With its acres of rolling parkland and handsome panelled interiors, South Lodge feels like the kind of place for afternoon tea in front of a fire, a formal dinner in one of the magnificent dining rooms, or perhaps a digestif in the elegant bar. If we hadn’t ventured through the heavy door at one end of the stately entrance hall, we’d never have known that it’s also home to one of the country’s most innovative dining concepts.
Chef’s tables tend to fall into two categories: a table tucked into the kitchen, or a private dining room with a view into the kitchen. The Pass is neither. The kitchen – all £2m-worth of gleaming kit, servicing both The Pass and the Camellia restaurant – occupies most of the floor space, with tables lined up along one wall, just a spoon’s throw from the pass itself.
The kitchen action may be the main attraction, but the attention-to-detail in the dining space demonstrates that the guests come first. Nothing has been overlooked. Banquette seating faces the kitchen, but we loved the the seats facing the wall: luxurious leather high chairs that swivel round so diners share the kitchen views. And if that’s not comprehensive enough coverage, there are always the screens, linked up to cameras which relay footage from the kitchen, switching through shots of the various stations. If attention-to-detail characterises the dining room, it’s even more exaggerated on the plate. No less than three different types of salt arrived for the homemade bread and butter. Gillan’s menus offer up three different options, ranging from five to eight courses. The kitchen will even swap dishes between menus, but each menu is so delicately poised that it’s actually best to stick with just one. Each dish is an artful blend of colours and flavours. We loved the playfulness of signature dishes like the roast frog’s legs with snails and bacon bonbons, and sea trout poached in elderflower with striped ‘bumble bee’ farfalle. But this isn’t gimmicky, frilly cooking. The kitchen showed its mettle in more robust mains: a tender rump of Sussex lamb with braised shoulder, a fresh broccoli purée and passion fruit lentils, or a loin of wild boar with braised pig’s head sausage and a rich Madeira sauce. Each menu comes with pitch-perfect wine matches, introduced by the effusive sommelier.
For entertaining foodie clients in swish surrounds, The Pass is hard to beat. The kitchen couldn’t possibly have provided us with anything more enjoyable, all delivered with impressive composure
The eight-course Pass Experience costs £70, with matching wines at £55.