AS YOU gaze across the park toward the sea at Climping, it is easy to wonder at the history of the cluster of medieval buildings ahead of you.
First time visitors may assume that the ancient West Sussex manor house of Bailiffscourt with its chapel and assortment of ancillary buildings have stood rooted there through much of our finest history, mellowing gently for some 600 years or more.
But, as more regular acquaintances will know, the eye can deceive.
Despite appearances, until 1927 Bailiffscourt didn’t exist.
It was designed for Lord Moyne, the Guinness heir, by the antiquarian and architect Amyas Phillips who scoured the country for original stone, windows, fireplaces and woodwork to recreate a fiction for the the delight of Lady Moyne. After the death of Lord and Lady Moyne, in 1948 it underwent its final transformation. It became an hotel.
Of course, while to some the whole enterprise is a giant fake, having stood there now for more than 80 years some would argue that its own history is more fascinating than if it were all that it purported to be.
And what is entirely genuine is the hospitality and the quality of the welcome that this surprising hotel consistently and continually delivers.
I cannot write with total impartiality. Nearly 20 years ago, just as the current owners Historic Sussex Hotels acquired it, I held my wedding reception there. It holds the fondest personal memories. When we returned to review it, that timeless quality that Lord Moyne so exactingly sought, remains true. It was decorated for Christmas with the entrance as perfect as a scene from a festive card. The rooms inside lead from one to another, with only one short stretch of corridor, around a courtyard.
The dining room itself, sits snugly toward the rear. The building may be a fiction but it is surprisingly unpretentious. It’s hallmark is evergreen simplicity - while disguising a host of surprises (including a secret, underground tunnel). The Sunday luncheon menu reflects that theme too. It’s cleverly assembled - mixing the tradition of roasted English sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and honey-glazed parsnip alongside the contemporary and cutting edge such as grilled gurnard fillets with bouillabaisse sauce with garlic saffron mayonnaise and chargrilled ciabatta croute.
For starters, a fabulously simple yet satisfying tomato soup sits on the menu alongside slow cooked nut Knowle Farm goat and baby onion terrrine with celeriac remoulade and toasted walnut and raisin bread.
Whether you are looking for something unusual and unexpected or an offering that is exceptionally traditional, both are provided for.
And in good measure.
The accompanying veg is fresh and crisp and generous in proportion. We had green beans, with roughly chopped carrots - exactingly glazed - with a wonderful cauliflower cheese.
The bread too, was as fresh and light as it comes - with the texture of brioche but none of the sweetness. Desserts included dark chocolate and walnut tart with Grand Marnier Cream - it looked too rich for me, but on tasting was refreshingly light in texture - a brilliant Cranberry souffle, and a selection of farmhouse British cheeses - although the omission of Stilton or something similar was a disappointment.
And what of value? Frankly, you could pay more in any half decent local pub - and for that you would get none of the wonderful surroundings, service, or fantastic quality of cuisine. The three course Sunday lunch was £22.50, with coffee priced £2.95 and petit fours to share at £4.95. Given the venue, service and food that is exceptional value.
To purists, the building may be considered a fake. But to diners and anyone seeking great hospitality, it couldn’t be a more genuine place to visit - just like its sister Sussex hotels of the Spread Eagle at Midhurst and Ockenden Manor at Cuckfield.