Whites Restaurant, Steyning, Sussex - Restaurant Review
PUBLISHED: 16:24 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 February 2013
Young Chef of the Year Ben Goldsmith has certainly made his mark at Whites wonderful restaurant in Steyning. But the whole experience is simply enchanting, says Lulu Larkin...
SUSSEX LIFE readers may recall an article in the January issue in which Ben Goldsmith, head chef at Whites restaurant in Steyning, was tipped as 'One to Watch in 2009'. It didn't take long before this prophecy was fulfilled as just weeks later, Ben was named Young Chef of the Year at the prestigious Sussex Food and Drinks Awards at a glamorous, Oscar-style ceremony at the East Sussex Golf Resort near Uckfield. But Daniel and I had secretly visited Whites after the finalists were announced, so Ben's triumph came as no surprise having already sampled the quality of his fresh, innovative and delicious cooking. Lovers of good food, read on.
Formerly a 15th century coaching inn and staging post on the road from Brighton to London, Whites is located in the heart of the historic market town of Steyning and overlooks the bustling High Street with its timber-framed houses set against the lush backdrop of the South Downs. You could easily be transported back 500 years were it not for the zealous traffic wardens strutting up and down. Fortunately Whites has its own spacious car park for patrons, but otherwise visiting motorists beware: this is strictly voucher territory.
The restaurant is simply enchanting. An L-shaped grade II listed building, it was reduced to rubble by its new owners, George and Alex White, before being lovingly and sympathetically renovated to their - and English Heritage's - exacting high standards. But while there was much to admire in the architecture, it was a freezing cold day and we were looking forward to our lunch.
Just then a door opened across the courtyard and a young man emerged juggling an armful of logs and invited us inside. "Just a moment while I put these down. Please, take a seat at the bar and I'll be right with you." What a welcome and what a bar! A long expanse of gleaming chrome and sparkling glasses - very chic American retro.
The log man returned. "A glass of Nyetimber, perhaps? The vineyards are just ten miles away." Mmm, yes please. Was this the actual restaurant? "No, it's the Bar&Deli converted from the old stables. You can have a light meal here - charcuterie, cheese or locally-smoked salmon and crayfish tails or just a glass of wine. The restaurant is next door. Have a look at the menus and I'll show you through." And this charming man was? "Oh, I'm George, the owner."
Chef Ben's emphasis on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and declaring on the menu how many food miles they have travelled, hasn't restricted the range of tantalising dishes on offer. After much deliberation, Daniel chose fried goats' cheese salad with pomegranate and walnut dressing but for me, the seared conga wreck scallops with coriander and ginger cream sounded irresistible. And so they proved: plump, sweet, tender and with their delicate corals intact. Daniel's goats' cheese coated with gingerbread crumbs was "sensational" and both dishes were generous and beautifully presented. To follow, Daniel had ale-battered fish with chunky golden chips and pea puree, his empty plate speaking for itself.
But I wanted to try Ben's signature - and eventually winning - dish: 'twice' loin of venison with red cabbage, roast parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli and 'hedgerow jus'. A remarkable combination of colour, texture and flavours which scored full marks with me.
Tempted as we were by the plates of clementine and bitter chocolate souffl, sticky toffee pudding and crme brulee whizzing by, we settled for coffee and the bill which, for an exceptional meal including a bottle of Autumn Leaves white from Bookers Vineyard in Bolney, came to a very reasonable 65 including service, which was impeccably attentive and cheerful throughout. There's also a great atmosphere at Whites with families, couples, friends and lovers clearly enjoying themselves. I'm sure you will, too.
And how did Ben feel when his name was read out as winner of the Young Chef of the Year competition? "I was delighted but would have been pretty disappointed if I'd lost because I'm very competitive," he told me. "I've always had a passion for cooking and believe that if you are determined to be the best, you will succeed. As for the future, there is still plenty I want to accomplish and perhaps I may open my own restaurant one day but right now, I'm working with a great team here and happier than I've ever been."
Don't let anyone poach him, George - he's pure gold. White gold, of course.
The Ginger Fox
Henfield Road, Albourne, West Sussex BN6 9EA
Tel: 01273 857888
Another chef called Ben (this time McKellar) was awarded a Bib Gourmand (good food at modest prices) in the 2009 Michelin Guide for The Ginger Pig in Hove and The Ginger Fox. Mercifully having changed its name from Shaves Thatch, The Ginger Fox combines the benefits of a country pub - great views, children's play area and alfresco eating - with locally-sourced, restaurant-quality food. Tally-ho!
Rose Cottage Inn
Alciston, near Polegate, East Sussex BN26 6UW
Tel: 01323 870377
Walk from nearby Alfriston along the Old Coach Road down to this pretty hanging-tile stone cottage, where Ian and Ginny's family have been serving traditional, delicious, home-cooked food for 40 years. Say hello to Jasper the parrot in the bar and maybe pick up some eggs, honey and even a bicycle puncture kit (2) on the way home. Don't miss the traditional Good Friday morris dancing and join in the Long Rope skipping. Perhaps before you have a pint of the local cider. Oh, I don't know, though ...
The Black Rabbit
Offham, near Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9PB
Tel: 01903 882828
Boasting the longest bar in the country created from chapel choir pews, The Black Rabbit near the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is the perfect family location. Sit outside with a glass of Hopping Hare and watch the swans glide by on the Arun while the children enjoy themselves in the play area. Good food served by cheerful staff nominated for the Chichester Observer's customer care of the year award. Good luck, Harriet!