Surrounded by 240 acres of Grade one listed woodland gardens in West Sussex, Leonardslee House is the quintessential country manor. Think elegant rose gardens and manicured lawns, deep bathtubs and dainty chandeliers. Not a petal is out of place. However, like the English aristocracy, there are a few quirks that will take you by surprise – in this case, white wallabies and South African grapes.
Traveller: Lisa Perkovic
Room: Rhododendron, superior suite
Address: Brighton Road, Horsham, UK
Date: June 2023
Best for: Fine dining in the English countryside
The Signature factor
There are 10 bedrooms inside this Italianate-style manor, along with drawing rooms and a bar, but for many visitors the big drawcard is Restaurant Interlude. The Michelin-starred fine dining experience is a several hour affair – you’ll nibble foraged fern tarts with your hands, scoop egg yolk out of giant egg-shaped bowls with dainty gold spoons, pick up dainty star-shaped parsnip wafers off tiny crystal dishes, waft smoke off breaded rabbit and finish with dainty life size gold-dusted chocolate acorns. This is an eighteen-course multi-sensory experience, paired with wine from the estate’s South African sister property, Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate. Dishes are dainty and rich, and after a night cap, you’ll be grateful all you need to do is walk upstairs to bed.
From the early 1800s, aristocracy have built on the gardens, adding the famous rhododendron garden, the rock garden, seven man-made lakes, and a deer park. Leonardslee House dates back to 1855, and the wallaby colony arrived in the early 1900s. In 2017, South African entrepreneur Penny Streeter acquired the grounds, spending the next two years restoring both grounds and manor to their former glory. Today, alongside the house and restaurant, there’s a café, doll house museum, pop-up gin bar and live music during summer. Another big addition is the pinotage vineyard, planted in 2018 and almost ready for harvest – a nod to Streeter’s South African wineries.
First impressions of Leonardslee House
Driving through the gates to Leonardslee House takes you straight into the gardens. Day visitors are already exploring. The famous albino wallabies soak up the sun and the limelight under giant oak trees. Around the bend, the Italianate manor comes into view, framed by an elaborate sculpted tree that doubles as a water fountain. Metal leaves glint in the sun as the wind whips up water to swirl us with a light spray. It’s a grand entrance for sure.
Staying in the Rhododendron room
We are shown to the Rhododendron room for the night, a nod to the garden’s famous 1,000 species plus collection. In the garden they bloom in every colour, here our room’s palette is pale pink, with a dusting of whites, cream and green. Each room features wallpaper from a different British design house and antiques where possible, reducing environmental impact. London interior designer Veere Grenney’s ‘folly’ fabric adds tiny coral detailing to the drapes of our suite. A deep silver tub is the piece de resistance in the bathroom, though majestic Calacatta marble floors and walls vie for attention too.
Top suite at Leonardslee House
You’ll find Magnolia tucked into an arched doorway off the galleried upper floor – the deluxe suite is the best room in the house and was designed by British textile experts Lewis and Wood. Marble fireplaces, sitting area, and a deep nickel bathtub create an elegant space. The wine fridges filled with Estate wines are the icing on the cake.
Dining at Restaurant Interlude
Restaurant Interlude draws diners far and wide to its doors, with Chef Jean Delport using the local surroundings to put on quite the show. Beneath high ceilings and chandeliers, surrounded by dramatic wallpaper and towering antique sideboards, tables orientate out to the grounds and woodlands beyond. Much of the produce on our plates; sometimes even the plates themselves, come directly from the gardens or nearby farmlands. We eat off (well-trimmed) tree logs and tree stumps, along with courses served on cut crystal and Fine China. We tuck into morsels nestled in (well-cleaned) mossy foliage, and even uncover treats hidden in a tree branch.
A sweet surprise
Diners who are not staying on site receive two house made South African rusks for the next day – thankfully we receive them in our morning breakfast hamper. Crunchy, with a hint of sweetness, they’re a taste of South African that I’d have bought by the basketful for the rest of our travels.
Explore the grounds
Guests have unlimited access to the grounds, so you can start your day with a wander through the deer park or pop down with your breakfast picnic hamper to a lake. If you’re staying inside the house, there’s Afternoon Tea, prepared by Chef Delport’s team, and a well-stocked bar for a pre-dinner tipple or two.
The gardens are your playground when you’re staying on-site. Make the most of early access without the crowds. See as many sculptures scattered throughout the grounds as you can – the site is an outdoor exhibition for many prolific artists.
Breakfast comes in a well-stocked picnic basket to your door around 9am. There’s no knock so late risers won’t be disturbed, but grab the basket while it’s hot and head outside to the terrace. Pastry flakes aren’t an issue outside, and you’ll want to enjoy every mouthful of freshly baked croissants, house made butter, cured meat, potted salmon and local jam and honey. Stay inside, and your bed will be full of pastry at the first bite.
It’s also worth mentioning the house has six electric car chargers on site. They’re right out front, quick and easy to access for an overnight charge. Electric cars are common at UK car hire companies, but many properties don’t yet have the facilities to match.
All eyes on dinner
With 18-course degustation dining at dinner, it’s no surprise the kitchen isn’t offering full English breakfasts. I’m still full, so the continental-packed picnic hamper is substantial enough for me.
Dinner starts in the well-stocked bar, where the mixologists are at the ready to whet your appetite with a tipple or two. However, if you’re after a digestif or night cap, it will need to be at the dinner table. The bar closes early and there’s only sparkling water and a Nespresso machine in your room.
Where do I find it?
Leonardslee House is roughly 80km south east of Heathrow Airport. Horsham is the closest town, just a 15 minute drive away.