Chefs, it seems, are like first loves. Just as you fall for their menu and get attached to their way of cooking, their heads are turned and they leave. Often, it’s not to go far, which, just like a lost love, can be devastating as it’s a constant reminder of what you’ve lost.

So, imagine how heartbroken I could have been when, upon arriving at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, I discovered that Head Chef Michael Sutherland had upped and left the award-winning restaurant Mirabelle to run Light at Towner Eastbourne.

Known for his love of fresh, seasonal produce and a Sussex young chef of the year winner, I was more than a fan. I had a culinary crush. But I needn’t have worried. There are, I now know, plenty more head chefs in the sea.

Great British Life: The Grand's Mirabelle restaurant has won numerous awardsThe Grand's Mirabelle restaurant has won numerous awards (Image: The Grand)

Step forward Alex Burtenshaw who, after making his mark on Port Hotel, and helping to firmly put Eastbourne back on the map as a stylish seaside break for the trendy London crowd, is now in charge of The White Palace’s flagship restaurant.

A quick glance at the menu and for both my husband – a strict carnivore – and myself, a vegetarian, it was love at first sight. The Celeriac Veloute with rosemary cream and celeriac crisps (£11) is a winter warmer with the wow factor. The Sussex hand dived scallops with artichoke puree, bacon jam, sesame and sherry vinegar dressing and puffed potato crumb (£14.50) had my fussy Italian chef dreaming of seconds.

Great British Life: Head Chef Alex loves bold flavoursHead Chef Alex loves bold flavours (Image: The Grand)

Pausing to sip from our flight of wines paired with our dish choices, I took in the restaurant. It, unlike the menu, hasn’t undergone any drastic changes. It’s still elegantly understated with crisp white table linen, heavily-swagged curtains and a silver service.

With two AA rosettes and four RAC dining awards, Mirabelle has been voted one of the Fifty Best Restaurants by the Independent and could have been fearful of change because of its loyal fanbase.

But Alex has been courageous, introducing bold vegetarian dishes to stand side by side with meat classics such as Venison Fillet with a root vegetable topped haunch pie (£38) and crisp pork belly with a sweet potato and coconut foam (£29).

Great British Life: The beetroot gnocchi was creative visually and in flavourThe beetroot gnocchi was creative visually and in flavour (Image: The Grand)

I couldn’t decide between a beetroot gnocchi with Sussex goat’s cheese, walnut pesto, and a beetroot puree (£29), a confit crown prince pumpkin with braised puy lentils and pumpkin seed sabayan (£29) or a chesnut and pear raviolo (a starter at £11 that looked too good to miss) and so asked for a tasting version of all three with a side dish of gratin of cavolo nero (I know, greedy!). Savoury, seasonal and surprising, they were all excellent and rank as some of the best veggie dishes I’ve eaten. Ever. Anywhere.

My husband didn’t talk until his venison had vanished – except a few murmurs of appreciation – and then tried to steal from my plates. ‘Wow, delicious,’ he said, trying them all. ‘You’d never know they didn’t have meat in them.’ For him, that’s praise indeed.

Full, we didn’t have space for deserts and so shared a cheese platter, washed down with a glass of Malbec.

With the flavours of his dishes still dancing on my tongue, I realised that Head Chef Alex had big shoes to fill – this is a restaurant with a regular spot in the Good Food Guide, after all. But his vision – especially for vegetarian food – is playful, exciting and creative visually and in flavour. He has taken a classic menu and made it mouth-wateringly modern. No doubt it will make its mark on the local culinary scene. For me, I can’t wait to take this new culinary relationship further and go for a second date at the Mirabelle.