A mix of beautiful coastline and rolling downs, fairy tale castles, picturesque villages and of course the South Downs National Park. There are many reasons for loving this lovely English county. Our Crunchy Expert, Food Consultant and Chef, Valentina Harris has also found amazing foodie gems and vineyards for us to try.
It’s easy to unwind amidst Sussex’s beautiful surroundings. Since moving here six years ago, I have been enjoying an area that is not only achingly beautiful and soaked in history, but also so very rich in terms of satisfying my palate. From gastropubs to farmer’s markets, including vineyards and farm shops, there are plenty of places for foodies to indulge. Here are my top choices.
My Favourite Vineyard
Set in a gorgeous natural landscape, just three miles from the English Channel on a south-facing slope, with the sea sparkling in the distance on a sunny day (ideal place for a luxury picnic, too), Rathfinny Estate in Alfriston is my secret escape. It is not only home to the best vintage Sussex sparkling wines that truly are an expression of the terroir, but also a beautiful place to spend a day.
I especially love the relaxed, informal setting of the Flint Barns Dining Room and of course, their exceptional, elegant wines with a superb creamy mouthfeel and delicate floral aromas. When I feel more of a fine dining experience, then I head for The Tasting Room Restaurant, which has been awarded The Plate Michelin for two years running since opening in 2018.
Without travelling the 40 minutes or so to Rathfinny, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by several pubs. My favourite one is the lovely Crabtree, in Horsham – a very pretty, family-run public house that serves locally produced, seasonal food with great elegance and panache.
However, it’s the wonderful Royal Oak Pub, set in a building that dates right back to the 1400s, the main star of the area. The atmosphere is very welcoming and the locals are always willing to chat and get to know new visitors. Located in Wineham. it has been in operation since 1767 and it really is about as traditional a country pub as you’re likely to find, with so much historical charm and atmosphere, a lovely garden and a huge fireplace. It’s also dog friendly and the food is all locally sourced.
Sussex has a surprising amount on offer for the discerning gourmand and If I don’t feel to go out to eat, I am further blessed by having lots of wonderful local farmer’s markets nearby to explore.
I would recommend the monthly one in the delightful village of Steyning (home to picturesque high streets with an array of shops and historic buildings), or in majestic Arundel. What’s more, every Friday, I rarely miss the Lewes Farmer’s Market (winner of the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2021). With an excellent range of local produce and a great atmosphere, this market always offers a consistent vibrant shopping experience for the local community and a great place where I will always find marvellously fresh fish and sweet-tasting seafood.
There are also two farm shops within a five-minute drive of my front door, not far from Chichester (the picturesque cathedral city, with its cobbled Georgian streets steeped in history), where I can buy great cheese, fabulous locally made bread, incredible free-range, grass-fed and high welfare meat from farmers working in harmony with, and for the benefit of, the natural environment.
All of this simply means that I haven’t been to a supermarket to buy food since I moved here, and it’s really wonderful and so gratifying and exciting to be able to buy food that is so fresh and mostly very local so easily.
The Goodwood Home Farm is the most popular and one of the only self-sustaining organic farms in Europe. With both a dairy and butchery on-site, they are in a position where their skilled artisans can work together to produce the best-tasting beef, pork and lamb, all of which are reared right there. Goodwood’s cheeses have also won multiple awards: Levin Down is a rich and creamy soft white, Molecomb Blue is a full-bodied, veiny blue, and Charlton – voted Best Organic Cheese at the British Cheese Awards – is a tangy farmhouse cheese that lingers on the palate, similar in style to a cheddar.
High Weald Dairy is a family-owned organic dairy farm making beautiful British cheeses in a rural corner of West Sussex. They specialise in creating artisan cheeses to the highest standards, many of them award-winners. Most recently, their Brighton Blue was named in the top 16 kinds of cheese in the world at the World Cheese Awards, held in Bergamo, Italy, in October 2019.
Whether you’re looking for fine dining, pub food, a romantic meal for 2 or a taste of something from further afield, Sussex really has something for everyone. And if you are looking for the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, staying in a Farm Stay property for a short break is the perfect complement to all the sights of this lovely area: you can be assured of comfort and quality and you will have the perfect base from which you can go out and explore.