A long time coming
Indeed, I had been meaning to try Matt Gillian’s food ever since his first appearance on the Great British Menu a few years ago, yet I had never managed to. Until lockdown, that is, when Matt launched a number of ‘caddies‘ and food boxes. I ended up ordering a few times because the food was fantastic and the value excellent.
But… a trip to his beautiful West Sussex restaurant Heritage had to happen. Since this is a ‘milestone birthday’ year, my friend Sarah and I had booked ourselves in for July but our date had to be postponed due to COVID rules still in place.
When I was looking at the restaurant’s website to check booking options, I saw that they offer a ‘kitchen experience’ on thursdays: the chance to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen with Matt and his team prepping for lunch ahead of actually sitting down to enjoy such lunch.
I didn’t think twice and that’s what I booked us for, of course.
Kitchen experience thursday
The day finally arrived and we travelled to Haywards Heath (the nearest station) from London Bridge (if you’re an Oyster card user, beware as you cannot use it and will need to buy a ticket). At Haywards Heath a very friendly private taxi driver was waiting for us (organised by Heritage) ready to take us to the restaurant. The drive is around 20m and is very pleasant; the area is green and rural. Slaugham – where Heritage is located – is a tiny, picturesque hamlet with an old church and a number of well kept old houses.
Matt – after leaving his previous position at a nearby luxury hotel – took over a former pub and refurbished to create Heritage. It’s spacious and we loved the decor. It’s contemporary despite the building’s period feature. The furnishing is comfy and casual in the sitting rooms and the lounge, and the dining room, overlooking beautiful gardens and woodlands, is bright, airy and full of plants too. I thought some of the artwork were really cool, from the wall mounted stag head’s sculpture (so much better than an embalmed one!) to Dino Tomic’s pictures in the lounge.
In the kitchen
Once arrived, we made ourselves comfortable in the bar area and enjoyed a much needed coffee while chatting to Hannah, the general manager who had assisted with our booking and changes in the last few months. Matt came by to meet us, he then provided aprons and took us to the kitchen, introducing us to his staff.
After an initial moment of shyness, the team made us feel very welcome and we relaxed (a bit at least! it’s daunting being in a professional kitchen). Sarah and I split, and while she went to the bread station I took position at the pasta station (of course) with sous chef Jackson.
I kind of thought I knew it all, but I didn’t. We were making parsley tortellini, and I learnt how to infuse the dough with the chlorophille as well as how many times to pass the dough through the machine. Shaping the tortelli proved tough for me, as I usually ‘just make them’; making them so precisely and for service was challenging.
The rest of the time was spent doing highly skilled tasks such as chopping shallots and shelling broad beans! Joking aside, I really enjoyed being part of the team and the best thing was to spend time with the chefs, chatting about all sorts of things as well as picking their brains on cooking ideas and techniques.
Midday came and went and I was chuffed to see that – despite the service actually starting – nobody kicked us out. In fact, Jackson took time to show me how the pass works! But we were getting hungry too so we soon moved to the dining room to enjoy our (earned?) meal.
First came the ‘snacks‘, 4 delicious bites. A cute baby choux with blue cheese and pickled pear; a sweet potato fritter with kimchi (veggie version for me, for Sarah it was a fishcake); chicken liver mousse with lemon and matcha jelly and a mini sushi roll with cucumber and ponzu.
Swiftly followed the bread basket with Sarah’s shapely buns (really!) and local butter and the first course, roasted quail breast with a spectacular parsley tortello filled with braised quail, parsley sauce, caramelised radishes. I coulnd’t have been prouder of my handiwork of course but the dish was so well balanced and was as pretty as an artist’s palette on the plate.
Sea trout with potatoes, broad bean gremolata followed… oh my broad beans! Once again, the colours were picture perfect. The trout skin was crispy and the fish cooked to perfection.
The meat course was another fantastic course. I hardly eat red meat now, so if I do, it’d better be special. This slice of beef brisket with charred Roscoff onions and crispy beef was so good, tender and rich, full of umami. Possibly my favourite savoury course even if I had actually not really contributed to any of its parts!
Dessert time brought to the table a super light and fluffy chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, mini brownie cubes, a bright and refreshing mint ice cream and nibs. I loved it.
We moved to the lounge where we enjoyed a coffee and petit fours and chatted about our meal and our experience and finally Brian the driver picked us up to take us back to the station.
We said our goodbyes and we were off.
I couldn’t recommed the experience more. We paid £250 for both of us, which of course includes lunch. It’s a great chance to see how a professional kitchen works, get to know Matt and his team and get an insider’s view.
Should you not feel so inclined, mid week lunch is an excellent value at £27 for 3 courses. I personally cannot wait to be back at Heritage, hopefully for a sunday lunch.