I’ve decided that winter is the best season to leave the city and go exploring our glorious neighbouring countryside in search of a different kind of lunch. The drive alone, passing sun-drenched hills on the winding roads of Sussex, is enough to top up my levels of joy. However, when the destination offers delicious food, reasonable prices and a gorgeous view. Well, let’s just say my cup runneth over. The plan; my pal Cat and I were going to be ‘ladies wot lunch’ at Mannings Heath Estate, feasting on their winter menu.
I’m going to be honest with you – sometimes I get a little intimidated by what I think are fancy food places – and I did presume that ‘country estate + golf course + wine country’ meant I had to get my pinky ready to stick out and try to make my car exhaust a little quieter on arrival. But I really needn’t have worried, Mannings Heath has all the things you might want for a great meal out, and it’s friendly and accessible too.
We got lucky with the weather which was perfection itself – golden sunlight lit up the big pink manor house which seemed to glow as we drove through the green cast iron gates. The grounds – part golf course, part vineyard, part woodland – were all illuminated, beautiful and incredibly inviting.
Warm and Welcoming
We walked through the doors and were greeted by Karen who gave us a warm friendly welcome and showed us to our seats at the recently revamped Vineyard Kitchen Restaurant. Fresh, bright and comfortable – we took a table by the window that looked down onto the groomed golf course and the hills beyond.
The atmosphere was really chilled and laid back, it didn’t feel at all stiff, but it did feel like a treat. There were some gents having a cuppa in the wine parlour and a group of ladies having a very fun looking afternoon tea. The golfers were supping their drinks below on the large sunny patio and couples were chattering over lunch. Karen dropped off a platter of warm breads, herby butter and spicy olives and took our order.
Breaking Bread…and eating Olives
I’m letting you know now, Cat and I hadn’t had a chance to catch up in ages and, not only did we want to elongate our time together, but we both love our food. So we’d both skipped breakfast in preparation and went for a full three-course lunch! Stupidly, I wore the wrong skirt for this daring feat, a hazard of the job…
Classy Comfort Foods
The Winter Menu, designed by the lovely chef Kelly and her team, didn’t overdo it in terms of choices, offering simple hearty dishes with a farm to table ethos. Most of the dishes are gluten-free so that everyone can enjoy them. and we can vouch that, if you fancy the bread to mop up the gravy or broths, you’re in for a treat. The prices are mid range, with an extra special signature 3 course menu for £29.50 which, considering portion sizes and quality of ingredients, is a very good offer indeed.
Let’s Get Starter-ed
For starters, Cat’s curiosity got the better of her. We had both been pondering over the Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Portobello Mushroom dish – would it work? – there was only one way to find out. Meanwhile, I have an inability to pass up crackling whatever the guise, so the Confit Pork Belly was literally calling out my name – ok not literally, but I couldn’t see further than that option.
All the dishes had a recommended Benguela Cove wine pairing and, as I was driving, Cat went for the Lighthouse Collection Sauvignon Blanc because quite frankly you cannot come to a wine estate and not have at least a glass. It was perfect for a lunchtime tipple.
Lovely Karen delivered our starters. After mutually admiring the tableware, and taking pics to make our husbands jealous, we tucked in. The smoked salmon and mushroom combo absolutely worked (yes of course I tried some too – sharing is caring). It was fresh, light and delightful.
My starter thrilled all my senses – the portion size was generous, the pork belly was the meaty version we all hope for; rendered to perfection with a star anise jus, sweet potato mash and the blessed crackling … demolished.
Service with a Smile
The mains came in – big healthy portions that smelled incredible. I went for the One Pot Wonder – a seafood medley which warmed my cockles and put a smile on my face.
Cat’s Braised Beef Short Rib was A-mazing! The cheeky little onion puree lifted her dish to a whole new level. And there were garlic tatties on the side to share – BLISS!
Applying all of our Senses
As we were eating my ears waggled in the direction of the other diners – not eavesdropping, just overhearing with intent…They were saying that it was well worth the short drive to Mannings Heath because, and I quote ‘you can’t get this quality of food for this kind of price at…’ and something like ‘I wish we were friends with those girls at that table over there, they sound fun’ …no they didn’t say that, but the point they made was valid – at Mannings Heath you’ll get a great meal, at a really good price, free parking (you listening Brightonians) and you’re in a gorgeous location.
As we waited for our desserts we looked out the window and saw a clutch / gaggle *insert collective name for deer here* of Deer strolling casually over the golf course, stopping for a little munch – how magical to see wildlife doing their thing in real life.
The puddings arrived. Cat chose a very pretty deconstructed-esque apple crumble. The seriously gorgeous presentation and the smell of vanilla, apple and cinnamon cleared all necessary room in her tum. She reported it was so incredibly light with no fear of a food coma.
Now I mentioned I was driving so couldn’t sample the wine, however, I spotted a workaround and ordered the Red Wine Poached Pear served with cheese and crackers. Confession. I’ve never had a poached pear, so to have my first experience be this rich, yet fresh, boozy crimson-dyed fruit, married with Brighton Blue cheese was wonderful – a very welcome addition to my revolving pudding picks.
If we didn’t have to dash back for the school run we would have had a big old walk in the sunshine to explore more of the estate’s woodlands and step off some of the 3 courses. Next time. Kelly confided in us that Sunday Lunches here are the best – they don’t overbook so you get a good few hours to savour a real feast with the family or friends. Sounds lush…but for a midweek escape to the country, Cat and I wholly recommend a visit.