What: The relaunch of a curious restaurant in which every diner gets to sit at the chef’s table. The brightly lit 20-cover space is located within South Lodge hotel’s kitchen, and features raised chairs and tables to give diners a panoramic view of the brigade at work.
Who: Former Bonham’s chef Tom Kemble. He is one of the country’s most promising cooking talents with a CV that includes a spell as sous chef at Mikael Jonsson’s celebrated restaurant Hedone as well as time with Chris Staines at Foliage and with Magnus Nilsson at Sweden’s Fäviken. Matt Gillan (who has just completed a crowd fund to launch a few miles down the road) won a Michelin star at The Pass a few years back and it’s hoped the restaurant’s new chef will regain the accolade. Kemble is firmly on Michelin’s radar having won a star at his last post at Bonham’s auction house (in the three-and-a-bit years he was there he also got the Mayfair restaurant on our list of the top 100 places to eat in the country). At Bonhams Kemble was constrained by a moneyed yet traditionally-minded clientele that demanded “meat and two veg”, but has no such limitations at The Pass.
The vibe: The space has undergone a “refresh” and more seats have been added. The setup is similar to before, with a mix of leather clad banquettes and stools and modern art on the walls. Bring located within the midst of a working kitchen, it’s always been a tricky space (the very bright lighting is particularly problematic).
The food: One wonders what the Bonhams crowd would have made of Kemble’s perfectly set egg custard (chawanmushi) topped with three slices of pickled shiitake. It sets the scene for a meal that’s characterised by an unusually subtle and deft use of Japanese cooking techniques and flavours (as an ex-Hedone chef, the sourcing is on point too). Other dishes include Devon smoked eel pain de mie sandwich, tare glaze, green apple, horseradish and kohlrabi; and South Downs fallow deer loin, smoked pomme purée, sand carrots, black garlic and komatsuna. With an entry level tasting menu priced at £50 and the signature eight-course menu priced at £90, Kemble’s food doesn’t come cheap. But the cost is justified for a chef that has the potential to shake up West Sussex’s rather staid fine dining scene.
And another thing: Kemble is one of number of relatively young chefs shaking up country house hotel dining with skilful use of Asian produce and cooking technique. Other practitioners of the genre include Ynyshir’s Gareth Ward and Whatley Manor’s Niall Keating.