Last Thursday my son and I visited Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens in Horsham, West Sussex, in the UK, on my first day of visiting the country. I loved seeing Chef Jean Delport, previously working at my then favorite restaurant Benguela on Main in Somerset West, and enjoying his creative take on Afternoon Tea at the estate.
Two years ago my son Alex and I were shown Manning’s Heath and Leonardslee, soon after Penny Streeter had bought the latter. Penny is originally from the UK, and already owns Benguela Cove outside Hermanus, with a housing estate and wine-producing vineyards, Nom Nom in Somerset West (previously Benguela on Main, where I met Chef Jean), Benguela Brasserie & Restaurant outside Sedgefield, and Mannings Heath in the UK, an 27 hole golf course, of which nine holes were converted into a vineyard for the production of sparkling wine by its highly talented and awarded Johann Fourie, previously of the KWV.
Leonardslee was a Sleeping Beauty estate, which had deteriorated, in that the former owner had not maintained it, and had not opened its gates to the public in nine years. It has been described as ‘The Finest Woodland Gardens in England’, created in 1801 by Sir Edmund Loder. The 240-acre estate is known for its colourful blooms, lakes, and forests, offering the visitor bursts of colour in orange, white, pink, yellow, lilac, and of course greenery. Some trees are about 200 years old, and include Magnolias, Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Maples, Beech, Oak, Cypress and Dogwood trees, with daffodils, bluebells, wildflowers, and hydrangeas flowering at different times of the year,
Penny and her husband Nick Rea, with Penny’s son Adam, spent almost two years since the acquisition to redevelop the Gardens, and to restore and maintain the buildings on the estate. In addition to the colourful gardens, one can view a rare for the UK colony of Wallabies, Fallow and Sika deer, wildfowl, carp in the seven ponds, a rare historic Doll’s House museum reflecting a country estate in the 1900s, a collection of Victorian vintage cars, award-winning Bonsais, vines, take home some plants and South African Benguela Cove wines, shop in the gift shops, and visit a number of its refreshment options.
Two months ago Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens reopened to the public.
Given the condition of Leonardslee two years ago, on our previous visit, it was a surprise to see the transformation of the ‘new’ Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens. One arrives at a massive parking area, and I could not believe how full it was. It was not immediately clear where one should enter the estate, but the only building visible from the parking had to be the entrance. We were told that a previous hothouse had been converted to become the gift shop, a central plant and water feature, and a Reception and payment desk for arrivals, and a plant shop and gift shop for departing visitors.
The Afternoon Tea and Dinners are served in the Drawing Room in the two-storey Mansion House, built in the Italianite style, and dating back to 1801. From the Entrance Hall one moves into a central space flowing into the Afternoon Tea area, with a separate Dining Room. The room is dominated by large portraits of what look like noblemen. I cannot remember if they were in the building already when we saw it two years ago. A beautiful crystal chandelier lights up the room.
Two assets from Benguela on Main have been imported to Leonardslee from Somerset West: the black and white ostrich-style chairs, and the self-playing piano, without a pianist, a point of interest in itself.
Tables have starched white linen table cloths, and beautiful rose decorated china, which Chef Jean told me he had specially made….. in China. It has the Leonardslee branding underneath. On the table too was Elia cutlery, as well as a rose side plate, a milk jug and sugar bowl, as well as glass containers with clotted cream, home-made strawberry jam, and lemon curd. Anya Delport is the Manager of the restaurants, and she welcomed us warmly, and showed us our table, overlooking the gardens, leaving us with an Afternoon Tea menu. She was very kind, printing out all the menus for Dinner, Afternoon Tea, and the other informal restaurants.
Teas have been sourced by the Rare Tea Company, described as being passionate about tea. There are three black teas (Speedy Breakfast, Earl Grey, Emperor’s Breakfast), 4 green ones (Green Whole Leaf, Long Jing, Green Tea and Mint Blend, and Genmaicha), 3 Oolong teas (Oolong, Da Hong Pao), 3 white ones (Jasmine Silver Tip, Rare White Blend, White Petal Tea), and ‘Wild Rooibos’ offered, the latter not a tea but a herbal infusion instead. In the spout of the tea pot is a coil to prevent the tea leaves from being poured into the cup, which I looked for all over whilst in the UK, but I could not find one.
Anya’s colleague Mia Pretorius looked after us for the duration of the tea, taking our tea orders of Earl Grey and Rooibos, and encouraging us to try a Leonardslee Gin, which has been created by the Horsham-based Cabin Pressure Spirits Distillery, its David Howard creating it in conjunction with Chef Jean, served in a beautiful floral glass. The botanicals in the Gin make a garden infusion of the gin, with lavender, honey, rose, and camomile, with no taste of juniper. They use Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic in the gin that they serve, topped with rose petals and lemon zest, and enhanced by the floral glasses. Mia and Anya have been friends for a long time, and she has lived in Pretoria and in Stellenbosch, last having worked at Terroir, both as a chef and as a waitress.
What is unusual is that there is a Savoury as well as a Classic Afternoon Tea, each offered in three acts, as if it were a play. The Savoury Afternoon Tea (£43) offers as its Act I a choice of three substantial dishes:
# Leonardslee Scotch Egg, filled with pulled pork, and crumbed, served in a bed of Piccalilli and Mustard Seed, and Remoulade. My son ordered this option, and I tasted a corner of the egg, my first taste of it ever, getting a hint of a taste of aniseed.
# Eggs Royale
Both of these Act I dishes were generous portions, and beautifully presented. In the Classic Afternoon Tea menu the following Finger sandwiches are offered:
# Cucumber and cream cheese
# Estate egg mayonnaise (they have hens on the estate)
# Leonardslee Cured Chalkstream Trout and horseradish
# Sloeberry and cheese mini quiche
# Coronation chicken bun
# Gougeres with cheese and paprika filling, topped with chilly jam and chorizo crumbs
Act II is the same for both Afternoon Teas, consisting of a home-Baked Raisin and a Plain scone for each of us, offered with the clotted cream, the lemon curd, and the strawberry jam already on the table.
Act III is the same for both Afternoon Teas too, and didn’t initially catch my eye in the menu. It was a cake stand, with a glass round, and a base underneath, in between which gold-sprayed pine cones from the Gardens as well as a leaf of greenery had been added. What was on top of the glass plate was exquisite, in terms of its taste as well as presentation:
# a green-coloured Treacle Tarte filled with apple compote
# a Petit Gateau filled with hazelnut and passion fruit, the latter filling being quite sweet, beautiful with its chocolate coating.
# Pretty in pink was a profiterole filled with Green Macha Tea mousse, and topped with half an hibiscus macaron.
# A chocolate, raspberry, and rose layered ‘entremet’ (small dish served in between courses)
But this was not yet the end of the Afternoon Tea spoil. We were offered a choice of two cakes, and Mia cleverly suggested that we take them home, which we accepted:
# a Hazelnut praline and chocolate cake
# a Battenberg cake, being a light sponge cake in rose and almond yellow and pink check pattern, covered in jam, and coated in marzipan, topped with a floral chocolate shard. My son Googled where the name came from, and found that it was the wedding cake of Princess Victoria (the granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and Prince Louis of Battenberg in the German Hesse.
The Afternoon Tea with a glass of Benguela Cove ‘Joie De Vivre’ MCC costs an additional £10 per person. A Children’s Afternoon Tea Menu is offered too, at £21 for children 4 – 10 years old,
Mia was informative, and requested information from Chef Jean when she couldn’t answer all my questions. She looked after us predominantly. Another waitress came to collect our tea pot when I asked for more hot water, and I had to stop her from wanting to stretch right across me from the left to take it from my right, when she could just walk around me at the spacious round table.
Other day-time restaurants in the estate are the Vineyard Café close to the Mansion House, in which the Gardens visitors can sit in a marquee or outside, on a ‘platform’ overlooking the beautiful Leonardslee Gardens. Inside are more affordable snacks and treats, including pre-made sandwiches, croissants, cold drinks, and a range of cakes, bought in by outside caterers, and not made by Chef Jean’s kitchen. The offering of this Café is replicated in the Courtyard Café and the Clocktower Café, both with seating inside and outside. It was explained to me that they have had to create so much informal catering for the volume of visitors Leonardslee receives daily. They have two mobile catering vehicles too, one selling take-away Foods, and the other used for Benguela Cove wine tasting. I saw in a photograph and video on Social Media just the week prior to our visit that winemaker Johann Fourie had been at Leonardslee, demonstrating the Sabrage. Throughout the estate smaller catering venues will offer drinks and snacks.
The Benguela Cove Wine Tasting Experience is to be enhanced, with pairings with cheeses, and chocolates offered, as well as Sabrage demonstrations, and a Garden Tour. It is planned for the wine cellar for the production of the sparkling wine, from the grapes grown at Manning’s Heath as well as at Leonardslee, to be built at Leonardslee, and they are awaiting approval for this.
At night time Chef Jean’s domain is Restaurant Interlude, the fine-dining restaurant, with 21 courses.. Fine-dining is his forté, and I have promised that we’ll come for a dinner on a next visit. Two dinner Tasting Menus are offered: the Garden Experience (£90) and the Estate Experience (£120).
The courses have clever names and unusual ingredients: the Estate Experience Menu for example, offers ‘rabbit eats carrot’; pumpkin pine; ‘custard sweetbread’; ‘mushroom, biltong, tasty paste’; ‘stuffed chestnut, rice, sherry’, and many more. The Garden Experience Tasting Menu includes ‘onion cotton’; ‘sheep’s milk, birch tree’; ‘foraged acorn, 70% guanaja, Brandy, coffee’; and ‘untraditional crackers, seeds, stones’.
I was delighted to see Chef Jean after our Afternoon Tea Treat. He has seven chefs working with him, and is enjoying his new challenge, he and Anya having been at Leonardslee for over a year already. He follows developments back home, our politics, sport, and the restaurant industry, and asked about Gåte restaurant specifically.
Before we left, I had a quick look at the Clocktower and Courtyard Restaurants, and a Gift Shop, and felt homesick already when I heard so much South African English spoken. From the sample menu which Anya printed out for me, I could see that they offer Cream Tea, with scones, jam and clotted cream (£5), and an Afternoon Tea, obviously a pared down version, at £ 11. Soups, hot meals, salads, Toasties, sandwiches, fruit, slices of a selection of cakes, as well as muffins, scones, flapjacks, and more are available too.
As the entrance to the Dolls House has changed from our last visit, we forgot to find it at the back of the building when my son and I went for a walk in the Gardens wanting to find the Lakes in particular, not having seen them two years ago. Signage on the walks is good and advises the degree of strenuousness of the walk. Seating opportunities are dotted around the estate, made from wood, so that one can savour the beautiful blooms, woods, and tranquility, or even just to take a breather.
On the way out, one walks through a nursery section, being able to buy plants and packets of seeds, and one is then led through a Gift Shop, being able to buy the Benguela Cove wines, garden chairs, the floral glasses, the rose China, and other garden and gardening related items.
Mansion House, Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham, West Sussex. Tel. 0044 0871 8733 389 www.leonardslee.co.uk Twitter: @LeonardsleeG Instagram: @leonardsleegardens Afternoon Teas are served from Wednesdays to Sundays, from 13h00, and Dinners from Wednesdays to Sundays. Entrance to Leonardslee costs £12,50 for adults; £11 for seniors, disabled persons, and students; and £6,50 for children 5 – 16 years. Annual membership as well as online booking reduction. Leonardslee is Cash-Free, only accepting payment by credit card.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein