Sundial exteriorFeatures Editor, James Marchant takes a French-inspired gourmet lunch break at The Sundial in Herstmonceux.

I arrived at The Sundial for lunch early on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. The restaurant is housed in a pretty building which turns out to be larger than I first thought. It’s set back, and down from the road; I must have driven past a fair few times over the years without fully realising it was there. The building itself dates back to at least 1893, exuding a warm air of rusticity, but has only been open to the public since 1941.

Amuse-boucheUpon my arrival, I was greeted by Mary and Vincent, Front of House and Head Chef respectively who have been owners since 2000. I was seated in the lounge area and presented with a small selection of canapés as I pondered my menu choice. There are two ‘standard’ menus – fine dining and à la carte, as well as a Sunday Roast menu and additional seasonal menus. I opted for the fine dining menu and set about reading through each of the delicious sounding choices.

As a French restaurant, I was looking forward to perusing the wine menu – as you may well imagine, there was a selection of rather fine wine on offer. I went for one of the by-the-glass choices, a Brouilly, instead of attempting a whole bottle to myself, which was a thoroughly enjoyable, deep red wine.

Cheese selectionI was soon shown to my table in the main restaurant, where I was taken aback by the wonderful views from the windows, expanding over the fields from the back of the restaurant. This is one of the gifts of living in or visiting this part of East Sussex. Once sat down, I noted that my chair was particularly comfortable which makes a welcome change to some places that I’ve visited in the past. This is not a place of on trend modern decor; the interior was unassuming and simple. Some may consider it a little dated but in fairness that isn’t really what this place is about. The setting, gentle background music and spacious yet cosy restaurant combine to create a fantastically relaxing atmosphere.

Once I’d had a chance to take it all in, I was presented with an amuse-bouche of asparagus panna cotta, salmon mousse, shrimp, baby asparagus spears and leek shoots. This was a cracking start! The different flavours and textures were a delight; it’s fair to say that my level of anticipation for what was to come had just risen.

StarterShortly after, my duck breast salad starter arrived. There’s no denying that this was a very tasty dish too, with the sweetness of the fig chutney balancing nicely with the vinaigrette, and the pear helping create a fresh, sweet lightness. I was also struck by how generously sized the dish was for a starter, and there was plenty of the duck breast to enjoy.

Another short while later, my roast quail main arrived. What a delight! There were a few ingredients present on the plate, but they all combined to create a wonderfully tasty, and colourful meal. The orange and Grand Marnier sauce that accompanied it lent a pleasant, sweet, citrus note, and the purple mashed potato was another highlight – aside from adding a nice hit of colour to the dish, it had great flavour and texture. Some may find this a little gimmicky, though I would say, why not use purple potatoes? It makes a nice change from the norm after all.

With my undeniable fondness of cheese, I thought I should try some of the French cheese selection as an additional course (when in a French restaurant and all that). There was a selection of around sixteen cheeses to choose from, but I tried the Epoisses, as that was a clear favourite. I was a little disappointed that the cheeses appeared to be relatively fresh out of the chiller so had not had enough of a chance to warm up properly. I had arrived right at the very beginning of service and do eat fairly quickly, however, so this can be forgiven.

DessertBy this time I was getting rather full thanks to the generous portions but it would have been remiss of me not to try one of the desserts. I opted for the ‘trio of desserts’, comprised of Toblerone mousse cake, passion fruit panna cotta, and pineapple and coconut ice cream. This was another good choice, the highlight for me being the mousse cake, which was lovely and light. I did find the sauce atop the panna cotta perhaps a tad overbearing but that’s really just knit-picking.

I think it’s obvious by this point that I enjoyed the food, evident from each of the empty plates that were cleared from my table, and I was left mightily impressed. Throughout my lunch, Mary was warm, attentive and helpful. If you’re looking for a high level of service then you will not be disappointed at the Sundial; it’s clear that Mary and Vincent are both highly experienced and accomplished at what they do.

While there may well be places that have a more on trend looking finish to their interior (which of course would not be as original as what’s there now), there are very few other places in East Sussex where you can find a dining experience such as this. Not that this is really what it’s about but I must say that £28 for a three-course, fine dining experience such as this represents pretty phenomenal value too. I wholeheartedly recommend The Sundial and urge you to try it, either with family, friends or to impress a client.

The Sundial, Herstmonceux

Gardner Street, Herstmonceux, East Susses, BN27 4LA

01323 832217

www.sundialrestaurant.co.uk

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