It’s Autumn, which means three of my favourite things: bracing walks, cosy country pubs and food, lots of it. So when an invite for a press lunch at the Half Moon in Kirdford dropped on my desk I jumped at the chance to go and see what it was all about.
The pub was recently taken over by Jodie Kidd – model, racing car driver and runner up in 2014’s Masterchef. Growing up in West Sussex, she frequently visited the Grade II listed pub as a teenager. When she saw it was up for sale and destined to be turned into houses, she rallied the support of two business partners to save it from redevelopment. Good news for the residents of Kirdford, even better news for me.
The drive from Brighton took around 45 minutes through beautiful country lanes. If you prefer not to drive, Billinghurst station is 10 minutes away in a cab. The interior has been totally revamped but stays true to the pub’s heritage. It feels like a stylish country retreat with muted walls, inglenook fireplace, fur throws, beautiful artwork and low lighting – it’s a pub I could happily stay in all day. Outside there’s a walled kitchen garden, supplying produce for the menu, a huge garden that’s perfect for weddings and parties in the summer and an old cottage that will eventually become rooms (I’ve already reserved mine).
Executive head chef Andrew Mackenzie and head chef Ben Varley are in charge of the kitchen – although on the day we visited, Jodie was busy prepping for Curry Night, one of the many themed experiences the pub offers throughout the year. She came and chatted to us after lunch to talk more about the new venture and educated me in the art of taking a proper selfie with the volume button on my iPhone – who knew? Sadly I’ll never look as good as her in any of my selfies but it was an impressive fact all the same.
Formerly of Drakes of Brighton, Mackenzie’s four-course tasting menu was a dream. Full of clean, innovative, seasonal flavours and a twist on classic dishes, his menu drew on the vast larder of stunning local produce that is right on his doorstep. Meat is sourced from Goodwood and Cowdray Park, fish comes from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, vegetables are from the kitchen garden and local suppliers and everything on the menu is seasonal and organic where possible. Many pubs claim to serve ‘locally sourced’ food but it really feels like that’s the case here.
We ate Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Beef Consommé (beautifully light and refreshing), Cod with Celeriac and Preserved Lemon (the best tasting cod I’ve devoured in a long time), Venison with Red Berries, Carrots and Turnips (my stand out dish and one I keep thinking about) and Apple Trifle (served in a pretty vintage Champagne coupe with edible flowers). Every course was paired with a wine; I was disappointed I was driving as they were all delicious, particularly the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
The pub serves a selection of local beers, including its own brew, the Half Moon Eclipse. Brewed by Brolly Brewing, a micro-brewery based in a shed at the bottom of someone’s garden in Wisborough Green, I love that they are using small-scale producers who are really passionate about what they do. There’s an extensive wine list too, showcasing local favourites Nyetimber and Bolney.
The Half Moon is at the heart of the village and is the type of place I wish we had in Brighton. Prices are reasonable for food this good – mains range from £12 to £24, the tasting menu is £45 per person – and you get the feeling that a lot of love and effort has gone into transforming this charming village pub. I wish them the best of luck and look forward to coming back in the summer to sip a pint under the apple tree. I’ll be getting a cab next time for sure.
The Half Moon, Glasshouse Land, Kirdford, Billingshurst, RH14 0LT. Map.