If it isn't grown by chef Will Devlin himself, produce comes from suppliers just a few miles away, cooked in a building with ecological credentials to match. Andy Lynes reports
Set on the edge of 46 acres of woodland on the boarder of East Sussex and Kent, Flimwell Park's collection of modernist wooden buildings wouldn't look out of place in California, especially with its row of Tesla charging stations in the car park.
Designed by Steven Johnson of the Architecture Ensemble, the park houses a variety of independent, sustainable businesses and is home to chef Will Devlin's third restaurant, Birchwood. The restaurant lies almost equidistant between the Small Holding, four miles to the north in Kilndown, which opened in 2018, and the Curlew, five miles south-east in Bodiam, which Devlin took over in February 2020.
Birchwood occupies an entire building at the rear of the park with a 30-cover dining room, open kitchen staffed by three chefs and a 30-cover terrace on the first floor (the timber structure is raised on stilts) overlooking the woods. Initially open between 8am and 4pm, a breakfast menu that includes rolled oat and barley porridge with meadowsweet and cherry jam (£6) and Creedy Carver duck hash with fried egg and lovage mayo (£12) is served until midday, when an à la carte lunch menu and set lunch menu at £30 for three courses is served.
Devlin also plans to hold feast nights, when the tables will be pushed together for communal dining, and the second floor will be used as a retail space, where he will sell homemade preserves and pickles. A 28-cover roof terrace with built-in barbecue will be used as an events space in good weather.
Birchwood's sustainable credentials are impressive. In addition to running mostly on solar power, Devlin has installed energy efficient induction stoves and an energy saving dishwasher that converts warm water vapour into energy. Supplier deliveries are made in reusable crates, milk comes in stainless steel churns, dry goods are packaged in recyclable materials, and the restaurant will soon have its own Ridan composter for food waste. But the beating heart of Birchwood's sustainable practice is its menu, which will be projected onto the dining room wall to save paper.
"We don't have a lot of storage here, we don't have a big walk-in fridge or a big dry store, so we're going to be order in for the day, prep, cook, order again and think, what do we fancy doing tomorrow? That really excites me, keeps me engaged and will keep people coming back," says Devlin.
Birchwood's opening lunch menu contains 14 savoury small plates and one dessert. Devlin estimates that 80% of the produce comes from East Sussex and Kent, including cull ewe mutton chops (£18) from the environmentally friendly Paley Farm in Cranbrook.
"The way they farm their land with a Pasture for Life certification means there's biodiversity and they're locking carbon out of the atmosphere, so they're responsible farmers."
Devlin roasts the whole trimmed rack with salt, rapeseed oil, garlic and thyme, then serves chops cut from the rack with a roasted red pepper sauce made with peppers from his own farm at the Small Holding. The peppers are roasted in the oven until they blister, skinned, de-seeded and chopped, then cooked in a pan with onions, garlic and thyme. The sauce is finished with chopped cobnuts to make what Devlin describes as a "rough dipping sauce".
Skate on the bone (£15) also exemplifies the restaurant's simple, ingredient-led style, with the fish landed by a day boat in Rye and served with Pentland Javelin new season potatoes grown by Devlin. The skate is seared with rapeseed oil from Morghew estate in Tenterden in Kent, then baked presentation side down. It's finished with butter, perry vinegar from Brambletye fruit farm just outside East Grinstead (Devlin also makes his own vinegars, including fennel and dill seed) and pickled garlic buds. The potatoes are boiled whole then gently crushed and cooked on the plancha with salt and rapeseed oil to crisp up. Devlin plans to change the dish according to whatever is landed that day.
"Our job as chefs is to listen to suppliers, to see what's around now and what needs to be used and to sell what they have. The days of huge menus in restaurants are gone and guests shouldn't demand them any more. If you've got beef, chicken, duck pork and lamb on your menu, you're not selling all of that; you're consuming too much as a restaurant, you're demanding too much from the world."
From the menu
- Crispy sweetbreads, lovage mayo £6
- Pastrami cured sea trout £7
- Rock oysters, hot sauce, pickled onions £4
- Celebration of squash and pumpkin, goat curd, sage, linseed £8
- Hispi cabbage, mushroom powder, cured egg £5
- Jerusalem artichokes, yeast cream sauce £7
- Roast beetroot and autumn leaf salad, buttermilk and fennel dressing £7
- Purple sprouting broccoli, fermented chilli £5
- Cobnut and rapeseed cake with blackberry and clotted cream £8
Hawkhurst Road, Flimwell, Ticehurst, East Sussex TN5 7FJ
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In