We are so proud of our young chef, Charlie, who at just 21 has been nominated as one of three Grand Finalists in the Sussex Young Chef of the Year award. I spent some time with him understanding just how much work he had put in, in creating his spring menu for the Master Chef style competition, where he really wanted to showcase Sussex produce. Just reading his menu makes me hungry!
He went and picked and pickled Alexander, a product I wasn’t familiar with. It fell out of favour in the 18th century when celery started being cultivated and replaced many herbs and vegetables. He also went and picked wild garlic, focussing on the buds for extra flavour. He loves Saddlescombe meat, using it for his beef dish, telling me the reason he used it is because he loves the ethos around the farm and how they are so intent on creating a great ecosystem for all wildlife and are passionate about farming happy animals. He also used our Rosé to showcase the rhubarb in the dessert. I am so impressed with him and his approach, getting our Chef, Chris Bailey, to teach him in order to take his cooking to new heights. The results are announced on May 15th and we wish him the best of luck!
In other news, I would like to pass over to Abi, our Tasting Room Front of House, to fill you in on our new deposit policy…
We are fast approaching a year since we opened our Tasting Room restaurant and what a year it has been! We are extremely grateful for all of the support we have received, especially from local guests, many of whom we see on a regular basis!
Our restaurant, for those who haven’t yet visited us, is a fairly intimate space of ten tables with a maximum capacity of 30 guests sitting down at one time. Set amongst the vines, we pride ourselves in showcasing the best ingredients Sussex and the British Isles have to offer with a frequently changing menu. Accompanied by beautiful wines and elegant service, we strive to deliver a memorable experience for those venturing out to visit us. As we are building up towards a busy Summer season, I am thrilled to say bookings are flying in! However, in correlation with this, we are also falling victim to last minute cancellations or worse, no-shows. Mother’s Day is almost certainly one of the busiest days of the year within the restaurant trade and in respect of this, we extended our service by an hour to accommodate additional reservations. With 40 guests booked, we had a total of 8 covers (across three bookings) cancel within 12 hours or just not turn up.
Whilst we understand that life does throw unexpected curveballs at the best of us, we are a business that is very much a destination and so are impacted by such cancellations, and it is particularly frustrating on fully booked days where we have had to turn down bookings. This is not just an issue for us in the remote Sussex countryside but appears to be a recurring issue across the UK restaurant industry- for those interested in further reading, esteemed Chef and Restauranteur Jackson Boxer wrote a super article in the Guardian which further explains the implications had on businesses, even in the heart of London where passing trade is frequent (click here to read).
In light of this, we are kindly requesting that guests pay a deposit per head at the time of booking (£15 for lunch, £20 for dinner), which is fully refundable if cancelled anytime up until 24 hours prior to the booking date and is subsequently deducted from the final bill. Of course, for those with unavoidable situations we are sympathetic, but a deposit system allows us to protect ourselves from those who simply ‘forget’ or make alternate plans without notifying us.
Since introducing our deposit policy, I am very appreciative to the vast majority of guests that understand our position and I was delighted to read a recent Trip Advisor review that supported us: ‘The restaurant takes a deposit when you book. This seemed unusual but makes sense when you get there. There aren’t many tables and the space between them is generous, plus there will be no passing trade. The impact of a table not showing up would be significant so taking a deposit seems fair and reasonable’.
This deposit system is echoed for all events at the Flint Barns and I thought it important to clarify our position for those who don’t quite understand why we request this across the Estate. I do recognise it can come across as ‘miserable and pernicious’ as Mr Boxer put it, but on the flip side not only does it protect our business from a financial perspective, it also ensures that we are able to entertain a full restaurant of guests, some of whom might have been disappointed not to be able to join us at the hands of a no-show.
The hospitality team across the Tasting Room and the Flint Barns are so incredibly excited for the upcoming Summer season and will be delighted if you can join us!