The Orchard, West Grinstead
Like Cobwebs, that tiny model shop in Cowfold village, The Orchard is one of those ‘I really must go in there one day’ mysteries of the Horsham District. It’s a place we all know is there, but you hide the information into a corner of the brain that is sporadically accessed.
So any conversation about it usually progresses as such: ‘When you reach Cowfold, turn right towards the Buck Barn traffic lights. Follow the road for a couple of miles and you’ll see a tool hire business and a fish shop in West Grinstead. The Orchard is just passed that on the right. No? It used to be a Little Chef!’
It’s been well over a decade since Little Chef picked up the last handful of children’s lollypops and departed the building. For six years, the building has been in the hands of husband and wife David and Sarah Chadburn, who previously operated The Pantry, a small tea rooms in the heart of Cuckfield.
Sarah said: “David and I had met when we both worked at Old Barn Nurseries in Dial Post, and we decided to start our own business.We opened The Pantry and for three years it did very well, but it reached the point where we wanted something bigger.
“We had a wish list. Our new place had to be on a main road, have its own car park and benefit from an added
attraction. It didn’t matter so much where it was. This ticked all the boxes for us, with the added attraction being the Downs Link. We went for it, and didn’t think we had a chance, but here we are.”
David said: “It took us eight months to refurbish the building. It had been empty for five years. There was nothing upstairs and Little Chef had ripped everything out on the lower level. Wires that ran from machines had been ripped up straight through the plaster in the wall.
“We had to fit a new floor, repair the ceiling, and inside it basically needed a total rebuild. We knew it required a lot of work when we bought it, but as is often the case there was more to do than we thought, and it took a lot longer than we planned for. We were a month and a half late opening, and when we finally did open our doors the recession had hit.
“I’d say the last five years have been a struggle for us, but we’re still here, and still see people who have passed here every day for five years finally come inside.”
As if surviving in times of austerity is not hard enough, The Orchard owners have not endeared themselves to a section of the West Grinstead community. David and Sarah have openly supported a plan for a crematorium on adjacent land. But as the sign on the other side of the A272 suggests, many residents oppose the development.
David admits that this stance has made The Orchard the ‘black sheep of the village’.
But whilst some campaigners may not be overly keen on supporting The Orchard, David and Sarah can rely on the Downs Link to provide a steady flow of customers. It’s a convenient stopping point for walkers and cyclists, as they often stop on the Link to have a look at the old railway carriage that doubles as a museum on the old West
Grinstead Station. People only need to walk fifty yards through the orchard and garden to reach the restaurant.
The orchard itself grows a variety of fruit, much of it used in the meals and puddings, including medlars, quinces, plums, blackberries and eight types of apples.
It is the Downs Link that has dictated what is on The Orchard menu. David said: “Essentially, we have carried on doing what we did at The Pantry. We have homemade cakes, breakfast, lunch, and light bites as a lot of people on the Downs Link want panini sandwiches or jacket potatoes.
“For a time, we stretched to evening meals. We changed our menu completely so it was like a restaurant, but it didn’t work as people kept asking for our day menu. We always said we would be led by customers so we scrapped the evening menu, which was costing us a lot of money as we needed to bring in fresh food every day.
“We are not a fine-dining experience. We tried that in the evening, and it wasn’t what people wanted. They want a plate full of food that is freshly cooked, reasonably priced, and will leave them full-up. Our customers want food how mum used to cook it. They can have fancy frills elsewhere, but here they want value for money. So we give, I think, a fair meal at a fair price.”
Whilst the crematorium issue has caused a little tension in the community of West Grinstead, the restaurant’s owners promote the local area in other ways. Artists including Don Cranefield and Sheila Phillips display original landscape and botanical watercolour paintings, giving the place a warm, homely feel.
There are a number of bottled beers from local breweries for sale, including the Hepworth’s organic lager, Blonde, and two beers from Partridge Green-based brewery Dark Star. The Orchard employs young people from the village and sells greetings cards created by a local resident. They also promote the history of the building by displaying a wonderful snapshot of it’s history, put together by a neighbour.
Old pictures show The Orchard when it was called The Tabby Cat, and the story takes us right back to its creation by Sir Percy Burrell of West Grinstead Park, between 1861 and 1865. John Cray, formerly Lady Burrell’s butler, was the first landlord of The Tabby Cat.
Alfred Greenfield followed, and when he died the pub was passed on to his son-in -law Alfred Pankhurst and his daughter Maude. The pub remained part of the estate until it split from the park when it was sold in 1973. But anyway, this is meant to be a meal review, not an historical feature…
A lot of The Orchard’s business comes from its snacks and hot drinks. You can enjoy Cream Tea (two scones, butter, clotted cream and choice of jam with a pot of tea for one) for £5.20. Afternoon Tea (one round of sandwiches with a choice of two fillings, cake, scone and a pot of tea for one) costs just £9.75.
The lunch and dinner menu is available from 12-9pm every day, with each dish available as a small portion at a lower price. Meals include Steak and Kidney Pie served with vegetables and potato (£9.50/£6.75), Ham, Egg and Chips (£9.30/£6.75), Cod Mornay with vegetables and choice of potato (£9.50/£6.75) and Homemade Cottage Pie with vegetables (£9.50/£6.75).
Other popular options include the Ploughman’s Lunch (£8.50) and Omelette with salad and new potatoes (£7.50/£6.25). The Orchard also has two different roasts every Sunday (£9.50). But we had deliberately turned up for breakfast, as we had heard it was worth stopping for…
Thanks to drainage works in the nearby village of Cowfold making motorists angrier than a raging bull trapped in a London double-decker bus depot, there were not many diners at The Orchard during our visit. Therefore, service was swift! Toby and I both went for the Full English (£6.85/£5.50). The breakfast includes two rashers of bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, toast and marmalade. Extras cost £2.10 for two rashers of bacon or sausages, and £1.05 for baked beans, tomatoes, egg or mushrooms.
The breakfast very much fulfilled David’s promise of good, frill-free food. I’ve paid more for a better fried breakfast, and paid not a great deal less for the sort of breakfast that triggers a heart-felt apology to your digestive system.
Certainly, The Orchard offers a good plate of locally-sourced food.
David said: “The sausages are from L M Clapham Butchers in Horsham, I use a London-based bacon company that I’ve used for 25 years and locally sourced eggs. I go to Greenacres of Shoreham for my vegetables and I use a Newhaven fishing firm, who have their own vessels, for fresh seafood. We are one of the few places around to offer kippers at breakfast (Kipper Fillet, toast and butter costs £5.50). They are very popular and not just with the older generations – you’ll be surprised.
“We also use a local game farm for venison and pheasant when it is in season. We often change the specials board around and bring things in at different times of year. Another thing worth pointing out is that we serve gluten-free cakes, bread and pasta. Because we make all of our own sauces, we can make gluten-free meals, including roast dinners.”
After six years in business, The Orchard is still a work in progress. But it is growing in popularity thanks to its old-fashioned and friendly approach. Special events, such as its now twice-monthly quizzes and the occasional Murder Mystery Evenings have also helped regulars develop a ‘home-from-home’ familiarity with the restaurant.
But more needs to be done to freshen up The Orchard, and it is a relief when David tells us that it will soon be
redecorated with new carpeting.
Hopefully, that will give the restaurant some added vibrancy, to match the warm welcome of the staff. David said: “The growth has been steady, apart from the snow, which hit us hard. But we recovered and we’re back on level terms. Now we have to carry on and look to the future. We’ve put too much into this to just give up, that’s for sure.”
For more information call The Orchard on 01403 865693.