The Pass at South Lodge in Horsham: Restaurant review

The Pass at South Lodge Hotel, Horsham (Photo by Dave Greendave)

The Pass at South Lodge Hotel, Horsham (Photo by Dave Greendave) - Credit: Dave Greendave

Laura Paton visits Horsham’s The Pass and finds exciting food served with infectious enthusiasm

One of the restaurant's signature dishes, SAMO (Photo by Dave Greendave)

One of the restaurant's signature dishes, SAMO (Photo by Dave Greendave) - Credit: Dave Greendave

There aren’t many restaurants where you can paint your own dessert or watch a chef make a flower from cheese. But soon after taking a seat at The Pass, the chef’s table experience at South Lodge Hotel, one comes to expect the unexpected.

We arrive under the cover of darkness, so there is little clue as to the majesty of this 19th century building until, that is, we push open the heavy wooden doors and find ourselves in a great hall. More medieval castle than Victorian country home, the lofty ceilings are hung with chandeliers, casting a soft glow over the exposed stonework, plush furniture and flagstone floor.

Leaving the grandeur behind, we are led to our table, where, surrounded by the bright lights and hard surfaces of the kitchen, the excitement is palpable. Perched on stools just feet from the action, we watch as chefs glide serenely from station to station, taking a dish from empty plate to finished article.

The chefs themselves will be our guides tonight, navigating our passage through the eight-course tasting menu (£80), pointing out culinary landmarks along the way. “It takes you on a journey,” says head chef Ian Swainson of his seasonal menu. “Starting with the lighter dishes and finishing with the heavier ones, there’s an evolution of flavour that slowly brings the meal to a crescendo.”

Our ‘journey’ begins with Revisiting a classic – a quenelle of oyster ice cream accompanied by spherified tabasco, pickled shallot, cod roe caviar, candied lemon and wild sorrel from the hotel’s walled garden. A chef finishes the dish at the table, pouring a herb ceviche broth from a transparent teapot. First bites are tentative, but our cautiousness is quickly replaced by delight as we experience a tapestry of flavours – from peppery heat to marine-rich butteriness – expertly woven against a backdrop of velvety umami ice cream.

The fourth dish on the menu is Hieronymus’s idea of heaven – which turns out to be mine too. After the Tête de Moine (a type of Swiss cheese) is pared into a rosette, it arrives alongside a light-as-air cream cheese and chive panna cotta on a rich shortcrust base with a drizzle of truffle honey. This dish may be an exercise in restraint, but I have none, and clear my plate in seconds.

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Resembling a liquorice allsort, From dark to light is a faultlessly poached fillet of John Dory with a purple cauliflower purée, obscenely buttery leeks and a tangle of squid-ink linguine.

Ian’s crescendo comes one dish before the last, with Apples are green, roses are red, this one’s gold. An apple ‘rose’, infused with apple Sourz, rose and grenadine, is encased in Japanese rice-paper petals and served with granola and rosemary ice cream. Although delicate in appearance, it is rambunctious in flavour.

The apple is sufficiently mellowed by the pine-tinged ice cream and sweet granola.

The denouement is the whimsical Palette des peintres: an artist’s palette dotted with a rainbow of edible paints – from banana and salted caramel, to fig, coconut and lime, and chocolate. Equipped with popcorn paper and paintbrushes, we set about creating a masterpiece, before the temptation is too much and we use our shattered creations to scrape up the sweet purées.

Admittedly, due to the immersive nature of the experience, The Pass is not the place for an intimate meal. However, if your idea of a good time is enjoying exciting food in a unique environment, with the opportunity to engage with infectiously passionate chefs, then The Pass won’t disappoint.


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