Gravetye Manor – Battleaxe goes up-market

Yesterday we went for lunch at Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead, with old friends Bob and Alison. It is Battleaxe’s birthday tomorrow, so this was part of the treats.
     Philosopher almost got grumbly because the drive was so long and leafy. Honestly, husbands. Would he rather have been sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway? Mind you, I did take us rather a scenic route, we had to take several diversions due to road works, and took the wrong road in the middle of Ashdown Forest (my fault).  That is certainly leafy, and at this time of year, there is so much high bracken lining the lanes.
     The Manor is splendidly isolated, about a mile from the road at the end of a woodland drive.  There were no less than three staff persons waiting at the front door to greet us – two boys in green uniforms and a silver-fox manager. I don’t suppose they were actually waiting for us – probably for a delivery or something.

Almost arrived…..

Nice interiors

      The old house was built in 1598, and is very tasteful inside, old wood paneling, good antique furniture, old rugs, chintzy sofas.  No OTT swags and drapes which you so often get in those places.  We had a drink in the lounge and chose our food. They have a reasonably priced lunch menu, but add on wine, water, service charge, coffee etc and the cost rises rapidly.
       Much of the fruit and vegetables, and the eggs, are produced on the estate. They use lots of edible flowers. We had an amuse-bouche – an egg-cup of fresh pea velouté – which was covered in pretty petals.
       The dishes were beautifully presented – here is Alison’s starter.

More edible petals

       I had gaspacho, followed by hake with various bits around it, and then blackcurrent sorbet. Sounds plain but they removed various items for me because of my low-fat leanings.  The food was absolutely delicious, very fresh and flavoursome.
       The average age of our fellow diners was high. As we have seen so often, it is mainly older people who have the leisure time – and money – to enjoy establishments like Gravetye. There were many men in red trousers and striped socks….
       We noticed a large party of extremely well-to-do, very well-dressed elderly women at a nearby table, and whispered about them.
       ‘The WI?’
       ‘No, don’t be daft,’ I hissed back.
       ‘Class reunion, Cheltenham Ladies’ College 1955?
We agreed this was the most likely.  After lunch, we encountered them again in the lounge, and Bob asked one lady what they had in common. Get this, they were the WI, from another East Sussex branch.
       I was introduced as the President of Hastings Ore WI, and they smiled pleasantly, but looked at me a bit askance. I did look quite respectable with my Royal Albert Hall dress on, but I guess I no more fitted their image of the WI than they fitted mine. Probably I was goggling at them fish-eyed, wondering what on earth most of our membership would make of lunch at Gravetye Manor being  offered for one of our outings….. Having said that, I also see from the East Sussex Federation website that their walking group hiked across the Seven Sisters to Birling Gap. Can’t see many of our lot doing that either.
      After lunch, we looked round the gardens. Gravetye was the home of gardener William Robinson from the 1880s to the 1920s, and the garden was his design. Robinson, author of  ‘The English Flower Garden’, and ‘The Wild Garden’ was hugely influential in his day, and was one of the originators of what we now know as the English Garden. Much of the garden design we take for granted now stemmed from his ideas.

       The current head gardener at Gravetye was trained at Great Dixter, and there are many similarities in the planting. Like Great Dixter, which we visited just the other day, the borders were looking a bit past their best – it has been so dry, then so windy, many things have gone over too quickly.

      The best thing is the massive oval walled kitchen garden. It was crammed with wonderful, healthy, fruit, vegetables and cutting flowers – eat your heart out, Sarah Raven, eat your heart out, walled garden at Fairlight Hall.
       The walled garden was alive with butterflies and bees. We spoke briefly to the gardener in charge of it – she told us that the use of pesticides is minimal. It is quite a difficult balance to juggle the requirements of the chef, and the general needs of the hotel and restaurant with the produce available from the garden at any one time, but obviously they manage it.

Look at those brassicas!


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