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Review of Chalk at Wiston Estate

Chalk restaurant at Wiston Estate in West Sussex

Wine tourism in the south of England has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, writes Nick Mosley.

Only a decade ago, most English vineyard tours consisted of traipsing around muddy farm fields then standing in a cold, dreary winery production facility for a lecture. With entry level English sparkling wines are £30 – or considerably more – it never felt particularly chic so thankfully much investment has been put into widening the visitor offering.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to visit a local vineyard or winery without at least a fairly decent café if not a fine-dining restaurant alongside themed tutored tastings, pop-up chef events, cellar door retail, farm shops and even sculpture parks and mini-festivals. Increasingly, there’s also on-site accommodation ranging from converted outbuildings to glamping.

Hence, as it had been well over a year since my last visit to Wiston Estate, I was pleased to be invited back to sample the Estate Menu at their signature dining restaurant, Chalk. I fondly remembered some of the dishes I’d previously enjoyed – particularly the fermented kimchi made from upcycled ‘waste’ vegetables from the kitchen – so I had high hopes especially with the promise that many of the ingredients were grown, reared, farmed and forage in the Wiston Estate itself; you don’t get much more local than that.

But first-things-first, to begin our visit we caught up with my mate Tom – who joined the Wiston Estate family last year as retail manager – over a rather jolly glass of Wiston Estate Cuvée 2016 in the warm and sunny courtyard. The 2016 vintage is something of a Wiston signature, being a pretty outstanding example of topnotch traditional method sparkling wine from Sussex: think toasty almonds and brioche with a honey note and fine mousse.

Tom also shared with us a quick nosey around the winery building – including the beautiful tasting room and shop, the latter of which offers impromptu drop-in tastings every day.

South Coast mackerel with beet

The Chalk dining room is situated within an old flint walled barn, that I seem to recall being used at one time to house turkeys but don’t quote me on that. It’s now been beautifully restored with  a stunning open wooden beam roof and a modern-feeling feature bar that makes a stunning centrepiece to the venue. We were dining early-doors at 6pm so the spread of diners was initially sparse but tables soon filled with an eclectic spread of guests; families, date-night couples and – pleasingly – locals neighbouring villages neighbouring Wiston.

To start, flash-finished cured mackerel with salt baked beetroot topped with grated horseradish. The fattiness of the mackerel was nicely off-set with the sweetness of the beets; the dollops of pine ‘wasabi’ a genius addition. The plating was stunning – quite the work of art.

Next up, roast chicken risotto with truffle that although on first sight was a fairly meagre intermediate portion proved to be a challenge to eat due to the intensity of flavour and sheer richness. Don’t get me wrong, it was utterly delicious but I found it a bit overwhelming. That said, when you’re pairing sparkling wines from a cool climate region such as England then heavier sauces and dairy do work well with to counterbalance the acidity driven by the Chardonnay grape in particular.

Sussex Pork

The main – a dish built around Sussex pork – was pretty much as close to perfection as you’ll find. I genuinely think the meat was the best that I can recall eating in a very long time in terms of quality and preparation. Sweet and melt-in-the-mouth, it must’ve been one happy pig before its demise. Accompanied by seasonal asparagus, Jersey Royals and a pesto of spinach and wild garlic, the ingredients were all given space on the plate to sing, or perhaps oink.

That said, my favourite dish on the Estate Menu turned out to the simplest: another intermediate course – a savoury dessert of buttermilk panna cotta and tangy rhubarb on a base of cold-pressed oil. Perhaps it was much-needed after the richness of earlier dishes but it was seriously moreish.

Chocolate bar

Unfortunately, we had to shovel down our final course – a luxurious ‘chocolate bar’ with caramel honey ice cream – rather sharpish due to a toot from the car park. If you’re a lover of good quality chocolate then this is most definitely a perfect pudding.

I’d pre-booked a taxi back to Hove and hadn’t quite factored in the length time of the tasting menu. I guess this is the curse of English wine tourism; unlike other wine regions across the globe, there’s simply a lack of joined-up public transport and the twisting lanes of rural Sussex are only to be braved by the most accomplished, confident – and sober – cyclist. You’d be more likely to see hens teeth than arrange an impromptu taxi to pick-up.

The Estate Menu is only available on Friday and Saturday evenings and consists of five courses plus bread for £75 with Wiston’s own sparkling wines – and their two experimental still wines – priced between £12-18. As not everyone will want to drink sparkling wine throughout their meal there is also a well-thought out menu of still wines from elsewhere. Hence you’ll be looking at around £100 per head plus service but for local produce, thoughtful cooking and curated wines-by-the-glass of this calibre, I’d say that’s excellent value. A full vegetarian Estate Menu is offered and further dietaries can be accommodated if you notify the restaurant team in advance.

There’s no doubt that Chalk is an impressive destination restaurant and the wider Wiston Estate is somewhere I’d happily spend a day pottering around this summer. This is a significantly better produce-led kitchen and accessibly priced premium dining experience than you’ll find along much of this stretch of Sussex coastline. My tips are to ensure you arrive hungry… and get the timing on your pre-booked taxi home right.

Nick Mosley

Chalk Restaurant at Wiston Estate, North Farm, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 4BB


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