The spa restaurant at South Lodge combines indulgence with wellness and respect for the environment. James Stagg reports
Spas have always been a place of indulgence, where guests go to relax and be pampered. But spa food rarely hits the heights delivered by the spa professional working to revive tired bodies.
Exclusive Collection is attempting to redress this imbalance at its new £15m spa at South Lodge near Horsham, West Sussex. Alongside the 14 treatment rooms, steam rooms and pools – which include an outdoor natural swimming pond – is Botanica, a restaurant that is much more than a site for smoothies and salads after skin boosters and scrubs. Guests can choose from dining in the bright and airy 80-cover restaurant or on the similarly spacious 70-cover terrace, with views over the gardens stretching into the Sussex countryside.
ed at local diners as well as spa guests, there is certainly a strong focus on wellness, but without compromising indulgence. Heading Botanica's kitchen is Jonathan Spiers, who was previously banqueting head chef at South Lodge, before taking on the role of executive chef at Wotton House in Dorking, Surrey. He was lured back to launch Botanica by South Lodge executive chef Lewis Hamblet, where the pair have created a menu that focuses on plant-based dishes with a Mediterranean influence.
Being an all-day operation, the menu itself covers all dining bases, with brunch options, small plates and larger dishes. "The brunch offering is massive on the menu," explains Spiers. "It's all locally sourced and they're not your standard straight-line brunch items."
e regulars like to order the English chorizo with house baked beans on seeded sourdough toast with a South Lodge hen's egg (£11) on a Friday evening. "The fact it's on all day reassures the customer that it's a relaxed restaurant where they can order what they like," Spiers says.
For those who prefer a more typical lunch or evening meal, Spiers recommends a selection of small plates and one or two large dishes. The small plates are largely vegan and gluten-free, and Spiers has worked hard not to sacrifice flavour.
Grilled broccoli (£7), which is charred and combined with lemon juice, is paired with nettle gremolata to provide acidity and sunflower 'butter' (made using roasted and blitzed seeds) to offer a rich mouthfeel without the dairy.
"As much as possible, we're looking to strip out allergens," says Spiers. "If you don't miss the butter, then why add the cost, the process and the allergen?"
One of the most popular dishes at Botanica is the spiced roasted cauliflower with mung beans, golden sultanas and seeds and tarragon tzatziki (£6). Here the cauliflower is roasted in its leaves with spices including cumin, paprika and coriander, and plated with a simple mung bean salad and tzatziki made using soya yogurt. "Almost every table orders it," Spiers adds. "It's large, but we like to deliver generosity wherever possible."
ll plates can be accompanied by a more substantial dish, such as the bavette steak with rocket salad (£20) or Botanica Caesar with griddled chicken (£13), catering for those who might otherwise miss meat. But what really catches the eye is the 'wasted' burger and chips with fallen tomato ketchup (£13) - a dish that almost solely relies on produce that would otherwise have been binned. The patty is made from the pulp of beetroot, apple and carrot from the juice bar, while a local supplier provides over-ripe tomatoes for ketchup. Chips and crispy onions are made from trimmings from South Lodge's kitchen.
Spiers adds: "It's quite a resource-heavy dish and was so popular that, at times, we were creating surplus juice, but we've now hit a balance."
serts retain an element of indulgence, but with a nod to the restaurant's name through herbs and extracts. A chocolate tarte is paired with thyme caramel and orange blossom gelato (£9.50). "The chocolate tarte isn't vegan, but we have made it gluten-free," Spiers says. "We've done lots of work on it and the pastry we've created is now our staple tart case.
"That said, we've started pushing a bit more on vegan desserts; we've just launched a pistachio parfait with local wonky macerated strawberries, paired with a wasted meringue. It has to be great though. If it's not at least as good as the original, we're not achieving our goals."
From the menu
•Grilled seeded sourdough, dry-cured bacon butty, charred tomato, basil ketchup £8.50
•Roasted heritage carrots, Puy lentils, Trenchmore wheat berries, dukkah £6.50
•Coppa sarda, grilled figs, Sussex Slipcote, shaved fennel £11
•Cornish hake, broccoli root purée, Botanica sunflower salsa verde £16
•Sea trout, baby leaves, lentils, radish, baby turnip £16
•Poached pear, ginger beer gelato £7
•Seasonal berries, skyr, 'wasted' meringue £8
South Lodge, Long Hill, Lower Beeding, Horsham RH13 6PS www.exclusive.co.uk/the-spa-at-south-lodge
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