The Leconfield, Petworth, restaurant review

Date:29-01-2014 08:58:26 read:3

The Leconfield, Petworth, restaurant review

The presentation here may sometimes be a little fussy, but there’s no hiding the chef’s skill – and good food

The Leconfield, New Street, Petworth, West Sussex Photo: MARK WHITFIELD

The Leconfield New Street, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0AS
Contact: 01798 345111
Price: Three courses: £21

Petworth, full stop, with or without The Leconfield, would be a treat – all lovely small streets that loop up and down from the main square, a nexus from chocolate shop to posh jumble to impossibly posh delicatessen (it actually has a temperature-controlled cheese room; or a cheesidor, if you prefer). I do not think it would be possible to walk into this restaurant in a bad mood. The atmosphere is contented, and all the people there can be seen stretching out into their Friday afternoons, like big cats in front of fires.

JJ has an uncanny skill: she can walk into anywhere and zone in on the thing that everybody loves about it. Here, it is the crab ravioli (lunch is £21 for three courses). One large piece, about the size of a Wagon Wheel, it came surrounded by a creamy, bisque-coloured sauce, all as one might expect. “Mmmm,” she exploded, spontaneously, on first bite.

“I know,” said the waiter, “everybody does that.” It was just an extremely successful harmony of flavours: the pasta was fresh, slippery and luxurious, the sauce more sea than cream, the crab fresh and smooth.

I had local game and mushroom terrine with kumquat chutney. The antlers adorning the bar, aprons and menus persuaded me that the game really was local, so I was expecting something deeper, more terroir-ey, its taste rooted to its surroundings so that they shared the same DNA. In fact, it was rather mild, even timid, though the sour kumquats spruced things up.

I carried on with grey mullet – it always sounds so unappetising, doesn’t it? I think they should just call it “the other mullet”. Of course, it is no greyer than any other fish, particularly when you spike the plate with chorizo and with a lovely butternut squash purée.

I started to catch the theme of the place, though perhaps a better word is “sensibility” – if you imagine some talented chef, desperately wanting to cook comfort food, but who had a hypercritical mother coming round, who wouldn’t stand for anything simple. This is what you would get: plates that are rather fussy and multi-ingrediented, with a foundation of simplicity, a backdrop of shyness, a person who would rather let three strong ingredients plus some butter do the talking.

I quite liked the tension, and there’s certainly no shortage of skill or judgment – my fish was perfect, the squash was rich and velvety. But the presentation was sometimes a bit frilly, while the mood was hearty.

JJ had some wonderfully slow-cooked pheasant, falling off the bone as if in a faint, with some equally relaxed red cabbage, a dainty splodge of redcurrant jelly and a puréed parsnip. Again, the purée was chased round the plate in some semi-haute fashion, to give a sense of food drama, or whatever the hell that haute plating was intended to create.

What was wonderful about it was the autumnal resonance, the colour palette running through purply reds to earthy browns and pinks, the textures all droopy and stewy (I mean that in a good way). It was the food equivalent of a log fire with a dog by it.

The cheeses were a little underwhelming, but I don’t blame anybody for that – they know their punters. If nobody here wants to eat cheese that smells like a dead animal, well, it’s their loss. JJ’s praline semi-freddo was good, but again, not very challenging, perhaps a little too sweet.

There is a sound talent at work here, perhaps clipped a little by local expectation or an interfering, Lynda Snell-ish boss… Or maybe that’s my imagination, and what is one man’s fuss is another man’s making an effort. I was certainly charmed, overall.


The Pot Kiln Frilsham, Berkshire (01635 201366)

Mike Robinson is one of Britain’s top game chefs, and venison is his speciality. When he’s not teaching at his game cookery school, he’s out shooting wild deer for the pub’s signature peppered venison pavé, teamed with sticky red cabbage and creamed celeriac (£19.50)

The Leaping Hare Wyken Vineyard, Stanton, Suffolk (01359 250287)

This beautiful converted cattle barn has reopened after a Christmas break, and is still going big on game from the vineyard's estate. The partridge, with a sweet-potato gratin, is cold-smoked over prunings from the vines (£14.95)

The George & Dragon Speldhurst, Kent (01892 863125)

This 13th-century inn dedicates an entire menu to game from the local area. With the log fires burning, it’s a cosy spot for pheasant breast wrapped in streaky bacon, served with confit leg, dauphinoise potatoes and cavolo nero (£15.50)

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