Eating out: The Beacon, Rusthall
PUBLISHED: 12:47 30 April 2016 | UPDATED: 17:26 09 May 2016
Set in Happy Valley just outside Tunbridge Wells, the transformed Beacon is today a great place to visit for good food as well as its famous view.
If you haven’t been to The Beacon in Rusthall for a while, you’re in for a big surprise. Taken on by Pete Cornwell and his I’ll Be Mother group around 18 months ago, the pub, once a private house, was built at the time of the Arts and Crafts movement and the interior has been beautifully updated while retaining its original country house charm and character.
Now very much a restaurant rather than the pub it used to be, The Beacon enjoys a lofty perch on a hill just outside Tunbridge Wells and has always been popular for its stunning views across Happy Valley, the delightful name for the 17 acres of land (including three lakes) it owns.
Even though I was there for dinner and it was dark, the twinkling lights of the town below and a peek at the extensive terrace made me immediately vow to return for a long, leisurely al fresco summer lunch.
I parked in the small car park at the front, but My Gym Buddy much more sensibly went to the much bigger one at the back. This meant she got to walk up a pretty flight of wooden steps lit up with strings of bulbs and straight into the long, thin wooden-floored dining room, where the dog-friendly area near the back door has a jar full of dog biscuits and you can see chef at work through a window into the kitchen.
Meanwhile, I was momentarily confused as I’d entered into the floor above the bar (the whole house is a warren of intimate and inviting spaces), but we eventually caught up and, on a chilly spring evening, were very pleased to be seated at a table for two beside the open log fire.
You feel instantly at home here, which is the whole idea: there are shelves crammed with cookery books, the furniture is a mix of comfy sofas and wooden tables and chairs (mine was a fabulous wing chair), the lighting is girl-friendly soft (candles, two contemporary chandeliers) and there are jugs of fresh flowers dotted around and framed botanical prints on the walls.
At our little table we even had a jar of marshmallows and toasting forks, but I’m ashamed to say we ate so well and chatted so late that the fire had died down and our tummies were full so we didn’t avail ourselves of that fun activity.
Maria, our delightful Romanian waitress for the evening, brought us lovely warm, home-made cheese straws to nibble with our glasses of Elderflower bubbly while we studied the short, tempting menu (five starters, four mains and a ‘meats roasted over the charcoal fire’ section).
The food offer is the brainchild of creative director and head chef Scott Goss, formerly of The Swan in West Malling where he worked with Peter Cornwell. The two went on to create restaurant group I’ll Be Mother, which now includes The Beacon, Twenty Six at Southborough (where Scott is head chef)) and The Swan Wine Kitchen at Chapel Down in Tenterden. A fourth restaurant, Woodland Kitchen, is due to open in Penshurst this summer.
My starter of crab with baby leek vinaigrette and watercress was bursting with summery freshness, as was MGB’s earthy potato, rocket and spring pea soup, which had a wonderful fragrance and great depth of colour.
She was less thrilled with her choice of pan-roast salmon with butterbean and chorizo stew, finding the chunky meat overpowered the more delicate fish, as did the tendency to serve everything ‘blackened’ – from the salmon to her hispi cabbage (the pointy green one). A glass of refreshing Vinho Verde was a good recommendation from Maria.
Meanwhile, my charcoal-roasted rump of lamb, which could easily have gone the same way, emerged in succulent, garlicky slices with crushed skin-on potatoes and a Rosemary jus. Purple sprouting broccoli added a welcome splash of green and I rather like burnt food, so the cabbage was fine by me. As was a glass of Pinot Noir – not too heavy with the lamb.
We toyed with three puddings in the end, unable to resist adding Affogato (a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot, strong espresso) to our first choices of blueberry panna cotta and a chocolate brownie with white chocolate mousse and toffee popcorn.
I’m definitely coming back for a puddings-only evening – with added toasted marshmallows – then I can do them all full justice. Yummy.
Guided by Maria, we got to see the downstairs cellar bar, popular for private functions, the Billiards Room and a handsome dining room (with a lounge area) which seats around 12 and would be perfect for a special family occasion.
Oh, and do not neglect to visit the facilities (The Cutting Room for ladies, Potting Shed) for gents: the quirkiest, prettiest loos I’ve seen.
Rather off the beaten track (you drive down the wonderfully named Tea Garden Lane to get here), fellow customers will be mainly locals or those like us who have come for a specific occasion. Highly recommended.
Where: The Beacon, Tea Garden Lane, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells TN3 9JH
01892 524252, email@example.com
What: Restaurant, private dining, bar and terrace with great views
When: Tue-Fri, 11.30am-11.30pm, Sat 10am-11.30pm, Sun 10am-6pm
How much: Set menu £18.50 for three courses, dining menu, starters £5-£9.50, mains £14-£17, desserts £6.50, children’s meal £10 for main and pudding.
Meet the chef
Tell us a bit about yourself
After training at Thanet College in Broadstairs, I worked for Gary Rhodes at City Rhodes and Rhodes in the Square and then at allium under Anton Adleman and The Admiralty under Robert Spencer. A period of burn-out from relentless graft led me back to Kent and to The Swan in West Malling, where I met owner Pete Cornwell. After three years at the Michelin listed gastropub, I was head chef, aged only 25. When Pete set up I’ll be Mother I joined as Executive Chef across the group including The Beacon and The Twenty Six, where I’m head chef.
Who are your principal local suppliers?
Oliver Greens, Rusthall, Moons Green, Penshurst Fine Foods, Chapel Down and Chapmans of Sevenoaks.
Do you have a signature or favourite dish?
Not so much a signature but a favourite at the moment is rack of Cabrito kid goat with parmesan gnocchi, star anise, carrot purée and tarragon oil (www.cabrito.co.uk). Goat is an underused and delicious meat.
What’s your top cookery tip for our readers?
You’re only as good as the ingredients you cook with. Go to your local butcher, fishmonger, artisan producer and get to know them and what’s good.
Who has influenced you most in your career?
My mentor, Pete Cornwell. He took me on as a young, hot-headed chef de partie and nurtured me into my first head chef position in 2008.
What one kitchen gadget could you not do without?
What did you have for breakfast this morning?