In retrospect, it was a rather foolhardy decision on my part to head to the wilds of West Sussex on a cold, wet Sunday morning using solely public transport. In the height of summer – and without rail strikes – it would’ve been a challenging day but this was a genuine odyssey.
Having got trains from Brighton to Littlehampton then onwards to Pulborough, I expected that there might be a taxi rank – or at the very least a taxi phone – but no. It was a sign of things to come. A wander through the depressingly desolate village was a reminder that rural life is probably not for me. With about 45 minutes before I was due at my review lunch some 5 miles away, I eventually stumbled across the Oddfellows Arms which – to be fair – looked like it had closed down years ago like everything else in Pulborough.
Thankfully there was a glimmer in the window from a roaring fire so I popped in, shared my desperation with the two locals perched on the bar – actually the only two people in the bar – one of whom had a direct line to a taxi and sweet talked her into picking me up.
So by the wonders of South Down Taxis, I was whisked to Kinsbrook Vineyard in Thakeham, miraculously arriving on the dot of one o’clock. Over the years, I’ve visited many of Sussex’s vineyards in one capacity or another, but it was fair to say I was quite taken aback by the scale of Kinsbrook’s planting. But it wasn’t the vines I was here to admire but their new restaurant offering, Kinsbrook Farmhouse.
Their barn is pretty impressive – a gloriously light atrium with the eatery upstairs and a farm shop downstairs. I headed straight up to the restaurant area and was warmly welcomed at the reception desk and whisked to my seat.
The first thing that struck me was how buzzy the room was. Although there was ample space between tables, diners – predominantly multi-generational families – somehow all felt connected together like it was a big Sunday get-together and everyone knew each other. Who knows? Perhaps they were all from the local village and did know each other.
I began my lunch with the obligatory glass of their English sparkling wine – Kin vintage cuvée 2014 – and had a ‘wow’ moment. In the world of English wine, the majority of what we consume – whether still or sparkling – is typically under three years old. Of course, some wines should be enjoyed ‘young’ but it’s primarily the financial imperative that sees vineyards getting their product to market as soon as possible. Hence it was a pleasure to enjoy a vintage wine from a pretty new vineyard; that takes commitment and, no doubt, a healthy business bank balance.
The wine offered up a fine mousse with the nutty, biscuity flavours you’d expect from a traditional method sparkling. The acidity had been tempered with age and I think it’s fair to call this a particularly sophisticated glass of Sussex. Good work guys.
The food menu is small – perhaps even a bit ‘snacky’ – but there’s something for everyone whether you’re wanting to graze with wine or enjoy something a little more hearty. The influence is Mediterranean but they’re using as much local, seasonal produce as possible.
To start, I enjoyed the Cantabrian anchovies – six slivers of silky deliciousness wrapped in olive oil, pepper and chilli flakes. A clear example that a few simple yet quality ingredients working in perfect harmony can make a dish sing.
My main was day boat fish on a saucy bed of tomato, sweet peppers and chickpea. Although the menu clearly stated ‘with aioli’, I wasn’t quite expecting it to be a huge dollop on top of all the other elements of the dish – that seemed somewhat presumptive on the part of the kitchen. However, after a mouthful, I could see the reason to the rhyme with the flavours and textures all working beautifully together.
The fish itself – brill from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales in Portslade – was faultless. Oven roasted then finished on the stove, the skin was crisp and the flesh flaky but firm. There’s nothing worse than over-cooked flat fish that can be too dry or end up mushy, but no fear of that with chef Greg Round heading the kitchen. He’s definitely one to watch over the coming years.
With my main, I sampled one of Kinsbrook’s still wines – their 2020 pinot gris – and it proved a perfect accompaniment with its fresh, delicate stone fruit flavours. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a bottle from the farm shop on my way out. Sussex wine ‘old guard’ watch out as the new guard are making their own rules on what English wine should be; creating forward-thinking rather than dogmatic wines.
Despite heading back out into the rain, I left Kinsbrook Vineyard with a skip in my step – helped by the local jazz band who’d just started their set. I genuinely felt as if I’d been round to a friend’s place for lunch – every aspect from the service and ambiance to the all-important food and their wonderful wines seemed effortlessly crafted. It felt just right.
Kinsbrook Vineyard, West Chiltington Road, Thakeham, Pulborough RH20 2RZ
01403 907 800 • www.kinsbrookvineyard.com