Reviewing Wingrove House restaurant in Alfriston

Venison at Wingrove House (Photo by Amy Watson)

Venison at Wingrove House (Photo by Amy Watson) - Credit: Archant

The food is great but the service leaves a little to be desired when we visit Wingrove House

For those who make it past Alfriston’s main attractions, an impressive and unexpected sight awaits them. Located at the southern end of the High Street, Wingrove House boasts a plantation-style façade, complete with pretty balustraded balconies and climbing plants, behind which are 12 bedrooms, a restaurant, and a private dining room. There’s a well-kept lawn, packed borders and a terrace, perfect for a sundowner or two.

After the grandeur of the exterior, our enthusiasm takes a nosedive when we’re informed that there’s no record of our booking, despite my phoning two weeks in advance to make the reservation. Fortunately, as the restaurant is no more than two-thirds full, a table is quickly found. The dining room has a curio-chic vibe with pairs of antlers on the walls and conch shells in mesh-fronted cabinets.

Provenance is important to head chef Matthew Comben, formerly of the Hungry Monk (the birthplace of the banoffee pie). From the fruit and veg to the ice cream, the majority of the produce is local, and it’s pleasing to see the names of the producers proudly displayed on the menu.

The word ‘plonked’ comes to mind when our bread board arrives at the end of the table, just out of reach (our table could seat four), by a waitress who disappears without saying a word. We’re left wondering if it’s meant for us, or if she’ll be returning shortly to take it somewhere else. But we’re hungry, so we drag it over and tuck in.

We both choose fish to start. The Sussex smoked salmon, from Spring Smokeries in Henfield, comes with spring onion potato cakes and a beetroot and horseradish sauce (£8.50). The potato cakes are under seasoned and a little heavy, but the salmon melts in the mouth. The sauce, although unsettling in colour, brings the whole dish together with a kick from the horseradish.

My companion’s Provencal squid stew, rouille and crispy calamari (£8.50) is packed with flavour. Both the slow-cooked squid and the deep-fried calamari have been expertly handled – the former soft and tender, the latter providing a satisfying crunch. A spoonful of crushed chillies, garlic and breadcrumbs gives added punch, and there’s a generous-sized sourdough crouton too.

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I’m usually a ‘fish starter, meat main’ kinda gal (or vice versa), but the fillet of hake with chorizo crust, rocket gnudi, and sun-blushed tomato and red pepper sauce (£20) sounds too good to miss. The huge fillet tastes just-caught and flakes into juicy pieces. The chorizo crust is strangely bland, but the rocket gnudi are rich with delicate ricotta and pillowy-soft. The bold sauce is well balanced. It’s a dish I won’t forget in a hurry.

The roast haunch of venison (£20), sourced from South Brockwells Farm in Little Horsted, is served with a mini pie, dauphinoise potato, spiced poached pear, parsnip puree, and a blackberry and sloe gin sauce. It’s everything that’s good about autumn in the countryside. The haunch has been caramelised but served rare, keeping it moist and tender. The meat in the pie is a little tough, but the allspice-flavoured pastry is delicious.

I’m tempted by the plum and almond tart (£7.50) but decide to round off the meal with a very good espresso. We ask for the bill and wait an inordinate amount of time for it arrive. Eventually, the maître d’ walks past and makes it clear that he’d completely forgotten about us. Despite this, we’ve had an enjoyable evening, eaten some very good food and found another reason to return to this charming village – as if we needed an excuse.


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