Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Summer in England usually lasts around 2 weeks. And then it's gone as quickly as it came. But nowhere else on Earth do people take summer as seriously as the Brits. As soon as the weather gets above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Celsius, men strip off their shirts and drive around town, Union Jack tattoos proudly splattered across their arms, curly hair running up their naked chests for all to see. The women are almost as excitable. Why, just the other day I saw a woman walking on the High Street with almost nothing on at all, save a pair of shorts that looked more like underpants for infants. And it was only 20 degrees (68F). It's truly remarkable.
But this is one of the most endearing features about England. For 2 weeks a year the sun comes out and people enjoy it. And I'm glad it's only 2 weeks a year. If it were longer everyone on Earth would want to live here. Places like Gravetye Manor in the summer are almost magical and make one believe they have been transported to earlier, easier, softer times. At least that's what happened to me when I visited this hallowed manor, off the beaten track, just outside East Grinstead. A few year ago Gravetye Manor had it's one Michelin Star ripped from it's clutches by the evil Michelin Men. And since then, they have been bought out and the new owners are bringing life back into it. They started by offering an All Day Menu, which is made by, I'm assuming, the same ex-Michelin Star chefs, but for a fraction of the price.
Sitting outside, the umbrella shading us from the sun, we could think of no other place in England we'd rather be. Our waiter came out from the main building, across the spacious lawn and took our order. A few minutes later he was pouring my Harveys Old Ale. A dark ale from the oldest brewery in Sussex. Our meals were brought out several minutes after that. My Gravetye Beef Burger with Cumin Scented Irish Beef, Sweet Chili Mayo, Crisp Pancetta, Mature Cheddar Cheese and Homemade Chips was a thing of beauty. I have made it my mission to find the best burger in Britain and this ranked second, just behind my burger from The Hinds Head. It was plump, tender and dripping with mouth watering juices. The Chips were the best I have ever had. They make Heston Blumenthal's Triple Cooked Chips look like a a red headed step child. It was like biting into flavorful air, with a crispy outer layer.
My fellow diners were both enjoying their meals. At least I presumed they were since there was very little conversation except, "oh, this is gorgeous." And, "I'm really enjoying this." At that point I decided to take my fork for a little walk around the table to explore what other glorious things were in store for me. And I wasn't disappointed. The Gravetye Club Sandwich with Root Vegetable Crisps and Salad was a far cry from those New York deli Club Sandwiches I'm used to. It was beautiful to look at and even better tasting.
Next and last was the Toasted Goats Cheese with Tomato and Rocket Bruscetta on Sourdough Bread. A masterful example. It was done perfectly. The Cheese was ripe, warm and engulfed my entire palate. There was a Balsamic reduction sauce drizzled onto the plate, which made it even more special.
Maybe it's the vegetables grown right there on Gravetye's grounds. Maybe the day was just so majestic that everything tasted and looked better than it was. I don't know. What I do know is that this foodie was seriously impressed by both the incredible food I ate and the very reasonable price paid for such a meal. After lunch we took a mild stroll in the gardens, which overlooks a lake. And nothing else for miles and miles.
Once upon a time, Gravetye Manor was stuffy, aging and pointless. Today, it is a fabulous example of modernity, mixed with old world charm and accessibility. The room rates are still mind boggling and I'd have to make millions in oil before I stayed there, but the new All Day Menu and ambiance make it worth a lunchtime stopover.
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