WLC’s resident sybarite, Lucy Shaw, heads to the Gladwin brothers’ latest venture, Sussex in Soho, for a standout steak tartare, moreish Marmite eclairs, and an elegant English rosé.
The concept: Nothing to do with Meghan and Harry, though the name may help bring curious tourists through the door, Sussex is the fourth restaurant and first central London site for brothers Richard, Oliver and Gregory Gladwin.
The trio have made a name for themselves for championing farm-to-fork cuisine in the capital at The Shed in Notting Hill, Rabbit in Chelsea, and Nutbourne in Battersea, named after their family vineyard in West Sussex.
Each brother has a defined role – Richard is the restaurateur, Oliver the chef and Gregory the farmer. Inspired by their home counties roots, the fourth venue in their expanding empire opened last October on the former site of Antony Demetre’s much missed Arbutus.
The décor: Sussex is something of a Tardis. It appears rather modest in size on entry, then extra rooms are revealed bit by bit like the layers of a mille-feuille. Up front is a sleek bar with pretty peach stools that would be an ideal place to perch for a pre-theatre sharpener and some of Oliver Gladwin’s signature snacks.
Further into the cavernous site is a spacious dining room filled with natural light. Like a Rolling Stones record, the oak panelled walls are painted black, but their severity is softened by a blonde wood floor and pale blue banquettes.
The food: Chef director Oliver Gladwin, who trained under the wing of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at The River Cottage, believes what grows together goes together.
This simple philosophy is evident throughout his seasonally focused menu that flies the flag for local, often wild, British ingredients, many of which are sourced from his family’s 202-hectare farm, Ashurst Wood, in Sussex.
Fanatical about foraging, he loves taking himself off into the Sussex countryside to see what he can unearth. “As a forager you become very resourceful and look for ways to hold on to the season through fermenting, pickling and curing,” he told db in a recent interview.
Gladwin gets through around 150 pigs and 600 sheep a year. Fish meanwhile, is sourced from the Brighton and Hove coastline, along with Chalk Stream trout from Hampshire, while fruit and veg come from a biodynamic farm in Sussex.
Signature dishes: A permanent fixture in the snacks section are the mushroom Marmite eclairs – delightful, dainty, savoury versions of the sweet classic that explode with umami flavour.
Even more magnificent were a trio of torched langoustine tails delicately wrapped in lardo that were at once graceful and punchy, the pure, sweet flavour of the crustaceans made all the more delicious from the smokiness of their cooking method and the saltiness of the lardo.
The beef Wellington has become Sussex’s signature dish, but it doesn’t come cheap – a serving for two costs £100. There’s a mushroom and squash version for veggies.
If you’re keen to get your lips around some Sussex-reared beef without breaking the bank, then the beef tartare comes highly recommended.
Prettily presented, atop the tartare was a Parmesan tuile roof and a sunshine yellow quail egg yolk that added a wonderful glossiness to the gherkin-flecked, iron-rich meat.
The star of the show, however, was the dollop of umami relish on the side, which added a sensational mushroom savouriness to the dish, making it one of the finest versions I’ve ever eaten.
The drinks: Keen to shine a light on the wines from their family estate – Nutbourne in West Sussex – a number of the drops, including the Bacchus, Nutty Brut 2015 (a classic blend of Pinot and Chardonnay matured in bottle for three years), 2018 Reserve (a still blend of Bacchus, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir) and ‘Nutty Wild’, a funky, lower alcohol sparkling Pinot, are on pour by the glass.
The estate produces around 40,000 bottles of wine a year and a number of its blocks have reached the ripe old age of 40. I began with a glass of their rosé, made from Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Reichensteiner, which was as delicate and elegant as a Provence pink. A glass of Famille Paquet Macon-Davayé 2018 meanwhile, proved a perfect pairing for my pan-roasted cod, with its notes of citrus, yellow fruit and white flowers.
Who to know: Look out for Oliver, who has to spread his time between his four London restaurants but can often be found in the basement kitchen at Sussex, which offers a chef’s table experience for up to 20 diners at a time.
Our waiter, Alejandro, was super friendly and full of interesting facts about the Gladwin brothers’ ethos.
What could be done better: The bread we were served on arrival was dispiritingly dry, though this was soon replaced (without asking) with freshly made seed-flecked bread infused with smoked onion salt.
While my golden hunk of pan roasted cod in a sea shore bisque was perfectly cooked, the bisque adding an alluring creaminess to the dish, the fish was enthusiastically seasoned, which, when coupled with a generous quenelle of English caviar and ample sprigs of samphire, made for an aggressively salty ensemble.
Last word: The Gladwin’s aren’t afraid to take a few risks at Sussex, which I admire. While no longer on the menu, the squirrel ravioli was surprisingly well received. It’s good to see London venues championing more adventurous meats that may otherwise go to waste.
The trio have hit the ground running with Sussex, which serves as both a jovial business lunch spot and a cosy dinner venue.
Given its location in the heart of Soho, it faces stiff competition from an array of exciting sites, but, with a local ethos that they practice as well as preach, there is an authenticity to Sussex that is hugely appealing.
In place of foams and frippery are high quality ingredients with impeccable provenance that are treated with the respect they deserve.
Sussex, 63-64 Frith Street, London W1D 3JW; Tel: +44 (0)20 3923 7770