By day, Billy’s on the Road near Billingshurst is a welcoming roadside diner in Sussex that serves delicious breakfasts, brunches and lunches to friends, families and fortunate passers-by.
There’s a great love of cooking and ingredients that is constantly bubbling away, which helps them to create tasty dishes for their daily menus. It also, however, means they can give many local restaurants a run for their money, should they choose to do so.
Inspired by her trips to Tuscany to pick olives at a friend's farmhouse every October, Billy’s on the Road owner Vicky Willison (aka Billy) recently transformed the destination diner for her first supper club night, a Taste of Italy themed extravaganza.
“The Italy trip is one of the highlights of my year,” explained Billy in the build up to the event.
“The woods are full of truffles, herbs and also Cinghiale, the elusive wild boar that visits only at night snuffling through the groves. It is not just a love of the peppery extra virgin olive oil we make there that keeps my wheels turning through the year, it is also more widely a cook’s Mecca and a foodie’s paradise, and one of the most important places to me in the world.
“The use of a Tuscan farmhouse kitchen full of brightly painted crockery, the local artisan pasta factory, the weekly markets overflowing with fruit, veggies, cheeses, cured meats and delicacies all make me just want to cook. Manuela, a local Italian mama from Pomaia, a little village in Toscana, is my guru and has taught me many of her family recipes, including the Melanzane on our supper club menu.”
From Billingshurst to Bolgheri
On the night, the diner is transformed with atmospheric lighting, Italian flags and intimate table settings that encourage plenty of neighbourly chat as the evening unfurls.
Supported by fellow Local Food Britain members, WeFiFo, the supper club is a complete sell out and we discover that many of the guests are already regulars who can’t wait to taste what’s in store.
In the kitchen, Billy and her team create a menu packed full of first-class ingredients and cooked with pride and love. These are then served to us and our fellow diners family-style by candle light.
To start, the table is laden with shared crostini topped with sweet vine tomatoes and basil; mushrooms with cream and white truffle oil; griddled red peppers with courgette and garlic; and anchovies with onion, parsley and olive oil.
Dishes are passed guest-to-guest around each table, and everyone has their own favourite, with the fresh flavours of each ingredient really allowed to sing.
Roasted lemon and rosemary pork loin wrapped in pancetta is the main act of the evening, served with sides of Melanzane parmigiana (sooo good!), Pesto rigatoni and Bambino, a rocket salad. It’s hearty and delicious eating, and the food is accompanied by an equally enjoyable glass of Italian red.
To finish, a delightful chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo proves to be a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable occasion. This is followed by a swift espresso and cantuccini, of course, and by this point we’ve all been transported from Billingshurst to Bolgheri.
Throughout the evening, Billy’s passion for cooking and knowledge of quality ingredients shines through, and it’s impossible to miss the chorus of “so when’s the next one, then?!” enquiries. No pressure, Billy, no pressure...
As we make our way into the night, guests are presented with a small bottle of limoncello, homemade by Billy herself just days before. It’s a small taste of our ‘holiday at home’ to take away. It’s just another of those lovely little touches that makes Billy’s on the Road such a special place for travellers and regulars alike.