benguela brand have been integrity and sustainability, from methods and sourcing of supplies, to provision of fair pay, accommodation and training for employees.
Looking for a market for her Benguela Cove wines, Streeter started selling into the UK via a wine store, before deciding to create a full-on UK arm of the business. She bought the Mannings Heath Golf Club in 2016, re-purposing some of the extensive parkland estate to plant pinotage wineyards from which to create British wines, and developed the Benguela Brasserie on-site restaurant.
When Leonardslee Gardens came onto the market a year later, Streeter decided to expand the Benguela Cove Collection into something more, and her team have been working on restoring the estate since then. As with Benguela Cove Lagoon in Hermanus and Mannings just around the corner, Leonardslee Lake and Gardens will offer a restaurant serving afternoon tea and tasting menu dinners, as well as immersive wine experiences such as vineyard tours, educational events about their first press wine production methods, wine tastings, and pairing events such as wine and cheese, wine and chocolate.
The Restoration of Leonardslee
During lunch, we chat to members of the Benguela Collection team, including Penny’s son Adam, general manager for the Leonardslee site. He explains that 20 full time gardeners have been working for many long months to restore the Leonardslee estate, and to plant a small vineyard of grapes to expand the offering at Mannings. Taking the woodland back to its former glory has been a voyage of discovery, and hard work.
Amongst the many species growing around the estate are 20 “champion” trees – species which have become rare in the years since they were brought to Leonardslee by the Beauclerk family. The estate gardeners are presenting seeds to Kew Garden for the conservation of these endangered species.
The beautiful Italianate mansion house has been sympethatically renovated and refurbished to provide a setting for Restaurant Interlude, with conference / event rooms on the first floor. Most of the carpets, wall-coverings, and curtains are original, as is the gorgeous tiled floor in the central atrium and the very grand original mirrored sideboard unit that takes up an entire wall of the dining room.
Another dining area in the mansion is set aside for Afternoon Tea, available Wednesday to Sunday.
Restaurant Interlude by Chef Jean Delport
Restaurant Interlude offers evenings-only tasting experience, either a 14 course garden experience menu (£90) or a 19 course estate experience menu (£120).
The man behind these menus is Jean Delport, a South African chef with a passion for incorporating local ingredients into a predominantly British and French style of cooking. He trained at some of the best restaurants in the Cape winelands before taking up a role in Benguela restaurants in South Africa, his success there resulting in the invitation to move to the UK and launch Restaurant Interlude. A strong theme in Chef Delport’s cooking is the use of ingredients foraged from the estate, many of them not commonly used in cooking, and hence contributing some unfamiliar flavours to the highly inventive menus.
Tasting Menu at Restaurant Interlude
Tasting menus can be hit or miss, or often a frustrating mix of the two.
The misses are usually dull and uninspiring, a long slog through dish after dish that’s been decently cooked, sure, and often neatly presented, but lacking in originality, or a cohesive theme. Often, there are some stellar dishes amongst a number of so-so ones, making you wish you’d ordered a la carte and focused on the best bits.
It’s rare though, for a tasting menu to deliver dish after dish of inventive, delicious food that surprises, delights and satisfies. Chef Delport’s use of unusual ingredients foraged from the estate, resulted in several new flavours I’d not tried before, not to mention unusual combinations of tastes and textures, and the biggest surprise was that I loved all of them!
Benguela Cove Lagoon wines are available to enjoy with the meal, or the usual selection of bar drinks, plus excellent teas from the Rare Tea Company.
Superbly crunchy celeriac crackers, chicken skin crackers, crispy lavash bread, and chewy strips of fried pigs ear hung on a tree, served with with sweet savoury onion pastry parcels, a punchy smoked fish pate formed into ‘moss-covered rocks’, and a seed butter with sweet, green herby flavours. This is such a great starting point, fun to look at, fun to eat and with lots of great flavours.
Rabbit Eats Carrot
Light-as-air carrot doughnuts with soft, tender pulled rabbit meat inside, and a carrot dust coating, served with a silky carrot dipping sauce. Savoury and sweet combine surprisingly well.
Foraged Oyster & Oca
Served in the shell, poached oyster garnished with sea greens, pickled green elderberries, and salmon roe with an oca root dressing, the sauce brings a welcome touch of sweet fruitiness to the sea brine flavours of oyster and salmon roe, and the sharp tang of the elderberries.
Bread & Local Butter
Individual loaves of enriched dough bread served with mature butter flavoured with aged beef fat and rolled in onion dust, and a rich chicken liver pate wrapped in a smooth chervil butter coat.
Scallop, Birch & Jerusalem Artichoke
Cured and smoked scallops with Jerusalem artichoke, pickled hazelnuts, hazelnut oil, estate birch syrup (made by harvesting sap from estate birch trees, and reducing it to create an intense syrup). The combination of slippery soft and crunchy crisp textures, and the sweetness of scallop and birch syrup is a surprisingly delightful mix.
Potato, Estate Egg & Exmoor Caviar
With one rooster and 38 hens, there are plenty of fresh eggs for Chef Delport’s kitchen. These are used to stunning effect in this spectacularly presented dish of soft sous-vide egg yolk in a potato and corn foam. Corn dust, grated sous-vide yolk and Exmoor caviar are sprinkled on top and a brioche soldier provided for dipping. I love both the rich, creamy flavours of the ingredients and the beautiful ceramic ostrich-egg dish they are served in.
Shot Pigeon, BBQ, Crushed Blackberry
Perfectly cooked slice of breast with a pigeon and anchovy farci over the top, served with a gloriously rich pigeona and blackberry jus. This dish has a second element, barbequed pigeon legs served on a grill, a nod to the South Africa braai, punchy and crunchy, and I do love eating with my hands!
Trenchmore Wagyu, Bone Marrow & Cod Roe
From a Wagyu-Sussex cross, this wagyu-style sirloin from Trenchmore Farm is aged 72 days, served medium rare with another delicious jus, and a smoked bone marrow with salty fingers (harvested from Cornish beaches) and fish roe emulsion. The meat is flawless, and quickly devoured.
Slow Berry Ice, Nasturtium
Showing off more of the estate’s ingredients, this pretty pink palate-cleanser ice is garnished with a nasturtium and leonardslee gin granita. The gin, made in collaboration with Cabin Pressure, features Leonardslee chamomoole, lavender, rose and honey. For me, these flavours are too bold to work as a palate cleanser, but I’ve rarely felt the need, mid-meal, for my palate to be cleansed anyway, and it’s a great starting point for the sweet end of the menu.
Sheeps Milk, Bulrush & Quince
The light, yet richly flavoured sheeps milk sorbet is served with a birch leaf tuile, bullrush syrup (made from bullrush flowers), buttermilk sponge, a granola of puffed wild rice, honeycomb and dehydrated milk foam, and poached quince drenched in Leonardslee estate honey. The combination of elements here is wholly new-to-me and once again, the dish perfectly balances an eclectic selection of taste and textures.
Estate Acorn, 70% Guanaja, Brandy & Coffee
Acorn mousse dipped in Valrhona chocolate, on hazelnut sponge with brandy snap tuile, dehydrated chocolate mousse, sulfur caramel and coffee cream. The bronzed acorns are wonderfully delicate, the super thin shell giving way almost instantly to a soft mousse that melts away in the mouth. This dish may sound more pedestrian but the delicacy and balance are what elevate it to something special.
Dogwood Glace, Malt, Nibs
Japanese Dogwood is a new ingredient to the kitchen, Chef Delport has been experimenting recently and discovered it works beautifully in sweets. Here, it’s used in a soft serve ice cream in a mulled tuile cone, with cocoa nibs. The flavour is sweet sour and tangy.
Beetroot & Elderberry
Soft fudge with an earthy sweetness, these are super smooth, but too sweet for me.
Lavender & Honey Bonbon
I much prefer these beautiful egg-shaped chocolates featuring Leonardslee estate honey and lavender, and that pretty silver leaf and lavender bud on top.
And there, you have it; fourteen dishes served over a few pleasant hours, and every single one a hit! Excellent cooking from Chef Jean Delport, and service to match from restaurant manager Anya and her second, Mia.
We can’t wait to go back and see the gardens on a sunny day, and to try the Afternoon Tea!
Save for later:
Kavey Eats dined as review guests of Restaurant Interlude at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens.