There’s no shortage of new restaurant openings in Sussex this year and – thankfully – they’re not all in Brighton which I dare say is starting to become a victim of its own success yet again, particularly at the higher end of the market.
In recent months, I’ve enjoyed some fantastic dining experiences and met passionate chefs and restaurateurs in Eastbourne, Chichester and more distant locations out in the sticks. Worthing is definitely establishing itself as a bit of a go-to for food lovers – the town has possibly the most successful locally focussed food festival running in Sussex and an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are proving there’s more to the British seaside than mediocre fish and chips served in tired steamy cafés.
This month sees the launch of Tern – chef Johnny Stanford’s new venture on Worthing Pier. Johnny has been knocking around Sussex kitchens for a good few years now having cut his teeth at South Lodge near Horsham, experiencing what is probably best described as an unfortunate slight career blip at a short-lived restaurant in Brighton and most recently heading the kitchen of the acclaimed AG’s Restaurant at the five star Alexander House hotel in East Grinstead. He knows his stuff and is most definitely a known ‘name’ in the South East’s culinary circles.
Tern is Johnny’s first venture as patron chef. It’s completely his baby, which is an enviable position for any talented chef to be in, and I dare say one that he very much deserves having earned his stripes over the years.
The concept is seasonal British produce-led informal dining, with an eye on sustainability. The format is either a five or seven course tasting menu, although there is a weekend brunch menu that I’ll come to later. With a starting point of £55 for five dishes, it isn’t cheap but neither is it inaccessible for this level of cooking and quality of ingredients.
To start, a trio of beautifully presented canapés appeared. The rabbit and lovage terine was impeccably seasoned and – thankfully – cut through the sharpness of the accompanying Artelium sparkling wine. Without doubt, the champion snack was the razor clam, dill and elderflower presented in a beautiful pastry shell; the sweet flesh was perfectly balanced against the acidity of the spherifications.
A bread course followed, with perhaps the prettiest serving of garlic-infused butter I’ve ever seen with it’s fancy dressing of micro herbs and edible flowers. I struggled to see what the accompanying lamb jus reduction added – or indeed what to do with it as it just smelled of fatty lamb – but different boats for different folks.
The following dish – which was a rather delicious slice of lamb – continued to up the game, although the peach-led wine from Davenport Vineyard near Rotherfield seemed an incongruous one-dimensional match. The turnip and sea buckthorn were perfect bedfellows, showcasing coast, earth and flesh in one well constructed dish.
A fabulous amuse of a single roasted Jersey Royal with wild garlic and smoked fish roe was served next. Simple but very moreish. On my next visit I’ll just have a plate of these please. This was rapidly followed by a sweet and fatty mackerel fillet delicately placed on a buttermilk sauce; another example of ingredients working in perfect harmony.
I have to admit I was intrigued by the description in the next dish. If there’s one thing I’m sick of, it’s grilled lettuce: it’s just not right. That said, it worked remarkably well with the flash-fried duck fillet and a slightly oriental sauce. Of all the wine pairings, the Bolney Lynchgate red that came with this dish was probably the most successful due to its chocolate and plum notes.
The pre-dessert consisted of gingerbread cake, sheep’s milk yoghurt, honey and red fruit. This semi-savoury pudding course is so often missed on tasting menus but is always an enjoyable addition to the dining journey. Safe to say, Johnny’s pastry team didn’t disappoint.
And finally to the dessert which was possibly the simplest of the dishes but a perfect full-stop to the meal. Best described as an ad-hoc nest of wafer thin meringue that revealed glistening strawberry, ice cream and a wonderful rapeseed gel, it was a refreshing end to a pretty much faultless tasting menu.
My only criticism is with the wine pairings. I’m all for championing English produce – I’ve done so for much of my career – but I don’t believe in using English wines for the sake of it. A wine flight should enhance the dishes – and vice versa – but on this occasion unfortunately I think it very much missed the mark.
Without doubt, the restaurant has the most spectacular outlook of any restaurant in Sussex. The panoramic 180 degree windows reveal the coastline from Chichester to Eastbourne; it’s a truly stunning background of changing light and weather that is a welcome guest at the table.
There will be challenges here for Johnny and the team. Although this is clearly a destination fine dining restaurant, there will be issues with footfall seasonality. In terms of age demographic, I’m knocking on the door of 50 and on the night I visited other than the staff, I was the youngest person in the room which is also going to be an issue but I guess this is why they are offering a much more accessibly priced brunch menu on Sunday’s from 11am - 3pm with prices from £8 - £16.
Johnny is without doubt at the top of his game, with exceptional cooking skills and creativity. Tern will rapidly establish itself as a must-visit Sussex destination restaurant.
Tern, Worthing Pier, Marine Parade, Worthing BN11 3PX