Rathfinny: The New Taste of Britain

by Great British Chefs 24 August 2022

Just as many British chefs are constantly pushing boundaries with their innovative menus and varied approaches to gastronomy, so too are Sussex’s highly reputed winemakers, such as Rathfinny, whose sparkling wines are at home among food. We take a look at what makes both British food and wine so special and how they can work together hand in hand.

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It’s fair to say that the UK is a pretty exciting place to be right now for anyone and everyone interested in food and drink. There have obviously been exceptional British chefs and restaurants around for years, but the past few decades in particular have witnessed a whole new level of innovation and diversity in the UK’s food scene, driven by a new generation of chefs. As British food has reached dizzying new heights, Britain’s winemakers have also been gradually establishing themselves as some of the finest in the world, with estates in Sussex particularly now thought of as some of the most pioneering around. Both modern-day chefs and winemakers in the UK are constantly pushing boundaries whilst respecting tradition. British wine and food are a match made in heaven and that’s why Sussex’s Rathfinny Estate are working closely with chefs and restaurants around the country to ensure that Sussex sparkling wine forms a part of the UK’s most exciting restaurant menus.

When it comes to gastronomy, the UK has for a long time been a country known for championing innovation, diversity and quality at every level but since the turn of the century especially, Britain has become renowned worldwide for its progressive food. The white tablecloths and silver cutlery of haute cuisine of course still have their place but that’s now just one small part of the broader culinary landscape. People are more intrigued and inspired than ever by food from all corners of the globe, with many chefs making it their mission to shine a spotlight on the lesser-known cuisines and allowing this to influence their food. Nowhere is this more visible than in London, where you can find everything from causal sub-regional Indian restaurants to West African fine dining.

One of the biggest shifts from chefs in recent years however, has been the move towards using native produce as much as possible. Driven both by a desire to be as sustainable as possible and the quality of ingredients on their doorstep, it’s become almost a given amongst the new generation of chefs in the UK that menus should be led by British produce. As a result, British food is more seasonal than ever before, with chefs often working closely with suppliers when designing their menus, while the likes of the UK’s exquisite seafood are being championed in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Everything from this pride around native produce to the inspiration chefs are taking from cuisines all over the world, forms part of the UK’s culinary identity, or the new taste of Britain.

Whilst British food has gradually been changing and developing over the past twenty years or so, down in rural Sussex, the beating heart of the country’s winemaking scene, there’s also been a transformation. Wine has been produced in the South of England for thousands of years thanks to its warm climate and chalky soil, which provide the perfect environment for sparkling wine grapes in particular to grow, and recent years have only seen the industry go from strength to strength. This culminated in the Sussex wine region being awarded PDO status in 2022 – a nod to both the provenance and quality of wines being produced there and further evidence of the growing reputation of the area's exceptional sparkling wines.

Rathfinny’s Sussex sparkling wines are made using classic methods, which have been honed over the course of centuries, but are also low-intervention and sustainably produced. All four of their vintages are produced by the Traditional Method, which is where the secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle, and the lees left inside while they age (for a minimum of twenty-four months for rosé, and thirty months for the other sparkling wines) to give them distinct autolytic notes. However, there are also a number of less traditional practices also in place on the estate, such as the growth of plants between rows of vines to encourage insects like parasitic wasps, which reduces pests on the vine whilst minimising the use of chemicals.

There are distinct parallels which can therefore be drawn between the approach that estates like Rathfinny take towards winemaking – respecting tradition whilst also adopting more modern practices – and the approach that the new generation of British chefs take in the kitchen. Rathfinny champion the innovative chefs all over the country who are changing perceptions with their cookery, bringing their Sussex sparkling wines to the finest restaurants around, where they both complement and enhance the exquisite food on offer.

At the much-lauded Tasting Room restaurant on the Rathfinny estate, chef Chris Bailey is constantly creating dishes which work in harmony with the wines being produced around him. Meanwhile, away from the estate, Rathfinny have also partnered up with three British chefs of the moment – Chris Shaw, John Chantarasak, and Michelle Trusselle, all of whom have their own unique style – to create a menu of three dishes, which all pair beautifully with a different bottle of Rathfinny.

Head chef at Townsend in Whitechapel, Chris Shaw’s cookery has always been produce-led, which is why he aims to use British ingredients wherever he can in the place of imported produce, whether that’s using Berkswell cheese in the place of Parmesan or seasonal British vegetables in an ever-changing tart of the day. His recipe of chalk stream trout with clams, peas and crème fraiche is a showcase of British produce and doesn’t just pair brilliantly with Rathfinny’s 2018 Classic Cuvée but actually uses a touch of it in sauce.

John Chantarasak’s bold style of cookery, meanwhile takes inspiration from both his Thai and British heritage, combining the distinct flavours of Southeast Asia with seasonal British produce to create dishes, which brilliantly illustrate the breadth of the UK’s food scene. His long-awaited restaurant AngloThai is set to open in 2022 and is the culmination of years of careful research and development. John’s main course of aged beef sirloin of British beef, served with a spicy chilli relish may pack a punch but Rathfinny’s fruity 2018 Blanc de Noirs matches up to it beautifully.

Brought up in London by a Caribbean family, Michelle Trusselle never felt that Caribbean food had been done in the refined manner that so many of styles of cuisine had. Since becoming a chef, she’s made it her mission to do just that, whilst also bringing the flavours of the Caribbean to a wider audience, which she’s now doing at her supper club concept Myristica. Her dessert of coconut panna cotta sees her put her own spin on a classic and is best accompanied by a glass of Rathfinny’s 2018 Rosé Brut.

Everyday there are new chefs coming through the ranks with their own innovative ideas and styles, as there are winemakers wanting to demonstrate the quality of wine which can be produced in Britain, not just in Sussex but also elsewhere. Yet as estates like Rathfinny are demonstrating, both of these go together hand-in-hand and this clear synergy will only lead to further creativity.