What: An ambitious new tasting menu-only restaurant near Horsham, West Sussex. Restaurant Interlude is set within the Grade I listed Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, which re-opens to the public next March following a seven-year hiatus.
Who: Recruitment, wine and hospitality entrepreneur Penny Streeter OBE. Her food and drink-related interests include restaurants, hotels and the Benguela Cove winery in South Africa and, just three miles down the road from Leonardslee, Mannings Heath golf club and wine estate. She has flown over South African-born executive chef Jean Delport - who ran her restaurant in Somerset West, Cape Town - to head the stove at Interlude. She will continue to live in Cape Town having handed over day-to-day control of the restaurant and gardens to her son Adam.
The vibe: A single room within an Italianate mansion house that has other spaces for afternoon teas, weddings and private functions, Interlude seats around 30 covers and has an upscale, traditional feel with spectacular views of the surrounding gardens. The restaurant is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday with all diners seated at 7pm for a lengthy and involved Michelin-courting dining experience.
The food: The team have jumped straight into the deep end offering two tasting menus, one with 14 courses (£90) and one with 19 courses (£120). The menus are intended to showcase the bounties of Leonardslee's 200-acre gardens. Delport is a keen forager and has spent the last nine months or so experimenting with and preserving a wide range of ingredients including acorns, pine, green almonds, nettles and elderberry. The estate's chickens, fallow deer and pheasants will also find their way into the kitchen but Leonardslee's famous mob of wallabies are off the menu. The launch menu includes low temperature egg with potato foam and Exmoor caviar; and Trenchmore wagyu with oyster and bone marrow.
To drink: Wine from the Streeter’s Benguela Cove (which occupies a prime spot within South Africa’s cooler climate Walker Bay area) takes centre stage for the moment, but eventually Interlude will be pouring its own wine. A vineyard was planted at Mannings Heath in 2017 and a smaller vineyard was established at Leonardslee this year. Total production is projected at some 100 tonnes, or 75,000 bottles of sparkling wine annually. The estates will also be experimenting with South Africa’s signature grape variety Pinotage. The first release of sparkling wine is expected to be 2023.
And another thing: Wine tourism is big business back in South Africa and the Streeter’s are banking on it being big business in the south of England too. Establishing a foothold in West Sussex before land prices rocket - as is predicted - is a smart move (the maintenance on the gardens bankrupted the last owner so they’re likely to have got a good deal). However they have their work cut out for them in the short and medium term: the restaurant’s location and lack of rooms will be a turn-off for some, as will its lack of flexibility on price and the length of the experience.