EATCATION: Rathfinny Tasting Room Restaurant and The Flint Barns, Alfriston

by - November 23, 2018

The Rathfinny Wine Estate is the new kid on the block of the booming English sparking scene, having been planted up in 2010 and with the first bottles coming out just this year. The estate, 40 minutes or so from Brighton, in Alfriston, is pristine and picture postcard pretty, the synergy of the brand running throughout the estate beautifully.

And they should really rename their many sign posted “Passing Places” when driving through the estate to “stop the damn car and look at the view”. Less catchy, but from the highest point, right by the Estate Office is worth the visit alone; with a wide, breathtakingly beautiful vista of the fields down to Cuckmere Haven. On a blazing sunny Autumnal day, it was slight-tear-in-the-eye astonishing.

Anyway, pulling myself together and wiping away my pathetic, misty sentimentality (I’m getting worse), I carried on down to the estate's guest accommodation, The Flint Barns, and checked into my room in anticipation of dinner at the on-site Tasting Room Restaurant. Now, as we all know, a good meal needs good wine and we also know that large taxi fares and designated drivers are not so much fun. It would be a crying shame to dine here and not make a good dent in the wines, with a view of their growing patch from your table. So it makes absolute sense to make a weekend of it.

The Flint Barns have been sympathetically renovated with a mildly industrial edge, stylish but fitting with the original purpose of the building. My room, with large windows overlooking the vines would accommodate a couple and family; set up for multi use and even boasted two small but chic bathrooms. The room facilities are paired back (no TV or tea facilities) but downstairs there is a refractory style dining area for more casual breakfast, brunches and dinners (open to the public), paid bar and free hot drinks. You can relax in the lounge or in warmer weather soak up the rays in the stunning courtyard. The whole place has been crafted with the finest eye for detail.

I was expecting the restaurant to be closer to the accommodation, but no matter, they of course have a transport service to scoop you up and put you where you need to be. Bonus.

The Tasting Room Restaurant is again a tasteful space, in the summer dining outside on the terrace would be beautiful too. Often it's hard to imagine these places in use for lunch but I've already mentally booked in a visit in the spring to do just that.

Leading the kitchen, Head Chef Chris Bailey (who earned a Michelin Star whilst at The Black Rat in Winchester) weaves the seasons through his menus and makes best use of the local produce. This is like a lux agriturismo, and who wouldn't be inspired in this location, with choice picks from both land and sea.

Lunch is a very well priced £30 or £35 for two or three courses as well as a snacking menu to supplement a casual afternoon of drinking wine, which I’m totally on-board with.

Dinner however, is a choice of three set menus; Land, Sea or Garden. A few dishes span across the menus; the crab and shrimp tartlet, a rich aerated bisque fragranced with marigold and tiny cubes of fresh apple was perfect with a glass of the estate’s sparking. Of course, I made a beeline for the Blanc De Blancs, it’s my favourite. Although missing some of the dessert-like creaminess of some others I’ve tried it was delicate, elegant and a great introduction to the sparkling wines here. There is a Rosé too but you’ll have to wait a year for the Blanc De Noirs. Given a few more years under their belt, I think we'll be seeing a number of awards nailed into the freshly plastered walls.

A perfect little baked pumpkin arrived next filled with an earthy and rich chestnut, sage and ricotta risotto and dusted generously with fresh truffle. It doesn’t get more seasonal than this and so unusual to see a decent, and welcome, portion of food on a plate in this sort of dining format.

A harmonious and texturally clever dish of tartare of sea trout followed, dusted with a punchy horseradish snow and a shiso tea poured over at the table. I'd moved onto a glass of the estate's other brand Cradle Valley, an equal blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, high in citrus and floral, and ideal with the dish.

Suffering slight envy at the classic venison saddle of my dining companion initially, dish of the night for me was my wild bass with salsify and fennel and slightly bonkers salty fingers; samphire's pumped up big brother. The anise and artichoke flavours work so well with white fish and proves simplicity always wins on a plate.

Pre-dessert arrived as a cheesecake lollipop with dehydrated black fig, before the 65% dark chocolate delice with salted caramel, a spiced plum, and almond ice-cream, which was ideal to enjoy with a golden, honeyed dessert wine from the Denbies estate.

The food I have to say was knock out. Elegant, creative, yet the ingredients were still very much hero, pitched perfectly for the setting and style of the restaurant and location. And yes, grapes featured, of course as a nod to the estate, in jellied petit fours and as wingmen on dishes like the butter-soft roasted quail. They navigated the dietary requirements of my friend perfectly as well, so don't be afraid, with prior notice, to experience places like this.

Service was well-paced and friendly, and although the food was introduced well, I feel they could have done a much better job in introducing and matching the wines or even highlighting the Seven Sisters gin and vermouth brand, also produced by the estate, perhaps for a welcome drink or cocktail.

Waking up the next morning, you can scuttle down to breakfast where the tables have been reserved in your names on little branded tickets (nice touch). After some spiced plums and greek yoghurt, a brilliant quality full English was just the ticket to fuel a brisk walk around the estate. I loved that comms had also been passed on here and a gluten and dairy free tailored breakfast was also waiting for my friend without any request.

My stay at The Flint Barns made me really keen to return for brunch or lunch on a Sunday, where you can book a table without the need to stay. Obviously it's a far more casual affair than the Tasting Room Restaurant, but judging by the enormous joints of meat the chef was hauling and the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen already, made me think it would be a good shout.

This is a very well set up estate for visitors with tasting rooms, two different dining experiences, vineyard tours, a shop and a beautiful trail around the estate, so even if you are not staying or eating (which I recommend you do), it's well worth the visit. It may only be a short hop from Brighton, but I returned well fed, well watered, well walked and pampered. Ideal.

Rathfinny Wine Estate
East Sussex
BN26 5TU

I dined and stayed as a guest of Rathfinny. Words and opinion, as always, my own.

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