Restaurant review - Heritage, Slaugham, West Sussex
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 March 2020
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Matt Gillan’s Heritage builds on the buzz around the Great British Menu-winning chef, as Laura Paton discovers
Heritage is the first solo project for chef-director Matt Gillan, the brains behind South Lodge Hotel's The Pass, which earned a Michelin star soon after opening and created a huge amount of buzz around the young chef. Following his high-end restaurant project Pike and Pine in Brighton (since closed), and a recent stint at The Foresters Arms in nearby Horsham, Gillan set up a crowdfunding page to enable him to acquire and refurbish The Chequers, a large 18th century pub in Slaugham. Currently, the restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday and serves a choice of five, seven and nine-course tasting menus, although there is talk of a casual bar menu being introduced in the future. Decisions and deposits have to be made at the time of booking; I'd opted for the five-course menu, paying a £25 deposit towards the £37.50 total in order to secure the table.
As at The Pass, dishes are delivered to the table by the chefs. The first amuse bouche is a small tumbler of velouté, onion jam, potato straws and rosemary oil which, miraculously, conjures the flavour of a slow-cooked jacket potato pulled straight from the oven and served with crisp skin and fluffy centre. The second is a deep-fried Spanish croquette with bacon jam and red sorrel.
Complimentary bites devoured, it's on to the tasting menu proper. Small in size but huge on flavour, the lobster bonbon is a dish I'd travel a very long way for. Large pieces of lobster peek from the soft centre of the bonbon, the rich seafood bisque is poured at the table to keep the breadcrumb coating crisp, and the soused vegetables and pickled ginger add flashes of brightness to an otherwise deep and resonant dish.
It was Coco Chanel who advised women to remove one accessory before leaving the house, a maxim I wish had been applied to the second course before it left the kitchen. Each grain of rice has been lovingly coaxed into a wonderfully creamy mushroom risotto, but it's been overshadowed (quite literally) by a rubbery disc of mushroom gel, which has been laid over the rice and reminds me of the congealed skin that forms on top of a jug of gravy when left out - but with less flavour.
The main course is a true celebration of pork. There's salt-baked rump, moist and packed with flavour; belly, with its layers of meltingly soft fat; and shoulder, slow-cooked, shaped into a croquette and covered in finely chopped herbs. Roasted plums and a glossy spiced sauce with capers provide the bursts of sharp, sweet and salty needed to keep me from slipping into a meat-induced coma.
The pre-dessert is a beautiful thing. We're visiting between Christmas and New Year and this is the festive season in edible form. It encapsulates all the smells, tastes, sights and joyful anticipation of festivities to come. Glittering with a halo of sugar crystals that just escaped the blowtorch, the gingerbread brûlée consists of an incredibly thin caramelised crust hiding a smooth ginger custard. There are curls of candied peel and caramelised pine nuts on top, and a spoonful of zingy orange sorbet.
If the pre-dessert represented the run-up to the big day, then the dessert is a very refined version of the Christmas pudding. It's ice and warmth and cream and fruit: it's Christmas, but without the kitch. The sphere of brandy parfait is strong with booze. There are poached raisins, spiced white chocolate, custard ice cream, and an almond tuile that has a lovely snap, then melts into chewy caramel.
I like that Heritage isn't pretending to be something it's not. It's not pretending to be your average pub, that's for sure. But despite bearing all the hallmarks of fine dining, there's a sense of unpretentious playfulness - plus you get a whole lot of bang for your buck.
Heritage, Park Road, Slaugham RH17 6AQ