If you’re looking for fine dining experiences in Sussex, you are spoilt for choice. There are currently 38 Sussex restaurants mentioned in the latest Michelin Guide but that list barely scratches the surface. And at the top of the list of the best places to eat for a genuinely Sussex gourmand experience is Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield.
Ockenden Manor is part of the family-owned Historic Sussex Hotel group which also includes Bailiffscourt Hotel and The Spread Eagle Hotel. The group’s Executive Head Chef is Martin Hadden. He has previously won Michelin Stars for Ockenden Manor and his own restaurant, The Priory House. He also won the Roux Scholarship in 1989. Head Chef at Ockenden Manor is Stephen Crane. He has previously been awarded a Michelin Star, an Egon Ronay Star, and 3AA Rosettes. He was described by Great British Chefs as, “admired for his exquisite presentation along with his idiosyncratic take on French cuisine”. All of which means you’re in exceptionally talented hands when you dine at Ockenden Manor.
The restaurant at Ockenden has exquisite wallpaper in one corner and understated sophistication. It opens up onto a large terrace overlooking the lawns with views across Cuckfield Park. It feels sumptuous and a little bit Downton Abbey. Next to the restaurant is the Drawing Room and Bar with great armfuls of fresh-cut flowers, elegant sofas, and a touch of what feels like effortless Edwardian charm.
The menu – wine
Much to my delight and excitement, Ockenden Manor’s menu fully embraces using local produce. So much so, that you’ll find two provenance maps on their website, one for wine and one for food. I counted no fewer than 12 Sussex wines (including Tinwood, Ridgeview, Rathfinny, Wiston, Stopham, and some smaller names) on the wine menu with an excellent choice of sparkling, still, whites and rosés. They also have wines from Hampshire and Kent and an extensive cellar from around the world. And our waiter was happy to recommend suitable pairings.
The menu – food
Plenty of restaurants state they use local produce but the Ockenden Manor menu has one of the most impressive selections of local ingredients that I’ve seen so far. From Sussex watercress, asparagus and potatoes to Sussex meats, cheeses, and locally caught fish, it’s all there to see on their provenance map.
Your fine dining experience
I fully tested the waters at Ockenden and enjoyed two full dinners and a lunch on the lawn. Without exception, each dish was faultless. From Whipped Goats Cheese Mousse and Salt Cod Beignets to Roast Fillet of Loche Duart Salmon, Roast Sirloin of Beef and cheeseboards dripping with a selection of Sussex cheeses, every course was beautifully presented, perfectly cooked, interesting and perfectly balanced.
I didn’t have time (or room) to try their afternoon tea but it looks divine, and I’ve added it to my list of great things to do after a hearty walk or some local shopping!
Ockenden Manor has definitely made it onto my list of favourite Sussex restaurants and gourmand experiences and now, I’m just looking for a reason to go back.
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You can find out more about Ockenden Manor here: https://www.hshotels.co.uk/ockenden-manor