It’s January, and we’re full of good intentions, my wife and I. We decide to walk from Seaford to Alfriston before eating at Wingrove House.We set an ETA of 4pm, before darkness falls, which leaves us in a bit of a quandary. With alcohol out of the equation (it’s a dry January) what are we going to do to kill the time between arriving and eating? We book a table at the abnormally early time of 6pm, when the hotel’s restaurant opens.
Tip 1: don’t try to walk along the road from Seaford to Alfriston, the footpath soon runs out. Tip 2: Much Ado Books has armchairs upstairs where you can sit and read. Tip 3: Ye Olde Smugglers Inne do a lovely pot of tea.Naturally we are the first to arrive, so we pick a table in the corner with a view of the spacious restaurant, all pale grey panelling, off-white walls and coral-painted antlers. Our waiter is Italian, and he assures us that the place is fully booked that night.
And so we punctuate our conversation by playing with Shazam, while we choose from the one-sheet menu. “Everything is locally sourced,” says our man, and the menu tells you where the main ingredient was produced. My starter: ‘Smoked salmon, pickled beetroot spaghetti, horseradish crème fraîche. Spring Smokeries, Edburton, Henfield’ (£9). And my main: ‘Braised venison in Long Man ale, pancetta and rosemary, baked mustard and herb dumplings. South Brockwells Farm, Little Horsted’ (£18).
Shazam detects the music to be a series of cover versions by artists that, on the whole, we haven’t heard of. We’re drinking South Downs fizzy water, from Hampshire. Let’s say we’re more aware of the nuances of the situation than we would be were we knocking back wine. The tables gradually fill up with couples, whom we observe with great interest.I like the food, though I wish I’d been as bold as Rowena, and ordered the most expensive main, the ‘Fillet of beef, celeriac and potato boulangère, carrot purée, port and shallot sauce’ (£28). I was scared by the price, and lured by the herb dumplings, which – my only quibble – turn out to be of the dry variety, placed onto the stew rather than cooked in it. I have a taste of the steak, though, and it’s perfect. The cow, we’re told, was raised by ‘David & Jane Fenner, Bullock Down Farm, Beachy Head’. We’re not given its name.
The place is fairly buzzing when we finish our desserts, at 7.30, the sort of time we’d normally contemplate arriving. Mine is a ‘Warm ginger sponge, rum toffee sauce, vanilla ice cream’ (£7.50), mostly chosen for the nature of the toffee sauce. It’s got that hot-and-cold yum, perfect for a winter’s night. We order a taxi back to Seaford station: happily full, and clear in the head, we’ve got time to catch The Favourite at the Depot.
High Street, Alfriston, 01323 870276 wingrovehousealfriston.com