I first noticed the Leconfield when a top local chef ‘checked-in’ there on Facebook. 'Well if it's good enough for him' I thought, and so it was added to my ever growing mental list of 'must go to's'
Located in the picture-perfect Sussex town of Petworth, somewhere I’d often driven through but never stopped at, I was looking forward to stopping this time.
In fact, stopping was a huge relief, after what turned out to be a rather hair-raising ride courtesy of our publisher Maarten, who happened to be test driving the new Audi R8. You’ll no doubt be reading the review in the motoring section. Here’s mine; loud and fast (until I forced Maarten to take it off sport mode).
We pulled up (or rather screamed to a halt) outside the Leconfield. Its branding is modern and shouts ‘chic gastropub’. I was hopeful - I just don’t like pubby pubs, with their lingering odour of beer stained carpets and watery gin and tonics (shudder). That said, the interior had been slightly over ‘brightened and lightened’ with too little of the original interior features of the period building retained. I was craving an exposed beam or a cosy fireplace. In the summer the interior will be complimented by the fabulous outdoor space adding to the airy feel.
The Leconfield is definitely a restaurant rather than a ‘pub with food’. The impressive menu offers the choice of either a three course a la carte or an extensive tasting menu. As befits a racing driver and his navigator, we went a la carte.
I confess I was hung-over after some accidental drinking at the Salt Room in Brighton the night before. And so I didn’t order -shock horror- the Crispy Pig with Burnt Apple, Shallot and Parsley (regular readers know of my love of all things pig). On this occasion I was craving greenery, and opted for the Salad of Pear, Smoked Goats Curd, Chicory and Walnut Crumble. Maarten chose the Hay Smoked Chicken Terrine with Gentleman’s Relish, Parfait and Brioche.
Bread arrived in a branded paper bag for us to tear open, accompanied by three ‘smears’ of different butters including seaweed, which I love. Given its ‘prominent’ arrival I had high expectations of warm, freshly baked bread straight from the oven. Instead it was cold, dense and dry. I’m sure it probably was home-baked (otherwise you’d buy in good bread and offer guests a selection). But who knows? The waitress didn’t tell us. Never mind. The butters were very good.
The chef sent out a pre-starter of the Chalk Stream Farm Gin & Tonic Cured Trout with Dill Emulsion and Fennel. Anything with gin in it sells these days, of course. This is not something I would have ordered as a starter and so I am glad I got to try it canapé style. It was a perfect accompaniment to my aperitif. A very fine piece of cured fish classically combined with dill and fennel in a modern way. Personally I couldn’t detect any gin in the cure, but it didn’t need any.
The starters arrived.
My salad: a delicate combination of fresh and thoughtful ingredients providing contrasting texture and flavors. Crisp leaves, sweet pear and creamy curd. Light yet impactful with the walnut crumb adding depth and contrasting texture.
Maarten’s terrine was even more impressive - dense chicken terrine with a rich and delicate parfait and faultless brioche (the chef clearly can do good bread, which makes the earlier paper bag effort mystifying). The accompanying relish and garnish on the plate cut through the richness of the meats.
For the main course I opted for Stone Bass with Salsify, Chicken Wing, Shrimp and Beurre Noisette. Maarten ordered the Herdwick Lamb Cannon Breast with Radishes, Turnips and Sussex Dark Ale.
The bass was meaty yet delicate. The chicken wing had been confit into squares lending a richness to the delicacy of the fish. The salsify added a welcome earthiness and the beurre noisette lifted the whole dish.
Maartens Lamb breast was perfectly cooked. This more unusual cut of meat suggests a confident, flavor-driven chef. The turnip and radish on the plate provided a crisp and refreshing contrast against the rich breast meat. The Sussex ale jus - rich but not cloying - brought the whole dish together. The sides were impressive both in their volume and quality. Roasted root vegetables stood out; crisp, plentiful and delicious.
As so often, my inner health freak was now waging war with a powerful adversary in the shape of my sweet tooth. When Maarten suggested dessert, on this occasion I was prepared to give it a miss (I had had dessert only the night before, when my good intentions were ruined by wine) but I’m glad I went for it. These were outstanding.
I ordered a Hazelnut pastry, apple sorbet, parsnip custard and caramelized apple (regular readers know I’m fond of desserts with interesting vegetable twists - I’m always looking to match that Artichoke Chiboud at Graze or the Cep tart at Hibiscus) and Maarten ordered a hot pear pudding with pear sorbet, honeycomb and homemade vanilla yoghurt.
‘Hot pear pudding’, this ordinary description gave us no clue as to the magic of this creation on the plate. A delicate pear sponge with an oozing centre of luscious vanilla batter - almost custard-like but even better. Usually this type of filling is reserved for chocolate fondants, so I admire the chef’s creativity in taking this ubiquitous chocolate dessert and reinventing it using seasonal fruit.
The accompanying pear sorbet and vanilla yoghurt were full of flavour and provided good temperature contrast. My resolve to have “just one bite” quickly disappeared. I’m lucky Maarten is the sharing type.
My own dessert, the parsnip custard was as good as I’d hoped, the earthiness of parsnip working well here as a rich, sweet crème. The Hazelnut pastry, more a ‘crisp,’ added texture.
Between us we drank a glass of sparkling wine from the nearby Wiston Estate followed by glass of Pinot Grigio and Muscadet.
Service was very efficient although the waiting staff could have been more knowledgeable (and forthcoming) about some of the dishes.
Starters are between £8-£11 and mains are £20-£26. Expensive perhaps, but for food this good it’s worth it for a special occasion.
They just need to improve the bread and dim the lights a bit. Get a taxi and come here or even better a friend willing to drive - perhaps someone with a nice Volvo…