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Restaurant review: The Powell, Birchington

PUBLISHED: 12:53 12 March 2019

The welcoming bar (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The welcoming bar (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Brought to life by a family team with strong local connections, The Powell is back where it belongs in the heart of its community

Walking into the front bar at The Powell in Birchington on a chilly Friday evening, the buzz of happy chatter envelops me and I start to feel immediately relaxed and at home.

Greeted warmly by co-owner Clare Darby’s daughter Scarlet, who is the overall manager, I’m shown up steep wooden steps from the bar to my cosy room on the first floor. It’s one of six individually designed bedrooms that were opened last October and all bear the hallmark of Clare’s exquisite eye for detail.

The Powell, restored and resplendent on The Square in Birchington (photo: Manu Palomeque)The Powell, restored and resplendent on The Square in Birchington (photo: Manu Palomeque)

I’m in the Queen Elizabeth, named after Scarlet’s gran rather than our monarch, and charming it is too in shades of taupe and grey, elegant furniture including a pretty four-poster, plus a feature fireplace, beams and a neat little shower room.

Back downstairs and I’m soon chatting to restaurant manager Sarah about which cocktail I should try. ‘Bathtub’ G&T in hand, I catch up with owners Clare and Robin and hear the fascinating story behind the renovation of this handsome pub on the village square, right next to All Saints Church.

Very bravely, after buying sight unseen at auction five years ago what was then an extremely run-down building, the couple shut the doors for two and a half years and set about a total refurbishment and transformation of the then-unloved 17th-century building.

The Orangery Restaurant was fornerly an 18th-century coachhouse (photo: Manu Palomeque)The Orangery Restaurant was fornerly an 18th-century coachhouse (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Despite being told they were ‘quite mad’ closing for so long Robin, who is in the reclamation business, took the lead while Clare (who grew up in a pub) was in charge of the finishing touches. They make a great team.

“We wanted everything perfect before we opened – and it was,” says Robin, adding how well the new Powell has been received, with a growing clientele of locals and those from further afield.

But there were also other incentives, as Robin explains. “My dad worked for the Powell-Cottons and my first job was as a farm hand at Quex Park [which houses The Powell-Cotton Museum]. The pub is named after after Squire John Powell Powell of Quex, who was High Sheriff of Kent in 1822, so there was a real family connection for me.”

Queen Elizabeth is one of six stylish bedrooms (photo: Manu Palomeque)Queen Elizabeth is one of six stylish bedrooms (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The family feel extends to the (largely female) team, who are a delight; friendly, chatty and effortlessly efficient as they glide between the bar and eating areas.

There are diners tucking into fish and chips in The Snug, but I’m in The Orangery restaurant (the former coachhouse), which is a step down from the bar through a splendid arch. With its wooden floor, brick walls and reclaimed brickwork plus dramatic chandeliers hanging from the beams, it’s a fine setting for a simple menu of home-made classics, where the emphasis is on quality local, seasonal produce.

My home-made fishcake sets the standard: a substantial tower of piping hot, tasty fresh fish, it’s decorated with peashoots and accompanied by a lovely pear purée, with an extra kick from salsa and a lemon aioli. I have a glass of Chapel Down Bacchus to accompany, and a lovely chat with my waitress Natasha.

Callum Cory (photo: Manu Palomeque)Callum Cory (photo: Manu Palomeque)

To follow, I keep it simple and opt for one of local butcher Hogman’s acclaimed steaks with a peppercorn sauce. It’s juicy, flavoursome and cooked just as ordered, with chunky chips, roasted cherry vine tomatoes and garlicky mushrooms. Sometimes don’t you just want a satisfying plate of steak and chips? A plummy Australian Curious Shiraz with touches of oak and spice accompanies brilliantly.

After a well-judged pause, I top off my Friday night with a chocoholic’s dream chocolate fondant positively swimming in chocolate sauce, with vanilla bean ice cream and a pistachio crumb. Very yummy indeed.

Ready for bed, I climbed the wooden stairs to my very welcoming four-poster and was out like a light. Breakfast the following morning was served in The Snug, where a cuckoo clock above the fireplace demonstrated loudly that it was in full working order (another of Clare’s quirky touches) and a wood-burning stove added warmth and cheer to a grey monrning.

Chef Callum came out for a chat as I was pondering which of his tasty dishes to try and diffidently mentioned that ‘people seemed to like my scrambled eggs.’ They’re not wrong. With the addition of basil oil and roasted cherry vine tomatoes, this is now a new favourite way to start my day.

The Powell is a great local pub, a true asset to Birchington and one that honours its Kent credentials with style and sympathy and where the family owners and their staff make guests feel utterly at home.

I’ll be back!

The essentials

What: Stylish pub with restaurant and boutique rooms

Where: The Powell Bar & Restaurant, 11 The Square, Birchington CT7 9AF, 01843 842777, www.thepowellbirchington.co.uk

When: Bar open Tue-Sun 11am-11pm, food served Tue-Sat 120m-3pm and 6pm-9.30pm

How much: fishcake £6.95, braised shoulder of lamb £14.95, steaks £16.95-£21.95, desserts £5.95-£6.50

Meet the chef: Callum Cory

Tell us a bit about you

I started at The Brasserie on the Bay at Prince’s Golf Club in Sandwich as a kitchen porter. Head chef Michael Fowler saw my interest in cooking and gave me the chance to become his trainee chef. I completed all my in-house training with HIT Training Academy. We relocated to several places, but after a few years went our separate ways and I moved to Cornwall to gain more experience. Missing home, I saw a position at The Powell for head chef and have been in the role now for 18 months. I love the freedom I’m given to express my ideas and put them to plate.

Your principal local suppliers?

We use Hogman’s Butchers, a local family business just like ourselves. Their steaks and roasting joints are the best!

Your favourite dish on the menu?

The braised shoulder of lamb with pomme purée, honey glazed heritage baby carrots, sautéed curly kale and minted lamb jus. I love how many techniques are used in the preparation, the colours and flavours.

Who has influenced you most?

My current bosses Robin and Clare. Before I came here, I was planning a new direction in my career, but they believed in me and pushed me to achieve where I am today.

Your must-have kitchen gadget?

Our Rational self-cooking centre. I use a lot of features on this oven, including steaming veg, overnight cooking to make our meats succulent and braising for my favourite dish!

What did you have for breakfast?

A famous double sausage and egg muffin with a hash brown and a flat white is the right way to start my day!

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