Tuesday, December 03, 2019

MENU's UK Adventure 18. Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, Sussex

Penny Streeter OBE, who owns Benguela Cove winery in Hermanus, also owns two properties in England, both in Sussex, where she also grows grapes and is planting new vines. When she heard we were going to be in the area, she invited us to visit both. First we went to Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, which has suddenly become very famous as her talented chef Jean Delport, who is South African, has just been awarded a coveted Michelin Star for their Interlude restaurant. He is only the second South African chef to be awarded one (We do not have Michelin in South Africa - yet!) He was at the Benguela on Main restaurant in Somerset West, where we had a marvellous meal a few years ago and has now relocated to Sussex. Interlude restaurant offers a contemporary fine dining experience, taking you through a 14 or 19-course tasting menu that changes with the seasons. Inspired by Leonardslee Estate, the dishes are created using foraged ingredients from the gardens and the finest locally sourced produce
Leonardslee is known as the Finest Spring Garden in England and they have a spectacular spring display of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and bluebells. These beautiful landscaped Grade I listed gardens were first planted in 1801. You enter through the nursery, where you can buy some beautiful plants. Owner Penny and her team are dedicated to restoring, maintaining and further improving the gardens and buildings so that the public can once again experience their beauty and special qualities
And sensibly, and unusually in Britain, they offer a free wine tasting of the Benguela Cove wines to all who enter. And it is very successful; they sell a lot of wine to visitors who come to walk in the magnificent gardens. We love to see South African wine being promoted in this way
The entrance and ticket sales/reception desk are in this greenhouse
The gardens are extensive and well planted. There are many popular walking trails
We found a row of five different holly bushes, this was our favourite
The restaurant is in Leonardslee Manor house; there are plans soon to turn the upper floors into hotel accommodation. A wide selection of refreshments is available from the new restaurants and tea rooms. Restaurant Interlude is the main one. Afternoon Teas are served in the Leonardslee House and casual fare is served in the Clock Tower Cafe, Courtyard Cafe and other food stations throughout the gardens
Earlier this year Johann Fourie, the winemaker at Benguela Cove and both their English venues, planted the first Pinotage in the United Kingdom. Johan was cellarmaster at KWV before he joined Benguela Cove and he is convinced that this early ripening South African grape, which has Pinot Noir and Cinsault as its parents, is right for this terroir
These are those vines, also on a five wire trellis and reaching for the sky
They have sleeves to protect their bases from predation by rabbits and other wild vegetarians!
The garden view of the manor house
The imposing entrance
One of the lounges which has a bar
Pretty tea sets and gin glasses
They also have a cafe with outdoor tables
And the Farm shop, where you can put a picnic together to take into the grounds with you
And there is the enchanting and unique dolls’ house exhibition in an outbuilding on the estate
On the farm. Everything is to scale and even the tiniest detail has been thought about and installed. 
It is magical and children love it. And many adults too
"At the Photographer"
We did a tour of the facilities and the gardens with Penny's son Adam, who is the General Manager, and it is very special
They have paths on either side of a string of connected lakes, which they are busy dredging and cleaning up,
and they hope to allow fishing. The last owner did nothing to the estate for several years
The Streeters have taken on a huge job, and are working hard, bringing it back to what it once was
They have done an enormous amount of restoration already
Woodland walks, and benches to rest on
Some walkers asking Adam how to get to the house
They are fairly close to Gatwick airport, so seeing jets overhead is normal
They do make fantastic vapour trails and as so many arrive at London's four airports, the sky is often crisscrossed with them
When is a tree not a tree? When it is the most magical bronze fountain, with water dripping from almost every leaf
The foyer has a ghost piano that plays popular tunes, without there being a pianist
Very cool. It was last seen in their restaurant in Somerset West
We had been invited to have tea, and were given a window table with a view of the gardens
Of course, we began with glasses of the Benguela Cove 2014 Joie de Vivre Brut MCC,
a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, nicely crisp, dry and elegant
They have two Tea menus on offer, The Classic, which has mostly sweet items and The Savoury which is mainly savoury. We asked for the latter as we do not have very sweet teeth, so they brought both, so that we could photograph them - and sample them! And there is a childrens’ tea menu. https://www.leonardsleegardens.co.uk/afternoon-tea-at-leonardslee-house. It is spectacular
The amount of food supplied is huge. On the top layer are warm raisin scones - and on the table a berry preserve,
lemon curd and clotted cream. Next, a layer of fine cakes and pastries and, on the bottom layer, the savouries
The savoury main choice was a slice of a layered Game terrine, with Red Grapes and Smoked Raisin
Buttery toasted brioche to go with the terrine
The other savoury main choice was Eggs Royale, perfectly poached on muffins, topped with top quality smoked salmon 
and a proper coating of Hollandaise sauce. Such perfection is what earned Chef Delport his Michelin star
This is the Classic Tea. Moist finger Sandwiches on the bottom layer, no crusts of course,
and fillings of Cucumber & Cream Cheese, Coronation Chicken, Leonardslee Cured Salmon
Above them are seasonal Savouries - a savoury choux bun, an egg mayonnaise roll and mini scotch eggs
We drank tea; Lynne went with the Green Whole Leaf from Fuding, Fujian Province, China
"An exquisite Chinese green tea that is meticulously hand crafted. The leaves are fired in a wok over charcoal in the same way 
and in the same place they have been made for over 3000 years. Clean, bright and remarkably delicate"
John, who does not normally drink tea but does like Chinese tea, chose the Emperor’s Breakfast Tea, also from Fujian
Love that rosy crockery. Some is for sale
And just when we thought it was over, we were so wrong. These delicious looking confections appeared to tempt us
And some jars of madeleines and meringues. They tell us that there are people who manage to consume the lot
Oh, and finally, you are invited to choose a slice of cake from the cake trolley
A three layered lavender cake – we didn’t indulge; there are limits
A Bunt cake with a caramel cream icing. We surrendered at this point, groaning and they, very kindly,
put what we couldn’t finish in take away boxes for our later enjoyment. We literally could not eat another thing
What a wonderful tea. You can buy friends gift vouchers for the tea for special occasions. Just skip lunch and arrive hungry
We loved the Paddington Bear changing room in the Ladies and think the toddlers will too
Thank you all at Leonardslee for a marvellous day and a fantastic spoil
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All content ©  John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus

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