Eat, Drink And Relax At The Wheatsheaf
by Sara Whatley
Bringing a Brazilian flair to the Sussex countryside, Sara Whatley discovers the big flavours and personalities at the Wheatsheaf
This October Brazilian born Nilton Campos will have been at the helm of The Wheatsheaf in Henfield for two years, and they will be celebrating in true Brazilian style. “We are having a huge party on the 13th October,” Nilton tells me as I stop by for a chat and some food. The London School of Samba band will be providing the rhythms and Brazilian dancing girls in all their finery will really get the party going! And of course there will be lots of fabulous food; “Traditional Brazilian dishes, street food and Caipirinha cocktails with caninha all the way from my home town in Brazil,” Nilton says. They had a similar party last year and Nilton and Karen Gold, the manager, tell me it was by far the best night of the year.
Trained as a chef in New York in the late 80’s, Nilton has worked in London, Sao Paulo and New York City and been part of revolutionary food movements. “Peter Gordon is the father of fusion food,” Nilton tells me, “and I worked with him at the Sugar Cube in London in the 90’s.” That style of cooking has clearly been a huge influence on Nilton and is reflected in the menu of The Wheatsheaf today.
A refreshing mix of classic pub food and traditional Brazilian dishes, my husband and I are tempted to try something a bit different. Karen recommends we start with the sharing platter of street food classics – kibbe (beef) empanadas, chicken coxinhas and cheese balls with a spicy tomato dip. The empanadas and coxinhas are bitesize morsels with a crisp crumb coating – the kibbe dark and almost smoky with a herby meat centre and the chicken lighter with a creamy filling, the chicken shredded so finely it’s almost a mousse. The cheese balls and spicy tomato salsa are a match made in heaven and tick all the pleasure boxes: soft, doughy, cheesey, salty, delicious.
For mains I have a beautifully vibrant Brazilian fish stew, Moqueca, with a generous chunk of soft and flaky stone bass, which just falls off the bone, and plump tiger prawns in a rich, creamy coconut, palm oil, chilli and coriander sauce. It’s gently spiced, not blow your socks off, and served in a chunky black bowl it is a hearty dish of feel good comfort food.
My husband enjoyed the Brazilian lamb xinxim with caruru. Another vibrant dish, the cuts of lamb breast are slow cooked and simply melt in your mouth while the creamy sauce delivers a satisfying mix of nuttiness, warm ginger and a surprising but very delicious flavour of okra. My husband said it was like an alternative to the typical English stew, exploring a different palette but not overpowering or at all inaccessible.
Being aware of environmental issues, I do ask about the palm oil and am reassured it is totally sustainable and complies with EU regulations and is KYC compliant. Nilton and Carlos, his sous chef, are very aware of the ingredients they use and source from local and trusted suppliers.
We manage to find a little room for dessert and opt for a baked white chocolate cheesecake with homemade berry coulis – a perfect balance of rich, creamy not-overly-sweet and bursting berry flavours. And we couldn’t resist the chocolate mousse with salted cream caramel. Each mouthful was a surprise with an initial tang of salty sweetness, then fluffy chocolate mousse with the occasional hit of bitterness as you unearth a chunk of dark chocolate.
Nilton is clearly very passionate about his food, and about life in general. Having opened his own restaurants in London he felt a change of pace was needed and so he headed down to the countryside. “This place was dark, cramped and dated when we first saw it,” he says, but in just a few short weeks it had been turned around into the welcoming, light and friendly establishment you see today. “I thought if I’m going to work that hard I might as well have a decent view!” he laughs. When Nilton isn’t at The Wheatsheaf, sous chef Carlos, who has worked with Nilton for the past nine years, takes control of the kitchen.
Always in support of the community around them, much of their homely and eclectic furniture and decorations come from shops a stone’s throw away or have been donated or gifted by locals and friends. “Our local community is so important to us,” says Karen, “and Nilton and I pride ourselves on being the ‘old school’ pub landlord and landlady. We love chatting with regulars and building relationships.” They even have a new loyalty card for regulars which you register online then receive the benefits and offers.
The relaxed and inclusive atmosphere of the pub make it a very family friendly place to be, which they are celebrating with a Family Day on the 27th October. Children and everyone can enjoy a dog show, face painting, a magician and lunch on the Saturday afternoon of half term.
Make a date in your diary as well for their Halloween and silent firework party on the 3rd November. I’m a little confused about the silent fireworks until Karen explains they have many horse neighbours and are mindful about upsetting them. “It means we can have a great party without scaring the animals!” she smiles. There will also be a DJ, karaoke and prizes for the best fancy dress.
With live music once a month and their busy Christmas season nearly upon them, the team at The Wheatsheaf are thriving. “We know we will be really busy this Christmas,” Nilton tells me, and he is urging everyone to book their tables soon. “We go all out with the Christmas decorations and make it a really special day for everyone.” In addition to this they also recently won the More Radio Award for the best eatery in West Sussex. I can’t imagine a better place to be; delicious food, great company and a wonderful atmosphere.
Address: Wheatsheaf Road, Woodmancote, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9BD
Telephone: 01273 492077