Restaurant review: The West House, Biddenden
PUBLISHED: 13:59 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:59 13 February 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Winner of the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Chef of the Year 2016, dining at the Michelin-starred restaurant of chef patron Graham Garrett is a treat to be savoured
If you bumped into Graham Garrett down the pub you would be forgiven for thinking you were chatting to an ex-rocker, not the Michelin-starred chef he has become.
In one of the industry’s more bizarre twists, after a previous career as a successful rock musician, Graham did indeed defect to cooking, but still carries the down-to-earth, somewhat dishevelled air of the days when he manned the drums for bands like the YA YA and Dumb Blondes.
Music’s loss, but the food world’s gain then – and Kent’s in particular, as for the past 15 years he and Jackie, his ‘partner in life and work’, have turned The West House in Biddenden into a must-visit little piece of gastronomy heaven.
Kent Life and Kent on Sunday’s Chef of the year in our inaugural 2014 Awards, he scooped the title again in 2016 after glowing praise from our category judge who found the whole experience, food and service faultless.
Graham brings an extraordinary pedigree to this simple dining room housed in a 16th-century weaver’s cottage, having worked for both Nico Ladenis and Richard Corrigan and cooked for government and royalty.
His food has gained the restaurant multiple awards and he has held a Michelin star since 2004 and been awarded three AA Rosettes. The West House is featured in Harden’s top restaurants list in the UK, in the 2014 book 1001 Restaurants to Experience Before You Die (Cassell) and all other major guidebooks.
It really is all about the food here, don’t be expecting starched linen and stuffy service. You enter from the street into a comfortable, wood-beamed, farmhouse-style dining room and you’ll get a warm welcome from Jackie and/or son Jake, who between them run the front of house in an intentionally informal, unobtrusive style.
Jake, as relaxed and charming as his dad, looked after us on our visit and I would thoroughly recommend just placing yourself in this family’s hands. For Graham wants to provide a unique culinary experience for diners, listing the elements which go to make his meals in simple and straightforward terms and then asking visitors to trust in what the kitchen can produce with them.
Basically, you just decide whether you like the main ingredients and let chef take care of the rest, call 24 hours in advance if you’re vegetarian or have any other dietary requirements and something will be conjured up for you – and sit back and wait for the culinary magical mystery tour to begin.
The dishes on the ‘Just a taste’ menu go far beyond their simple descriptions, combining classic British elements with modern techniques and ruthlessly fresh and seasonal ingredients. So, for example, after hazelnut and raisin bread with proper dripping (to the delight of my northern dining chum) and a delicious mouthful of Parmesan and custard gougère, we were treated to steamed Maldon rock oyster with a tangy Thai dressing, crispy pork crackling and fried shallots.
There are recommended wines with each course, which makes the experience even more relaxed without that arduous task, so a glass of French Champagne was a superb start.
A taco shell packed with duck liver parfait, braised duck, onion marmalade and cured foie gras was the heady next course, followed by an escabeche of battered fish, cuttlefish and vegetables (matched brilliantly by a Montesierra Chardonnay/Gewurztraminer Blanco, a really refreshing, unusual blend).
That rather under-used fish, hake, followed, simply grilled and served with parmesan gnocchi, a vibrant butternut squash broth and what my notes remind me, were simply ‘the best mushrooms in the world.’
Star turn was the grilled Kentish Sika deer served with the most amazing shallot, quince and chocolate sauce, the hint of sweetness adding a richness that a powerful Bierzo Tinto, Bodegas Pitticum more than matched.
Desserts show an exquisite touch and wonderful eye for presentation – a raspberry sorbet with lemon curd and featherlight meringue, chocolate cremeaux teamed with mascarpone and a Kaffir lime ice cream to cut through the indulgence. The coffee is superb.
Book a table, then a taxi, and treat yourself to one of Kent’s finest dining experiences.
Where: The West House, 28 High Street, Biddenden TN27 8AH
What: Unprentious brilliance in an historic little village restaurant
When: Open lunch 12pm-1.45, dinner 7pm-9.30pm, closed Mon
How much: three-course lunch £25; dinner £45; tasting menu £60 pp, £90 including wine selection