Restaurant review: South Lodge Hotel

South Lodge Hotel has two restaurants, both highly rated in national guides. Simon Irwin took on the challenge of trying both for himself

IT’S a tough job, as they say, but someone has to do it. When the idea of going to both the restaurants of the 5-star South Lodge Hotel was mooted in the office, I manfully volunteered for the task.And what a task it was. The hotel offers "country house dining for the 21st century" in the elegant surroundings of the Camellia restaurant or the opportunity to watch your food being cooked in The Pass. I ate at both.My first meal was in the Camellia but I was lucky enough to visit on a glorious day so I enjoyed lunch out on the terrace with its glorious views of the Downs.As I wrote in my notebook, the view was worth the price of the lunch in itself. The tables on the terrace were decorated with stone ‘fruit’ which I guess were really there to stop the tablecloth blowing away in a wind but which added a pleasingly quirky touch.On to the food. There is a choice of set meal of two courses for �16.50 and three for �21.50. The a la carte was �20 for one course, �30 for two course and �35 for three with supplements for some of the dishes.I went a la carte for two courses and returned to the set meal for my pudding.It started with a choice of four breads, white, honey, brown and tomato. I tried the white and the tomato bread which was bright orange and very tomato-ey.I had smoked salmon followed by sirloin steak and chips and then Eton mess to round it all off. All the food looked lovely. So lovely that it was almost a shame to break up the picture to eat it. I pressed on and it was as good as it looked. I tend to choose the simpler dishes because I like them and also I think it shows the overall standard of the cooking and, just as important, the ingredients.The other guests when I attended were mostly ladies at lunch and to judge from the oohs and aahs coming from their tables, the consensus was that all was well with them too.Two days later, I ate in the Pass which is a smaller restaurant literally in the heart of the kitchen, or should I say kitchens. The staff wear colour-coded clothes depending which restaurant they cook for. The Pass staff led by chef Matt Gillan wear green, the Camellia’s wear blue.Depending which way you face, you can watch the kitchen live in front of your eyes or on monitors set on to the wall. It is described in the menu as "Dramatic Dining Experiences".When I arrived, Matt was talking to two of his regular customers Anne and Charlie Phesse who were there for Charlie’s 60th birthday treat. After Matt went back to work, they couldn’t praise him or the restaurant enough. As a firm believer in personal recommendation, I reckoned I was in for a treat of my own.The Pass has three AA Rosettes and this month was recognised in the Which Good Food Guide 2012 Top 50 UK Restaurants at number 29. All I can say is that those experts know what they are talking about.The Pass offers the usual route of starter, main and pudding at �18 for two or �25 for three courses. It also offers a tasting menu of six courses with a wine ‘flight’ specially chosen to accompany it. The six courses are �45 and the flight is a further �40.As someone who doesn’t drink (I know!) I steered clear of the tasting menu and stuck to the three course option.The bread at The Pass is brown or white but again, a common theme at the South Lodge restaurants, there is further choice in which salt you can sprinkle on your South Downs butter. There were three, Maldon and two French ones. Three types of salt! There was also a choice of different fizzy mineral waters. This is not a place for the indecisive.I knew I was on a winner when I tasted the canap�s. These included parsnip crisps. If there is a vegetable I abhor it is the parsnip. Ever since I sunk my teeth into what I thought was a massive chip and was ‘rewarded’ with the sickly sweetness of parsnip, I have kept well away from them.As much as I detest parsnips, I love crisps. So I had to try them. Wow. Mr Gillan is a true culinary artist, he has found a way of turning a food that I would not have in the house into something that I could happily have eaten all day.After that I was under the spell. For the record I had poached egg, chorizo and lettuce which followed an amuse-bouche that was Matt’s take on Caesar salad. It was iceberg lettuce topped with lettuce foam and parmesan crisps.I had beef fillet for my main course which melted on the tongue followed by strawberry cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and meringue in the shape of crisps. Again, a picture and a delight for the palate.So there you have it, country house dining or a dramatic dining experience, all in the same hotel. I would recommend trying both, you won’t regret it. Camellia and The Pass restaurantsSouth Lodge Hotel, Brighton RoadLower Beeding, near HorshamRH13 6PSW: 01403 891711

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