Based in the High Street, The Warren promotes a ‘nose to tail’ food philosophy and serves the finest-quality produce the Garden of England has to offer. From menu highlights to alfresco dining, we find out more about how the restaurant is making a name for itself on the local culinary scene
Tell us the background of the restaurant
Chris and Martin are the owners of the Crowborough Warren Estate, just bordering Ashdown Forest. The 650-acre land is rich in livestock, from Sussex cattle to wild boar. The idea then came about to combine both restaurant and farm to produce a free-range and locally sourced menu, while helping the farm become more efficient. The restaurant itself has undergone a complete refurbishment, featuring an eclectic range of pictures and taxidermy. The style brings together hints of Versailles country farm house and Bavarian hunting lodge, embellished by flashes of Communist-socialist chic.
In what ways does working with Crowborough Warren Estate benefit the quality on offer?
By working closely with the Warren Estate manager and farm staff, our game dealer Johnnie manages the stock rotation of animals on the farm to table, and the aging of all the cuts of meat from the field to the plate. This is not an easy task, but it allows us to be generous with our portions, and gives complete control over our high-quality produce, which means we know the product is shown the respect it deserves and goes straight from nature to the table. That is what great food is supposed to be about.
What are some of the key dishes that diners can expect to see on the menu?
The dishes that we offer at The Warren are utilising as much seasonal produce as possible from our estate and surrounding area. For example, right now we have wild garlic foraged from the estate, which we use in potato gnocchi with celeriac purée, baby leeks and a fricassee of wild mushrooms. As asparagus is at its peak at the moment, our chef is proud to use Groombridge Farm asparagus, which is cut fresh for the restaurant when we order it, ensuring absolute best quality for our diners. We showcase this simply with a poached hen’s egg and hollandaise sauce.
We always have an ever-changing variety of cuts of meat from the livestock and game on the estate, with freshly prepared garnishes every day, as our suppliers work closely with our chef to make sure we have the best of what is available at the markets on the day, and try to offer ingredients that our guests may never have tried or heard of.
Some examples of what you might find on offer are our home oak-smoked salmon with lemon, capers and bread, pan-seared fillet of Warren Estate beef with Dorset snails, braised in Burgundy wine with smoked beef boulangère potatoes and Périgneaux sauce, or roast haunch of venison with braised red cabbage, creamed potatoes and a classic sauce au poivre vert.
Talk us through some of the tipples you’ll have on offer to accompany the food
An aperitif of Court Garden English sparkling can be enjoyed, along with cocktails from the carefully crafted menu. At the table, the richness of some of the dishes can easily be matched by our range of Scottish and Japanese whiskeys, along with our diverse wine selection. We provide unique Israeli wines – Clos de Gat from French favourites, Pouilly-Fuissé, Sancerre, Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
We serve petits fours with Perk and Pearl tea, coffee from our professional Nespresso machine, and then there’s our range of Havana cigars on our roof terrace.
How does your chef bring his own flair into the kitchen?
Our head chef, Johnnie Forbes, has brought together the initial outline of setting up a restaurant and farm working in synchronisation together, having overseen the refurbishment in the kitchen and front-of-house areas. Working with him is Raul Savi, his dedicated, long-term sous chef, who is very talented.
Johnnie cooks with a classical approach, while using innovative, modern cooking techniques, without losing touch with traditional values or the simplicity of great ingredients. He and his brigade prepare almost everything we serve, making all stocks and sauces from scratch, butchering in-house for absolute control, smoking our own meat and fish, and making our own ice creams and sorbets, petits fours and a variety of different snacks, served in our cocktail bar.
Having worked with some of the top restaurateurs in the industry, like Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffmann, Johnnie has an excellent knowledge and experience, is a huge asset to us at the restaurant and we are very fortunate to have him.
You embrace a ‘nose to tail’ philosophy – what does this mean in terms of your menus, and how does it enhance the overall dining experience?
The basis of what our chef does is to utilise everything that he receives without any waste, to show respect for the animals that we serve at The Warren, hence our approach of ‘field to fork’ and ‘nose to tail’.
Many cuts of meat and offal offer an opportunity to make delicious fare that has been forgotten in recent times, and our chef hopes to revive these and change diners’ outlooks towards their preferred cuts, encouraging them to try the lesser-used but equally special produce.
Johnnie will often serve main courses that utilise several different parts of the animal on one plate – for example, Warren Estate rack of lamb, braised, crispy lamb’s tongue and confit belly – giving a contrast of the texture and flavour of different cuts of meat.
Do you use a lot of local produce and work with many local suppliers?
Our chef has already had strong bonds and relationships with a lot of local suppliers before opening the restaurant, a network which he is continuously expanding.
The fish and seafood that we serve is supplied by expert fish merchant Chris Fenech, of MCB Seafoods, based in Newhaven. They have their own fleet of boats fishing the south coast, and are the only supplier in the UK that hold ‘Friends of the Sea’ status, and source the best-quality sustainable fish around, with pride in traceability.
Johnnie receives details of which boat caught the fish, who has prepared it, the time it landed and where exactly it was caught, which is not something that most restaurants could claim.
We also have spectacular biodynamic apple juice, perry and cider from Brambletye Farm in Ashdown Forest, produced by Steven Bowler, who is incredibly knowledgeable about his produce. The juices and ciders are made using select single varieties of class A-grade apples and pears, which are bottle-matured to perfection using just organic fruit, yeast and time, with nothing added or taken away. It is simply brilliant.
We use High Weald Dairy cheeses for our cheese board, which is another example of how we showcase local produce.
Being based in the Garden of England must make all the difference…
Following in the footsteps of historic foragers, we aim to harvest the local flora and fauna. Taking advantage of the estate, we provide the restaurant with seasonal ingredients whenever possible.
On the menu, you will notice that there is a heavy presence of seasonal produce, for example wild garlic leaves, stinging nettles, elderberries and flowers, apples, plums and chestnuts.
They’re all gathered by owners Chris and Martin, who strongly appreciate the importance of provenance and freshness, which they deliver daily to the kitchen.
And what can customers expect from your summer dining options?
Our diners can choose from our à la carte menu and a menu du jour, served at lunchtime. All of our menus include complimentary amuse-bouche and bread and butter upon arrival, and a selection of petits fours at the end of your meal.
All of our menus are regularly changing, with fresh produce and dishes each day. We usually have an offering of different specials available from the best ingredients on offer to our chef on the day. Our menu du jour starts at £10.95 for one course, and the à la carte menu prices start at £6.95 for starters, £15.95 for mains and desserts all at £7.95.
On a Sunday, we serve a two-course lunch for £19.95 and three for £24.95. We serve roasts typically of Warren Estate wild boar, venison, beef and lamb, all served with traditional roast garnish and a selection of vegetables.
We have a small outdoor dining area on our terrace where guests can sit on our bespoke fabricated benches, which we cover with sheepskin blankets – whenever the weather allows us), along with a gas fire pit that we have made using reclaimed stone from the estate, which gives off a nice warmth for early evening dining outside.
Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the restaurant going forward?
Our guests have already given us feedback that reflects many of our aspirations, quality of food, hospitality and appreciation of ambience and surroundings. These areas are close to our hearts and are the foundation stones on which we hope to build further.
We have recently introduced live music with the pianist Caroline James playing on our baby grand piano. We hope to develop the music aspect of the restaurant further by bringing in cabaret.
We also aspire to host special evenings which will celebrate outstanding food matched to world-class wines, supplied by our dedicated wine experts.