The Orangery, East Sussex - Restaurant Review
PUBLISHED: 12:05 11 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013
Explosions of taste, scintillating service, flashes of brilliance - Lulu Larkin is wowed by a whizzbanger of a restaurant as she gets a taste of country elegance and style...
CYNICALLY referred to as the only person to have entered Parliament with honest intentions, Guy Fawkes might have got away with treason had it not been for his fancy dress outfit of black cloak, boots, spurs and pointy hat. Fortunately, his appearance aroused the suspicion of an eagle-eyed security guard and the plot was foiled.
Fawkes' gruesome end the following year was celebrated with bonfires, effigy-burning and pyromaniacal marches with blazing flambeaux lit by 'punks'. And our fascination with fireworks smoulders on.
But forget the whizzbangers, rip-raps, Catherine wheels, rockets in milk bottles and the damp squibs of old, if you're not spending 1,000 on blaster cannons, flying fountains and Revenge of the Guy, it's not worth the candle.
The Powder Mills, an impressive grade II listed Georgian country house hotel near Battle Abbey, has its own incendiary history: built as a working gunpowder mill in 1676, it was destroyed by an explosion in 1796. Clearly someone lit the blue touch paper and didn't retire quickly enough.
Rebuilt the same year, the Powder Mills produced the best gunpowder in Europe until 1876, when the mills were closed and fell silent.
It was serenely quiet on the day we visited, too. Powder Mills is set within 150 acres of lakes, woodland trails, nature reserves with swans, kingfishers and geese and its own organic farm with pigs, chickens and a vegetable garden. There are even friendly springer spaniels padding around importuning restaurant guests and residents to take them for a walk.
But sorry, guys, we're here to have lunch at the Orangery and 'Maybe a drink in the Library Bar first while you look through the menu?' inquired our waitress, June Gough. Ooh yes, please. What a lovely welcome!
The bar was cosy and comfortable so we settled down with a couple of glasses of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (3.50) while browsing the menu du jour (17.50 for three courses; dinner 29.50) prepared by head chef Richard Duckworth.
A tricky choice as it all looked so tempting but for starters we settled on smoked haddock, leek and saffron risotto for Daniel and duck liver and nutmeg parfait with melba toast and tomato jam for me.
For a main course, the seared rib-eye of beef with red onion marmalade and port sauce took Daniel's fancy while I opted for the grilled chicken breast with braised fennel and thyme cream sauce.
Our waiter, Edward Backhouse, came to escort us through to our table in the Orangery restaurant, an elegant conservatory overlooking the idyllic grounds, lake and
He offered a selection of generously-sliced fresh, home-baked bread: fruity, walnut, wholemeal or white. Daniel chose the white to accompany his risotto but I felt that nutty would go better with my smooth liver parfait and so it proved.
Both dishes were perfectly seasoned and exquisitely presented. As were the main dishes: D's beef was as tender as a marshmallow with a port sauce so delicious he asked Edward for more bread to mop up every dash. (Did I see Edward do a Jeeves impression and raise his eyebrows there?)
Both were served with sprightly, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, the sensation being the beignets - golden puffballs of potato.
Daniel decided to indulge in a trio of chocolate desserts, with a selection of local cheeses (Goodwood smoked, Sussex Scrumpy, Sussex blue, Buttercup and Old Sussex) with home-made toffee-tasting chutney for me. D thoughtfully helped me out, as ever.
A pot of freshly-brewed Kenyan coffee and a plate of bonne-bouches to nibble completed the perfect lunch. Neither of us wanted to leave but promised we'd be back and stay over.
Maybe in the four-poster Wellington Suite, where the Duke stayed in 1806 when he came to inspect the gunpowder. I'd even bring my own boots - I'd love to take those spaniels for a walk!
Powder Mills Country House Hotel, Powder Mill Lane, Battle,
East Sussex TN33 OSP
tel: 01424 775511