Matt Gillan’s first solo project is intended to pick up where his former restaurant The Pass left off. Heritage is only a few miles down the road from the West Sussex hotel restaurant in which the now 39-year-old chef made his name, but Gillan says that while he was looking for a site in or near Horsham, the close proximity to his ex-employer South Lodge is by accident rather than design.
Formerly The Chequers Inn, the imposing Edwardian building had been vacant prior to Gillan taking it on. While it is now pitched as an ambitious fine dining restaurant, the bar has been retained and locals can pop in for a drink, although it should be noted the business now only trades between Wednesday and Saturday.
“We’re not trying to pretend it’s a pub,” says Gillan. “Our neighbours have been interested and supportive but there have been some concerns we’re looking to take away their local. That’s not the case. The bar area hasn’t changed much and people won’t need to book. We’ll soon be introducing a more casual menu for the bar, but we don’t want to call it a bar menu as it won’t be a pub-esque food offer.”
Gillan has been cooking for 22 years (a decade ago he featured within a Restaurant magazine feature on up-and-coming chefs under 30, which also profiled the likes of Ollie Dabbous, Tristan Welch and the Sanchez-Iglesias brothers). His CV includes stints with some of the best in the business including Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House in Cambridge and Gordon Ramsay at his eponymous three-star in Chelsea.
He became head chef at South Lodge Hotel’s Camellia Restaurant when he was just 26 and, a few years later, opened a far more ambitious restaurant at the West Sussex hotel following a multi-million pound revamp. Located within the country house hotel’s kitchen, The Pass won a Michelin star soon after opening and generated enough buzz for Gillan to twice compete on Great British Menu (he won the main course in 2010 with a goat dish that referenced his mother’s Saint Helena roots).
In 2016 Gillan left the The Pass to open Pike & Pine with Brighton restaurateur Mike Palmer. While the restaurant was fairly well-received, its confusing market positioning – coffee shop and small plates restaurant by day, casual yet expensive counter dining by night – appeared to cause the pair a few headaches. Gillan left in late 2018, with Palmer turning the St James’s Street venue into Thai restaurant Lucky Khao.
Soon after leaving Brighton Gillan took over the kitchen at Horsham pub The Foresters Arms with a casual dining brand called Electro Pirate, but left ahead of a successful crowdfunding drive to partly fund the acquisition and fit out of The Chequers (he raised £89,007 off an initial target of £60,000 on Kickstarter, largely by selling meals in advance).
The rent is not cheap, but Gillan has got a lot of bang for his buck, especially in comparison to a city or town centre site. The space is huge, comprising a 28-cover dining room, 30-cover bar, 20-cover private dining room, five guest bedrooms and a large garden. The site has been given a modern and simple makeover with a muted colour palette of green and grey.
With Gillan a near constant presence at the restaurant there is no need for a head chef, in fact his second is a junior sous – former 64 Degrees chef Jackson Heron. “A head chef would get frustrated because I’m here all the time,” says Gillan. “It also makes sense from a wages perspective. Once we’re busier we will reassess.”
Heron’s partner Hannah Bamford worked with Gillan at Pike & Pine and will oversee front of house. Heritage – which is not to be confused with the Swiss-inspired restaurant of the same name that recently opened in central London – offers a set lunch menu (two courses for £22, three courses for £27), à la carte and a £65 seven-course tasting menu.
Gillan’s winning dish from Great British Menu – which sees goat prepared in myriad different ways – can be added to the tasting menu for a supplement. Given his pedigree, the prices are competitive. “I’m starting again. Reputation is great but this is a new business. You can’t go sky high on the prices. We’ll still deliver amazing food, but at a price point which is quite surprising,” he says. “We were serving great food at The Pass, especially towards the end of my time there. It will take time to build up to that, but the way the dishes are composed is very similar.”
Park Road, Slaugham, West Sussex