Chef Paul Welburn says his local flavours surpass fleeting trends to create honest, rustic dishes. Andy Lynes reports
Since taking over the kitchens of the Leconfield at the end of October 2015, chef Paul Welburn hasn't been kicking his heels. In addition to rewriting the à la carte and set menus (£30 for two courses and £35 for three), he's introduced a five-course tasting menu (£45) as well as creating a chef's table menu (£80 for five courses with wines).
Welburn has had a tough act to follow: until recently, Pascal Proyart of One-O-One in Knightsbridge was consultant chef at this 90-cover restaurant in the upmarket town of Petworth in rural West Sussex.
The Yorkshire-born chef says his arrival at the Leconfield has brought his career full circle, as he began his working life in another rural spot, the Star Inn at Harome. His CV also includes work experience at Belmond Le Manoir aux'Quat Saisons, three years at Rhodes in the Square, and a season as a private chef on a yacht. He was part of Richard Corrigan's opening team at the Gherkin, head chef at the Michelin-starred Rhodes W1 restaurant in Marble Arch and opened Tonic and Remedy at the M By Montcalm hotel in Shoreditch.
"In London, you go with trends, but here I've got relationships with suppliers, where they phone me or come to the door. Or I'll go into the Hungry Guest deli next door, which is under the same ownership as the restaurant, look at what's good and build a menu on that." Indeed, Welburn has adapted two of his signature starters - crispy pig, burnt apple, shallot, parsley (£11) and gin and tonic-cured trout, dill emulsion, fennel and treacle bread (£11) - to incorporate local produce.
"I love the crispy pig; it's something I've done for the last six or seven years and now I'm using local Sussex pigs. I did a gin and tonic-cured salmon at Tonic and Remedy, but now I'm using rainbow trout from Chalk Stream farm near Southampton. The fish is taken out of the water in the morning and we get it that afternoon. I've never seen fresher fish in my life - you can stand it up by its tail."
To make the crispy pig, Welburn breaks down equal amounts of pig's head and jowl that has been brined and braised overnight in a water bath, and combines it with ham hock, shallots, mustard and parsley. He makes a ballotine and then slices, breadcrumbs and deep-fries it, before serving with caramelised apple purée, apple salad and sauce gribiche.
For the trout, Welburn cures the fillets for 48 hours in a salt and sugar cure with gin, lime, juniper and peppercorns. "We garnish it with a gin and tonic gel, made with pickled lemons and tonic water, along with croutons made from dark treacle Irish soda bread."
Gin and tonic-cured chalk stream farm trout
Welburn sources the remainder of his seafood for dishes such as bream, orange, seaweed gnocchi, shellfish and caviar cream (£19) from two suppliers in Brighton. He also wants to increase the amount of in-house food production and is planning to smoke chocolate, sugar and salt. "We're also starting to produce our own chocolates for petits fours, and we're playing around with different flavour profiles, like rhubarb and custard and kumquat. I'd like to get some foraged items in too, like sweet woodruff and meadowsweet."
In addition to his usual menus, Welburn also creates food for events such as a recreation of the dishes he cooked during his 2014 appearance on the BBC TV series Great British Chefs. The four-course, £60 menu will include D-Day-inspired dishes such as 'duck egg and soldiers', made with duck spam, duck liver parfait, duck egg and sourdough toast soldiers.
Given Welburn's Michelin-starred background and the 17th-century building's elegant interior, there is potential for the chef's appointment to increase the Leconfield's profile nationally. "The food and the guests' experience are the main things, but I'd love to achieve some awards and be back in the guides. I'll be doing everything I can to make sure we achieve as much as possible," he says.
Herdwick lamb breast, neep purée, radishes, turnips, Sussex dark ale
From the menu
- Pressing of guinea fowl, Sussex leeks, smoked emulsion £11
- Mackerel, celeriac, hazelnut, Granny Smith £11
- Cep and spelt risotto, wild mushroom, Parmesan £9
- Norfolk chicken, Jerusalem artichoke, confit leg, kale £22
- Herdwick lamb breast, neep purée, radishes, turnips, Sussex dark ale £22
- Hay-smoked Mereworth farm venison, red fruits, vegetables, leaves £25
- Sussex pond, lemon curd, suet, crisp meringue, iced custard £7
- Roast pineapple tart, parsnip ice-cream £8
Bream, orange, seaweed gnocchi, shellfish, caviar cream
Norfolk chicken, Jerusalem artichoke, confit leg, kale
Hay-smoked Mereworth farm venison, red fruits, vegetables, leaves
New Street, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0AS
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