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Ned Burrell at the Wilding Kitchen, Knepp (©AAH/Alan Wright)

The Knepp Estate is home to a 3,500-acre rewilding project that has provided a sanctuary for endangered species including the turtle dove and purple emperor butterfly. In the summer, a Wilding Kitchen & Shop opened at the heart of the estate, offering sustainably sourced meat from Knepp’s own Wild Range and fresh produce from the market garden. AAH visited and met chef/director Ned Burrell, chef Bradley Adams and designer/shop manager Lia Brazier to find out more…


When was this idea first mooted? 

 Ned: My parents Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree have been talking about it for at least 15 years. The rewilding project has taken over vast tracts of unproductive farmland on the estate and with beef, pork and venison being by-products of our conservation efforts, opening a restaurant was a natural progression. It also helps us tell the full story of the estate, from pasture to plate. Visitors can embark on a Safari and see free-roaming deer, longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and Exmoor ponies. Now, they can also enjoy produce from the estate, prepared at our on-site butchery and market garden.

Who runs the restaurant?

Ned: I was very passionate about leading the project, but we all agreed that it would be beneficial for me to first gain experience of the hospitality industry. I attended a culinary school in Ireland, then spent two years working in various restaurants including the Smoking Goat in Shoreditch, Kol – a Mexican restaurant in Marylebone – and St. John, a nose-to-tail London restaurant which focuses on British cuisine. I moved back to the estate to oversee the final stages of the café and restaurant project, which has taken three years to complete.

 Who is helping you in the kitchen?

Ned: As I don’t yet have the knowledge to lead the kitchen alone, I am working alongside Bradley Adams, a chef with 16 years’ experience who has previously worked at Chalk Restaurant in Wiston. We lead the kitchen and curate the Wilding Kitchen menu together.  

The restaurant is set within a beautiful barn. Tell us about the building…

Ned: This part of the estate was once used by tenant farmers and the barn is about 300 years old. At various times in its history, it has been used as a stable and threshing barn, but it had become derelict to the point that the roof was crumbling. Building a new barn wasn’t an option, as that would have had a heavy environmental impact. So, we committed to saving the barn, which required a colossal effort. We employed a carpenter who specialises in mediaeval joinery and he maintained the original timbers, using like-for-like wood to secure the structure and make it fit for modern purpose. We are delighted, as we have maintained the charm of a traditional Sussex barn.

When did you open?

Brad: We hoped to launch in June but were delayed by a couple of months, which proved to be a blessing in disguise. At times, we came close to re-enacting some of the dramatic scenes in The Bear, an Amazon Prime series that is the most realistic depiction of a restaurant opening I’ve ever seen! Our front of house manager quit for personal reasons shortly before we opened and then someone drilled a hole through the water pipe!  Despite these setbacks, when we finally opened, we were inundated with visitors. Knepp attracts thousands of walkers every year and we launched at the height of summer. We really did jump in at the deep end, but now things have settled down. 

 Visitors can choose between two experiences at Wilding Kitchen…

Ned: The café is open throughout the week with a menu ranging from small dishes such as sausage rolls and salt beef bagels, to larger plates including a 6oz English longhorn beefburger and pappardelle pasta. We also have a selection of seasonal sharing platters. The restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday and occupies a smaller space, with 45 covers. Its menu is tailored towards sharing, with dishes served when ready. 

How would you describe the food?

Ned: Our aim is to tell the story of the estate, with a nose-to-tail ethos that utilises every part of the animal, so you have dishes such as bone marrow brulée with wild garlic capers. One of our signature dishes is the tomahawk steak, a 1.2kg cut with a large section of rib bone intact. It is dry-aged for up for 105 days and cooked over charcoal, so it packs intense flavour. There is a misconception that we’re a meat-focused restaurant because the estate naturally produces beef, venison and pork, but about half of the dishes are meat-free.

Are vegetables sourced from the estate too?

Ned: We have a market garden close to the restaurant and the menu showcases the fruit and vegetables grown there. It is run by Signe Jensen and Rosanna Caterall, who came to Knepp a couple of years ago having previously run a garden in Copenhagen, Denmark. They have transformed a disused paddock into a remarkable three-acre garden, using regenerative organic processes to grow an incredibly diverse range of vegetables. It has taken the pressure off us in terms of sourcing produce that meets our ethos of sustainability and regenerative farming, as we can instead rely on vegetables grown right here at Knepp. 

 Where else do you source produce from?

Brad: We do not restrict our list of suppliers solely to the local area, as we want to encourage people across the UK to adopt sustainable, organic farming methods. For example, we support the Sussex Bay project, which helps to protect marine environments of the south coast. So, we buy fish directly from a Worthing-based boat. However, this means we need to be flexible with the menu, as there’s no guarantee as to what they will catch. It is the same with the market garden, as we sometimes need to create a dish that makes use of a vegetable while it is fresh. It’s exciting, as rather than the kitchen becoming stagnant by using the same ingredients all the time, we are constantly coming up with new ideas.

You also have a shop…

Ned: The Wilding Shop sells frozen produce from our Wild Range, including organic English longhorn beef, organic red and fallow venison and organic Tamworth pork, as well as vegetables from the market garden. Finding local suppliers that match our own sustainability credentials isn’t easy, so we couldn’t create a fully-fledged farm shop. Instead, we focus on gifts, working in partnership with other organisations and charities on certain products. 

You sell some produce from other suppliers too…

Lia: We are happy to sell produce from those that share our ethos and are making a positive difference, such as Cocoa Loco, which is based on the estate. Everything is sourced carefully and while not everything is certified organic, it is all produce that discerning buyers can trust and we hope this approach encourages more local producers to adopt sustainable practices.  

What charities do you work with?

Lia: One of the most remarkable is Fine Cell Work, a UK-based rehabilitation charity and social enterprise that works with those in the prison system. Prisoners are taught needlework skills and create a range of handicrafts. They can then either save the money they earn or send it to their families. Fine Cell Work has produced a range of organic fabric cushions based on my own original designs, inspired by the rewilding project at Knepp. They feature some of the animals that have become synonymous with the estate, including turtle doves, storks and beavers. What is extraordinary is how individual each cushion is, as close inspection reveals different levels of detail. We have also collaborated with Bill Almberg Studio, interior leatherwork specialists in London. They make chairs, stools and log baskets using animal hides from the longhorn cattle on Knepp, bringing an animal’s journey full circle and celebrating its life. Our children’s building blocks are made by Horsham Men in Sheds from trees felled to combat ash dieback disease. We also have signed copies of books written by Isabella and Charlie, as well as books and guides recommended by the Knepp team, which also make great gifts for Christmas!

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 WORDS: Ben Morris PHOTOS: Alan Wright

This article was published on 1st December 2023.