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Restaurant review: Thackeray's, Tunbridge Wells

PUBLISHED: 09:53 07 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:53 07 August 2018

Thackeray's, Tunbridge Wells (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Thackeray's, Tunbridge Wells (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

On Tunbridge Wells' grassy common, close to the town centre, the fairy tale cottage that is Thackeray's offers the warmest of welcomes and surprisingly affordable dining

My Blonde Mate was born in Tunbridge Wells and has lived in the area all her life, yet had never once crossed the threshold of the town’s oldest building, the iconic Thackeray’s on the common.

Until we put that to rights one sunny Friday lunchtime, quashed all her doubts (“looks too dark and dingy”, “not for me”, “probably far too expensive”) and now I don’t think you’ll be able to keep her

out of the place. Thackeray’s is, of course, none of those things.

The main ground-floor restaurant (photo: Manu Palomeque)The main ground-floor restaurant (photo: Manu Palomeque)

It was extra-special for me too, as I have had the pleasure of reviewing the restaurant many times over the years but never in daylight and on this occasion we were eating on the terrace.

Go through the main building, down some steps and there is this tranquil, understated space – just a stone’s throw from the bustling town centre but more or less invisible to passers-by, unless they stop to read the menu outside and peer through a discreet side gate.

And stop and read that menu you should. Looking over the shoulder of another couple as I made my way to the front entrance, I was amused to hear them exclaim at the prices and then rush ahead to see if they could make an immediate booking. Yes, the daily lunch menu really does start at £18.

Cornish crab tartlet (photo: Manu Palomeque)Cornish crab tartlet (photo: Manu Palomeque)

So, lolling on comfy seating in bright sunshine, a glass of Mosaic Brut in hand from Fox & Fox in nearby Mayfield, the shattering of illusions began.

Head chef Pat Hill came out to chat and bring us olives, director and front of house supremo Gary Beach took our order at the table and recommended our wine choices (who better – said list is his creation) and once we’d finished admiring Gary’s very natty checked suit, we got to work.

After eating all the bread we’d vowed not to (impossible to resist that Rosemary or the sesame or the walnut and sultana) and the equally irresistible amuse bouche (salty ham hock offset brilliantly by the sweetness of apple purée, a more-ish truffle and goat’s cheese parfait), lunch proper began.

Chocolate, strawberry and elderflower (photo: Manu Palomeque)Chocolate, strawberry and elderflower (photo: Manu Palomeque)

My choice of starter was described as a Cornish crab tartlet but was nothing so mundane. Instead super-fresh white crab and brown crab mousse nestled with avocado and charred gem lettuce with a (possibly ironic) Coronation dressing. Summer on a plate.

MBM was not quite as thrilled with her vegetarian choice. What began as Bocconcini (egg-sized mozzarella) with Heritage tomatoes was, she felt, not really enhanced by the addition of a lot of spicy tomato and red pepper veloute, which turned it into a rather confused if tasty soup.

Gary’s suggested wines of a Pinot Blanc for me and a honied Chardonnay from the Clos de Gat Winery in the Judean Hills for MBM, however, totally hit the spot.

Patrick Hill (photo: Manu Palomeque)Patrick Hill (photo: Manu Palomeque)

As did the reds he chose for our mains. I opted for the monkfish tail poached in a red wine fish sauce – which was gorgeously meaty enough to fully warrant a Pinot Noir red burgundy companion. Pony-tailed waiter Alex recommended our excellent accompaniments of creamed leeks and blue cheese (a first for me – yes, he was amazed too) and Groombridge asparagus.

On the other side of the table MBM’s dry aged fillet of beef met with full approval (“lush” was heard) but this was no ordinary beef: crisp brisket and spiced sweetbreads were made even more wonderful with the addition of young beetroots, green olives and an intense red wine jus.

We needed a rest, a very long rest before dessert, and they did not disappoint. My chocolate, strawberry and elderflower was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen on a plate, cut with precision, delivering on every front.

I’d declined a dessert wine but somehow found myself succumbing to Alex’s suggestion of a glass of deliciously decadent Spanish Rubis … well, it is the ‘chocolate wine,’ so rude not to.

MBM’s Kentish apple delice again delighted, particularly its less than conventional elements of blackberries, tonka bean flapjack and green apple sorbet. A chilled glass of Sauternes completed her happiness.

This is superb cooking by Pat Hill and his very young team, and to deliver this quality at the prices shown below is extraordinary.

All but two of our choices (the tomato and red pepper veloute and the apple delice) also feature on the evening menu, so there is no suggestion of any difference in experience at very different times of day. Just price points.

Inside, the dining room is beautiful (“not dark and dingy at all!” exclaimed MBM as we were show round), and the upstairs private rooms ooze character and showcase all the 300-year-old building’s quirky charms.

But it’s high summer, dear readers, so get yourselves there for lunch in the sunshine in your own private oasis. It’s not exclusive, stuffy or formal at all – service is relaxed, friendly and knowledgeable and if you want to add to the fun, ask to see the staff’s socks (daily competitions are held among them for the wackiest).

The essentials

What: Elegant, award-winning, town restaurant

Where: Thackeray’s, 85 London Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1EA

01892 511921 or reservations@thackerays-restaurant.co.uk, www.thackerays-restaurant.co.uk

When: 12-2.30pm, Tue-Sat and 6.30-10.30pm

How much: Set lunch, two courses £18; three courses £20; three-course dinner £55, chef’s tasting menu £78, weekday market menu two courses £25, three courses £30

Events: Live acoustic music on the terrace 12 and 26 August 2018

Meet the chef

Patrick Hill

Tell us a bit about you

Born and bred in Kent, I started my career washing pots at my local pub at the age of 15. Three years later I went on to study at Westminster Catering College while working at Thackeray’s, joining as a commis in 2010 under head chef Chris Bower. After a year I went to sister restaurant The Hengist as senior chef de partie. After six months I was promoted to chef de tornant of the group, roaming around all four sites at the time. I returned to Thackeray’s in 2011 and was made sous chef the following spring, when I was part of the team that won the Michelin star that autumn. Working under Daniel Hatton for another two years, I left in 2014 and landed my first head chef role later that year. I returned to Thackerays in January 2017 to head up the kitchen.

Your key suppliers?

Sankeys Fishmongers, Tunbridge Wells, Birchden Farm Asparagus, Groombridge, The Butchery, Rusthall, David Catt, Maidstone, Canel Game, Cranbrook and many more.

Current favourite dish on the menu?

Our lamb dish, which combines old and new techniques of cooking, with a suet lamb shoulder pudding, steamed (just the way my nan used to) and a sous vide lamb cannon.

Top cookery tip for our readers?

Planning and organisation. Everyone can cook, it’s just how to manage everything at once and cook it all so it’s ready at the right time.

Who would you like to cook for?

All my grandparents! Thankfully one is still with us and she has eaten at Thackerays, which was amazing. I would have loved to cook for them all at work, as they were all very influential with the different dishes they cooked. Whether it was my Nanny Doreen’s sausage pie, my Nanny Chris’ lemon drizzle or my Grandad Ron’s BBQ’s

(no matter the weather!)

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