Everything in the garden’s lovely: a dish from the menu at Gravetye Manor, with ingredients from its own grounds

Ninety five per cent of the vegetables and fruit served in the hotel's restaurant are from its beautiful garden

The majority of food these days has more air miles than Naomi Campbell. Not only in the Peruvian-jet-setting-strawberry sense, either, though schlepping a bit of fruit from the other side of the planet is never a terribly good thing. But it travels conceptually, too. Quite often, the dishes seems to have been conceived and, indeed, put together somewhere in international waters. A burger in New York may have aspirations to peerless brilliance, but in all likelihood it won't be a great deal different from the aspirant burgers of Greater Manchester. Same goes for sushi, same goes for your kale salads, same goes for your ceviche. Quite a lot of food now has no sense of place whatsoever.

Of course, culinary globalisation can be a good thing. It brings more choice, more flavours, more styles and techniques of cooking to our lives – and it would be churlish to deny that. It is a pleasure to stare down into a Hunanese hotpot and prod the delights within. But it can also be a strangulating pain, something that stymies creativity and creates a uniform, cookie-cutter food culture that has all the verve of a Farrow & Ball shop.

So, when you come across a restaurant serving food that can only come from that place, that looks, smells and tastes of that area, it is time to put down your burger and take notice. I did just that, metaphorically speaking, when I visited Gravetye Manor.

 

Before I set off, I wasn't expecting a great deal. I had read that it was a 17-room, 16th-century hotel in East Grinstead in West Sussex, that it had a beautiful garden by green-fingered Victorian William Robinson, and I had clocked that it had picked up a Michelin star in 2008. And I thought, "Very nice, sounds boring".

I arrived there on Sunday, tired, fed up and 30 minutes late, after an unfortunate excursion on a rail replacement bus. The ire soon drained through the soles of the wellies I'd borrowed to go round the gardens in, though. The grounds, with their nine gardeners, are so big, so beautiful, so in-bloom that they envelope you in charm. But they also have a much more practical purpose.

The first thing you notice when you look at the seven-course tasting menu is the opening course: a Gravetye Manor salad – which, as the menu explains, is a confit hen's yolk with crisp brassicas and marinated root veg. So far, so unexceptional. Yet every single component of that dish comes from that garden – and it goes on. The carrots with the Orkney scallops, the potatoes, the beets, the fennel, the apples, the rhubarb, which all come later in a beautiful fevered dream of dishes, are all from the garden. Ninety five per cent of the vegetables and fruit served on these plates is from the grounds. Ninety five per cent! And you see it on the plate, in the freshness of the colours, in the edible flowers from the gardens scattered over the plate of foie gras that people are ordering around me. And you see it in the rich, overflowing flavour, the zing of freshness.

The place deserves more credit, and more attention. It is a bona fide example of that usually most faux of things: field-to-fork food. This is a restaurant that knows its place and doesn't need Google Maps to find it.

Comments