Hotel review: The Bull at Wrotham
09:48 08 November 2016
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
The Bull at Wrotham is no mere roadside inn; it’s now a destination country hotel with a great menu matched by fine wines. Words by: Sarah Sturt. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque
I last visited The Bull at Wrotham back in 2011 so was keen to see the changes that had taken place at what had formerly been a rather run-down, traditional old coaching inn.
Now two foodie destinations under one 600-year-old roof, with an authentic smokehouse and a fine dining, two-rosette à la carte restaurant, plus 11 very swish, beautifully restored en-suite bedrooms, it has really upped its game.
It has also attracted a very high-calibre executive chef, Adam Turley, who grew up in Sevenoaks and is delighted to be back on home turf after being trained by Michel and Albert Roux and gaining experience at such exalted places as The Waterside Inn in Bray.
The same Spitfire pictures I remember decorate the rustic dining room, but now restoration has uncovered original beams and wonderful oak floors. Cheery red cushions on pine seats and red and cream Roman blinds match the half-panelled walls and there’s a comfortable lounge area furnished with handsome tapestry covered armchairs.
Ever-ambitious owner Martin Deadman can take the credit for driving through all the changes, but it’s Adam Turley’s cooking that has taken The Bull to new heights. And it is, quite frankly, astonishingly good.
We were there for the launch of the new evening menu, which promises ‘a true feast for all the senses’ and actually lives up to the claim – although at first sight the minimal descriptions (‘Egg’, ‘Pollock’, ‘Pea’, ‘Beef’, ‘Pork’ et al) is a brave move. Until I remember such an approach is favoured by Graham Garrett at Michelin-starred The West House, and he’s notched up a fair few awards in his time …
But before we get to our menu choices we are treated to delicious warm sough dough bread (with a choice of butter from a wooden paddle or beef dripping in a little pot, which delights my northern dining companion) and piping hot whitebait with porcini mayonnaise, where the saltiness of the little fish contrasts beautifully with the creamy mushroom dip.
So, on to ‘Egg’ for my dining chum, which turns out to be a long way from breakfast fare. A devilled duck egg with beetroot and leek sits on the most delicious hay-baked ham shot through with mustard – on a plate beneath which hay has been set alight! For sheer ‘wow’ factor it’s brilliant, and the smoky flavours really do enhance the meat and showcase The Bull’s smokehouse skills. A light, dry Spanish Bodegas Bernabe Navarro coped admirably.
My ‘Pea’ was simply exquisite – a vibrant, lemony fresh pea risotto with mozzarella and almond, garnished with edible nasturtiums and perfectly paired with a glass of fragrant Domaine Henri Bourgeois Sancerre.
To follow, MDC continued on a smoky route with his choice of ‘Beef’ – beautifully tender, flavour-packed smoked brisket and barbecued sirloin you could literally cut with a butter knife. Draped with artichoke and truffles, it was delicious with the grilled purple sprouting broccoli with almonds and smoked mash that accompanies all mains.
Another red, this time a big Californian Cocobon, was spot on for this dish – if you can, get wine buff Martin to recommend what you drink. A true expert, his interest started when he was just 20, has developed over the years and he pairs food and wine brilliantly from the extensive list he has compiled.
My main was the most delicious south coast plaice in a traditional nage (broth) topped with one of my favourite vegetables, battered artichoke, plus sea-fresh samphire – and a glass of Spanish white Grenache.
When it came to desserts, I felt I’d been rather restrained so far and had ‘earned’ a PBJ – a chocolate-covered slab of peanut butter loveliness with jelly and crumble (interestingly, Martin suggested a glass of Sherry, a Pedro Ximenez to accompany, which really did cut through the sweetness).
Northern lad of course went for lardy cake, which looked unmanageably chunky but turned out to be wonderfully light and teamed with a distinctly ‘southern’ accompaniment of ice cream flavoured with The Bull’s own home-grown lavender. A glass of honey-rich Tokaji was a masterstroke.
While from the road this might seem an unremarkable roadside inn with plenty of parking, but no real garden, and a Buttery (haven’t heard that name for decades) used for private functions. Inside it’s warmly welcoming and the food is a proper treat.
Meet the chef
Adam Turley, executive chef
Tell us a bit about you
I grew up in Sevenoaks and developed my passion for food watching the chefs and my mother running around the kitchens of our pubs. I started working at the age of 15 in a local hotel as kitchen porter. I must admit I wasn’t the best student at school as I already knew my career path. I did a three-year course at Westminster College and also worked at a local pub and helped my mum out in her pub. After college I started working at Wentworth Golf Club under executive chef Mark Flanagan, followed by three years with Thierry Billot and six months in a private hotel in Sloane Street.
After that I went to The Waterside Inn in Bray for just under two years (the best years of my career), then became sous chef in a new restaurant in Ascot called Bluebells. After a year I was promoted to head chef and stayed on for a further 10 years. I started working at The Bull Hotel in June 2016 and really enjoy the range of food we offer, it’s a huge challenge every day but that’s what keeps me interested!
Your principal local suppliers?
Chapmans of Sevenoaks for fish, Chart Farm for pork, beef, venison and poultry and
Woods Farm for our eggs.
What’s your signature dish?
It’s not really my signature dish as it’s been around for decades, but I most enjoy making Beef Wellington. The complexity of each layer must be perfect, and you really never know how good it is until you make the first cut. To this day it still makes me nervous, and I’ve made hundreds! I love a challenge.
Who has influenced you most?
My parents, they were in the pub industry for many years, always successful and leading from the front line. My mother was the cook, my father the barman. I’ve never met such hard workers and great leaders.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
Our Thermomix, there is nothing quite like it!
Who would you love to cook for?
To have been able to cook for Paul Bocuse would have been a great honour, but I have been lucky to have already cooked for and with my childhood food heroes Michel and Albert Roux and Pierre Koffman.
Breakfast this morning?
Overnight oats. A mix of yoghurt, raspberries and oats made the night before. Yum
What: Fine dining in a 600-year-old coaching inn
Where: The Bull Hotel, Bull Lane, Wrotham TN15 7RF
01732 789800 or email@example.com
When: Mon-Fri 7am-9am, 12pm-2.30pm, 6pm-9pm; Sat and Sun, 8am-10am (including Bank Holidays, for breakfast); Sat 12pm-9pm; Sun 12pm-8pm
How much: evening menu two courses £30, three courses £38, including bread, nibbles and refresher