The Wordrobe’s Sophie Ritchie enjoys a creativity-charged evening at The Pass, a fine dining restaurant in the luxuriant South Lodge hotel, Horsham
A five-star hotel nestled in the heart of the Sussex Downs, the idyllic South Lodge hotel blends in so well with the surrounding landscape that you might assume it’s been there for as long as the rolling hills themselves.
Within its lavish walls awaits a number of treats – one of these being The Pass, a petite 28 cover restaurant that doesn’t offer any views of picturesque nature, but rather an open kitchen full of the chefs themselves.
Taking the ‘Chef’s Table’ concept one step further, diners can ‘ooh’ and ‘awe’ at the flurry of chefs in action whilst reclining on plush violet coloured seating during a meal here. If you’re food-obsessed or just plain nosy, it’s ideal.
For those with the short end of the stick and facing the wall, fear not – a handy TV screen displays the action instead.
When the opportunity arose to try the experience for myself, I jumped at the chance. I’d probably have even settled for a view of the bin. There’s no Ramsay-esque swearing or heated tempers though – the entire kitchen feels very calm, quiet and contained. They leave the fireworks for the food itself.
The aim of The Pass is to take a diner on a journey, so it’s extravagant tasting menus with fancy names rather than à la carte on offer. Should you prefer something a little more casual, the hotel’s alternative Camellia restaurant fits the bill… And that will probably be lighter too.
I visit The Pass to try the new spring menu – there’s eight delicate courses to get through, paired with a selection of exquisite Ridgeview sparkling wines. Many glorious things have come from Sussex – milk, ale, Joanna Lumley – and this second-generation family winery is one of them.
As mentioned, dining at The Pass is not a mere meal, but an experience. The spring menu reflects this – dishes are intriguingly titled with names such as ‘Untitled white’ and ‘Where it all began.’ And when we do begin, it’s a feast for the senses.
Dishes are light and beautifully presented. Head Chef Ian Swainson has taken his passion for surrealist art and charged his dishes with it – the plates are flooded with colour and juxtaposing texture.
Whilst the beginning courses of celeriac mousse and a vibrant confit red pepper are good, it’s the ‘Asian Influences’ – a mix of bright red kimchi sponge, peanut coconut milk and moreish terakyi dressing that really gets my attention. The kimchi’s texture is fascinating – it’s like biting into a somewhat nutty cloud.
This is followed by ‘Hieronymus idea of Heaven,’ a mouthful of cream cheese and creamy chive panna cotta (whilst my meat-eating companions dig into lamb) before we move onto ‘Summer at Dusk.’
The latter is another favourite of mine – I love how visually striking the pops of pink sauce look against the slightly charred cauliflower. These are dishes that demand to be looked at – it’s almost a shame that they’re gobbled up in a bite.
The savoury procession ends with the helpfully titled ‘Untitled White’ – which is revealed to be a plate of delicately roasted artichoke, parsnip and delectable tarragon ‘bubbles’ which burst in the mouth when bitten into.
London’s parade of Instagrammable desserts have some serious competition, because The Pass’ sweet courses are more art than dish. The first – a swirl of apple – creates a lifelike rose flecked with gold, sitting on a bed of granola. People around me whip out their cameras faster than you can say ‘sod the calories’ to snap the most stunning dish of the night.
At almost midnight, the marathon ends with, what else? Our own art session. The table is handed stacks of edible parchment, paint brushes and palettes of edible paint (in butterscotch, banana, chocolate and other fun flavours).
Around the table, hands fervently drag, dot, and splotch various creations. We’re no Picassos, of course – but there’s still some paint-staking care being taken to finish our various blobs, and it adds to the enchantment of the night.
Don’t Pass up on the chance to visit – and expect creatively-charged dishes with excellent service. You won’t even need your binoculars for a good nose.
Make it happen
Where: Brighton Rd, Lower Beeding, Horsham RH13 6PS
Wallet: Prices start from £80 per person for an eight-course menu
Bookings: Click here to make a reservation
Words by Sophie Ritchie