Further from the main fishing towns and villages, but closer to London, there’s something noticeably different about the restaurants in West Kent compared to what lies east. From cosy country pub-restaurants to sustainable seafood joints, here are ten of the best places to eat in West Kent right now.
Chef-patron Graham Garrett is a veteran of the restaurant game, having cut his teeth in London alongside the likes of Richard Corrigan in his former years. In 2002, he set up his own establishment in the idyllic Biddenden – the vineyards and country lanes of which a far cry from his London roots. Thank goodness he has – The West House, with its small cover dining room and quaint 15th century weaver’s cottage, is unlike anything his London compatriots are doing. Just one of the many reasons why it’s one of few Michelin starred restaurants in Kent.
Food and wine is one of the best pairings known to man. Makes sense, then, to build a restaurant around one of the most decorated and widely known wineries in the country. Plus, as you might expect, the Chapel Down vineyards occupy a particularly pretty part of rural Kent – views of which the restaurant is in no short supply of.
A pub-cum-restaurant by nature, The Plough is ostensibly the model British boozer, with its inglenook fireplace, good balance of local ales and more widely known beers, slightly worn leather furniture, and obligatory pub cat. But, thanks to its onsite garden farm, network of local suppliers, and frequently changing menu, it’s so much more than that.
The Bull has quietly gained steam in recent times as not-your-average-hotel. Maybe that’s because it’s home to one of the few (if any) bona fide smokehouses in Kent. Nicknamed ‘The Bull Pit’, expect the likes of 10-hour alder wood smoked pork, slow smoked beef rib, and smoked duck burger. Better still, The Bull is one of the few restaurants in the area to source some of London’s top beers, like Beavertown and The Kernel. (Note: The smokehouse menu is available in hotel bar; a British a la carte menu is available in the restaurant).
You might not know it, but Chapter One’s a big hitter as far as the country’s restaurants go – never mind Kent. Until recently it held a Michelin star for several years, has good standing in the Good Food Guide, and was this year named in the OpenTable Diner’s Choice Awards. Not many restaurants in Kent possess such a trophy cabinet.
The Kentish Hare has only been running a couple of years. Still, it hardly feels like the new kid on the block any more – celebrity chefs Chris and James Tanner have seamlessly bought accessible British and European cuisine to a part of Kent otherwise lacking in decent places to eat out. Long may they continue.
What Apicius lacks in gorgeous décor, it makes up for in gorgeous food. The menu is a nod to the restaurant’s namesake (a collection of Roman recipes dating back to the 4th or 5th century) but with a little Anglo twist here and there. It’s the kind of place you go to for imaginative, and affordable, food that’s not too overworked.
There are few restaurants in the area in which you can expect to pay upwards of £80 for a meal for two. At least at The Poet, you’ll be glad you did. From its quail breast to its wild mushroom tart, this would be British cuisine through and through if it wasn’t for the odd twist of tataki, eryngii mushroom, or chorizo. Fear not – provenance is strong here, as most ingredients (meat from Chart Farm, fish from Sankey’s) are as traceable as you like.
Sure, The Artisan is effectively a training ground for West Kent College catering students, but don’t let that put you off. Despite extensive searching, this place offers some of the best cooking in or around Tonbridge, and for a good price too. The menu lacks focus in a particular cuisine, and staff may forget to offer to hang your coat, but just put that down to part and parcel of the students’ learning experience.
Owning a fishmonger comes with many perks, and if you’re someone like the people behind Sankey’s, you’re not about to let the opportunity pass. Because, instead of supplying restaurants, why not start your own? In truth, the Seafood Brasserie is just one jewel in the Sankey’s crown – with a public house and the ‘old fishmarket’ also in the fray, you could say Sankey’s have a monopoly on sustainable seafood restaurants in sunny Tunny.
Have we missed your favourite dining destination? Let us know in the comments.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.