Restaurant review: Read's of Faversham
PUBLISHED: 16:15 11 January 2017 | UPDATED: 16:18 11 January 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Winner of the 2016 Restaurant of the Year, Read's of Faversham, opens its elegant door to Kent Life and restores body and soul. Words by: Sarah Sturt. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque
If you yearn for gracious living and an unhurried pace, calm amid the hustle and bustle of everyday, superb food, lovingly prepared and served, a delicious bedroom to retire to, then one night – or more – at Read’s restaurant with rooms is the perfect treat.
Our Restaurant of the year in the 2016 Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink awards, Read’s is just off the busy Canterbury Road, but the minute you sweep in, park up and take in the lovely Georgian manor house surrounded by tranquil grounds, the 21st century and its hustle and bustle melts away.
Welcomed by a smiling Bradley Gent, front of house manager for the past five years, I am escorted up to ‘Willow’ – one of six large guest rooms, each as individual as their tree names – and left to settle in. Furnished in period style, with crisp linen sheets rather than a duvet, heavy swagged curtains and matching drapes around the superbly comfortable double bed and ample space for a small desk with a green baize top, a sofa, side and occasional tables, this is English country living at its finest.
Some may call it old-fashioned, with its Roberts radio, modest-sized TV rather than a vast flatscreen, the decanter of cream sherry and brass wall lights, but I loved it all.
And the fact that there are no ‘tea/coffee-making facilities’ in the room (all that chrome and trailing wires would spoil the effect) makes perfect sense when you are shown a pantry just along the corridor, stocked with everything you could possibly want to make a cuppa with fresh milk whenever you like.
After a wallow in the deep tub in my gleamingly white en suite bathroom (Penhaligon toiletries, naturally), refreshed and relaxed I made my way to the cosy panelled drawing room with its discreet corner bar for a pre-dinner glass of fizz.
Evidence of the exquisite taste of Rona Pitchford, who owns Reads with husband David, is everywhere, from the abundance of fresh flowers to the wonderful paintings on every wall (Rona is quite the collector) and piles of well-thumbed books.
I ate in the smaller of the handsome dining rooms – just four crisply white-clothed tables, there are 60 covers in total – to sample the distinctive cooking of chef-patron David Pitchford on which the restaurant’s richly deserved reputation is founded.
As he tells me: “The recipes have all come from my old Dorchester Hotel days, which were much more classical then; if it’s not in its original form then there’s some sort of history in most of the dishes. We’re never going to be molecular, we’re never going to be Heston.”
Instead, what you will experience is a selection of seasonal dishes that blend herbs and vegetables from the manor’s own walled kitchen garden with local game and fish fresh from the quayside at nearby Whitstable and Hythe. To complement your food, an extensive wine list balances the French classics with a carefully chosen and imaginative selection from Europe, the Americas and the New World.
To experience the full range of David’s impeccable cooking I chose the tasting menu, which was preceded by a tangy, light as air caramelised onion mousse appetiser as an indication of the culinary delights to come.
And delights there were aplenty, from a classic gravalax with potato salad and a honey mustard dressing to the prettiest-ever presentation of pork pâté en croûte with celeriac remoulade and jewel-like dots of Cumberland sauce as my introduction.
This menu gives you the option to go with David’s suggested wines for each course and it’s an education in food and wine pairing, as the combination of a fresh and fruity Gasper Chardonnay Ribolla 2014 with my excellent hake fillet, cauliflower and perfect rounds of saffron potato ably demonstrated.
A meaty course came next, and I nearly chose roast partridge breast but in the end opted for the Angus fillet with sweetly caramelised shallots, baby vegetables in a separate little copper tureen and a rich, robust Shiraz jus complemented by a big Australian red – the Leeuwin Estate Siblings Shiraz 2012.
Utterly content, there was a perfectly judged pause by the smart, discreet but attentive, mainly Eastern European staff, who made me feel very relaxed in my own company while I digested my food and surroundings – the hum of conversation from fellow diners, the tinkle of heavy cutlery on good crockery. Time too to enjoy David’s aptly chosen quotes beneath each dish description – from Miss Piggy’s reminder ‘never eat more than you can lift’ to Churchill’s ‘remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we’re fighting for, it’s Champagne.’
Interestingly, in common with our European cousins, mine host chooses to serve cheese before dessert and, in another bombshell, they’re all British. It was Rona’s decision not to offer any French cheeses and, as her husband admits: “Everyone thought that was very strange 35 years ago – now they think it’s a great idea. I did think it was one of Rona’s stranger ideas at the time; now, I just wallow in the glory of it all.”
So, in deference to Rona’s wisdom, I pick cheeses from my home of Kent, its neighbour Sussex and Somerset, where I grew up – and delectable is the selection too, served with biscuits, grapes and a glass of vintage Port.
The strawberry soufflé with a scoop of home-made ice cream that follows is a perfect blend of hot and cold, light and rich and leads effortlessly to coffee and petit fours so delicious I can’t resist a fudgy mouthful.
Sleep came easily after such a feast and a divinely comfortable bed, and I enjoyed waking early and padding down the corridor in my complementary robe to make a morning cup of tea before enjoying what currently ranks as The Best Breakfast Ever.
In a tranquil room overlooking the garden, where the china bears bird motifs and salt comes in a glass dish with a tiny ivory spoon, front of house mistress of her art Rona served me a still life platter of fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice and the finest sausage, poached egg, tomatoes and bacon I’ve tasted.
After breakfast I sit and chat with my hosts and learn that they met at teacher training college in London and worked in teaching for three years before deciding to move to Rona’s home county of Kent. They bought what became their original restaurant at Painter’s Forstal and stayed there 20 years, gaining a Michelin star in the process in 1990.
They bought the present house in 1999, a former farmhouse occupied then by one of the Neames of Faversham and known to Rona from her childhood, as she’d been here as a teenager to Patricia Neame’s birthday parties.
After major renovation work, much of it done by the Pitchfords and their staff, all of whom they retained from the original restaurant, they were able to seamlessly re-open and have stuck to their principles of great food, service and hospitality ever since. “Because of our age some people think we’re a little bit old-fashioned, but we’re intentionally so,” says David. “We may be getting on a bit but we have a young team with us and we now have a couple of hours off in the afternoon, which we never used to do. We’re not very good delegators, so we are very hands on. I don’t cook as much as I used to, but I am here all the time – we’re six in the kitchen, including me.
“We’ve had a couple of lads over the years go on to win Young Chef of the Year and one of them was Mark Sergeant, who was like our third son in the end.”
I could have stayed for ever but eventually tore myself away and reluctantly joined the modern-day world. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, Reads is truly a place to cherish and a very worthy winner indeed.
Find out more
Where: Read’s Restaurant with rooms, Macknade Manor, Canterbury Road, Faversham ME13 8XE
01795 535344, firstname.lastname@example.org
What: English country house restaurant with rooms
How much: Tasting menu £65 per person, plus £40 per person for accompanying wines (when enjoyed by the whole table); à la carte menu £60 per person