When other people were baking banana bread or quizzing endlessly on Zoom during lockdown, I decided to (try and) swot up on wine. A good use of my time, I think you’ll agree. While I can still profess to be a complete novice and that more learning of the ropes is required, my search for quality vino led me to West Sussex’s Wiston Estate, and its charming in-house restaurant Chalk.
After roughly an hour’s train from London Victoria, and a short 20-minute cab later, we arrived at this picture-perfect escape in Worthing. Think leafy green slopes, towering trees and rolling hills along the South Downs as far as the eye could see. We strolled around the vineyard, admiring the white paths where the restaurant gets its name, making sure we breathed the fresh countryside air in deeply. Our tip? Pick up a map from the main entrance and you’ll have an ideal post-food walking itinerary.
Yes, the weather was bad when we visited, but it did not dampen our spirits. Inside a sympathetically restored 18th-century barn, Chalk had retained original features but still kept its bright and airy feel (no mean feat). The hangout's slinky bar area sat pride of place in the centre; its black fixtures stood out against the light oak backdrop. Beams crossed the ceiling, as white pottery adorned the walls. Beige sprays on the table and stone floors under our feet gave things a natural feel, plus the huge statement lighting looked custom-made. Tones of teal were noted throughout, from the water feature in the alfresco courtyard to the branding on Wiston’s famous bottles. They somehow managed to make the whole space classy but welcoming and homely too.
The Chalk lunch menu changes seasonally and chef Tom Kemble sources ingredients from local counties, including foraged items around the estate. We stopped by on a very busy Sunday afternoon, where the buzz from family birthdays, catch-ups with friends and cosy dates gave off a great atmosphere.
The most popular ‘nibble’ on offer was Chalk's house focaccia (£4.50), served with cultured butter. This huge chunk of bread, like doorstop-sized, arrived warm and we adored the soft middle combined with a salty, herby crust. Unfortunately, we didn’t detect the rosemary and orange as promised in the Nocellara olives (£3.50), but these plump, juicy bites were incredibly moreish. But you wanna know about the wine, right? After speaking to the team about our likes and dislikes, two glasses of Wiston Estate Tank Five (£8 each) landed at our table, both perfectly ice cold. Reasonably priced, this multi-vintage blend of chardonnay and bacchus had depth but also nice fruity afternotes.
Starter-wise, I opted for the La Latteria burrata (£13.00): a beautiful coming together of basil pesto, sweet Nutbourne tomatoes (red and yellow) plus a peppering of black olive. You could say this was a tribute to the local area, showcasing all the flair of the Med. It was so amazing; I point blank refused to share. My other half's Juniper smoked salmon (£13.00), decorated in vibrant edible flowers, delighted with the herby oil paired alongside a fiery horseradish crème fraiche and fennel. The cubes of pickled cucumber? Zingy and luscious. With wine on the mind, I chose a glass of Wiston Estate Cuvée 2016 (£14). A fragrant, bubbly number fusing honeyed citrus, toasted almonds and, interestingly, brioche. Who would have thought… (Fun fact: our late Queenie christened a yacht with Wiston Brut NV, so, I decided to buy a bottle to take home). My partner went for a cappuccino (£3.75) as my efforts to get him to try new wine fell flat, but still, he enjoyed the caffeine hit mid-afternoon, plus the fact they offered locally sourced Skylark coffee really clinched the deal.
You’re in for a treat with the mains. We’re talking Sussex lamb rump (£29) and Scottish girolle tagliolini (£19.00). My carb-loaded fiesta comprised of ribbons of gooey, cheesy pasta, generous shavings of Parmesan and chunks of mushroom. As the saying goes, when in Rome, so my date’s carnivorous dish took the Sunday favourite and elevated it: think moist, pink meat from the surrounding area, pickled onions picked in a nearby farm and flavour-packed salsa verde. The chard polenta had an unusual texture but was delicious too, especially when dipped with the garlicky new potatoes (£5). If you need a slice of healthy eating among all of that, go for the seasonal salad (£5); a piled-high portion drenched in buttermilk and elderflower, topped with those pretty flowers from earlier.
Puds, you’re up next. The almond tart (£10) was my other half’s favourite, uniting caramelised plum, flecks of nutty goodness and the star of the show: the lemon verbena ice cream. Thankfully not marzipan-like, the comforting dish also benefitted from the flakiest pastry. Sweet-toothed? You’ll love the panna cotta (£10). Created using Wiston Estate honey, the uniquely presented dessert was delicate and precise yet multi-textured (that’ll be the granola). Better yet, the apricot sorbet accompaniment absolutely slapped.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Nestled in the valley, among the south-facing 16-acre site, Chalk really is a hidden gem. You can’t deny the estate’s obvious love for the land, from the dishes on offer and gorgeous buildings to the sustainable approach. Indeed, we couldn’t stop papping away at the pinot noir fields that keep oenophiles coming back for more. The grub was refined yet satisfying and the waiting team were friendly, making this a great day out idea. Debating going? Wine not, we say.
💰 The damage: £145.95, excluding service charge.
📍 The location: North Farm, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 4BB.
👌 Perfect for: The vino lover in your life.
⭐ Need to know: There are guided tastings and tours around the estate.