Seven course tasting menu. Dining review of The Pass by editor Kris Thomas
Getting dropped off under the neo-Jacobean porte-cochère at the entrance to South Lodge hotel felt like a treat. Once a private house, built in 1883, South Lodge has been substantially renovated since being taken over by the Exclusive Hotel Group in 1985. The genuinely warm welcome I received from front of house head Monica and the roaring fire in the lobby, made me wish I was a guest at the hotel rather than just a visitor.
The Pass is an intimate restaurant seating only 28 diners at most. Full height glass walls between the restaurant and the kitchen allow guests to be fully immersed in the kitchen experience and observe the food preparation under the calm supervision of head Chef Ben Wilkinson. Following his success at a Michelin starred restaurant in the Lake District, Ben joined South Lodge in August last year with his partner, Monika Zurawska, who leads the front of house team. Although this would definitely be a special occasion venue for most, the atmosphere in the restaurant was relaxed and easy going – possibly helped by the high wood tables (no stiff table linen) and stool seating, giving a less formal feel.
The menu changes seasonally and Ben prioritises local suppliers. The feast starts with a selection of delightful canapés, followed by a Prawn dish with a creamy almond and grape sauce. This was paired with a crisp, dry French white wine from the Loire Valley. Following was turbot with delicious white asparagus, sea leek and sparkling Ridgeview wine which gave the sauce a soft foaming appearance. The main course was a melt-in-the-mouth local Sussex Downs Venison with beetroot, kale and rich red wine and peppercorn jus. The accompanying wine was a full-bodied south African Shiraz.
There were two sweet dishes, the first rhubarb with ewes’ curd then a saffron rice pudding topped with pistachio ice cream which we watched the chefs sculpt into beautiful shell shapes and decorate. Finally a trio of cheese and a selection of Petit Fours. Although each dish is small, we certainly had plenty to eat and as all the flavours were so exquisite and different we were able to enjoy them all.
Ben served us one of the dishes, explaining the ingredients and the insight behind the dish and he visited us again for a chat. He was absolutely charming, seemingly the opposite of the demanding, bad-tempered celebratory chefs we see on the television. We discussed his young team and he talked about the Chef Academy run by the Exclusive Hotel Group. We left feeling extremely well looked after and definitely hope to return.
Since our visit, The Pass has been awarded a Michelin star, many congratulations to the team!
7-course tasting menu (plus canapés) £145 pp. 5 glass wine pairing £95 pp.
Tel: 01403 891711