Review of The West House at Biddenden
PUBLISHED: 19:17 05 September 2014 | UPDATED: 19:17 05 September 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Chef of the Year 2013 in the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards, Graham Garrett, shows why he thoroughly deserved the award: who will lift the coveted trophy in 2014?
What makes a great chef? In the case of our ‘Chef of the Year’ at the very first Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards last year, it started with a lot of love from customers.
And Graham Garrett chef-patron’s of Biddenden’s Michelin-starred The West House received nominations in droves from said loyal customers, many of whom have eaten with him since the restaurant first opened 12 years ago.
Then of course it was the choice of our lucky judge to eat at the three finalists’ restaurants and select the final winner – and the fact that Graham has made the final trio again this year suggests that we probably got it spot on in 2013.
So, back to my opening question. I can tell you what it’s not, for starters. It’s not about a sense of personal vanity – Graham memorably bounded up to collect his trophy last year in his customary white plimsolls – nor a big ego.
And instead of moving to bigger premises (“like everyone seems to do,” says Graham) he wants to expand from what he already has and build a cookery school and a private dining room.
You don’t come here for the decor either, although the 15th-century former weaver’s cottage on the High Street is undeniably appealing with its ancient beams and wood-burning stove.
The plain, square tables are unadorned, not a table mat in sight, the paintings of pigs and cows are a tad off-putting even to hardened carnivores like myself and the door to the kitchen opens onto the dining area so you see a lot of the comings and goings and sense the heat and sweat.
The ever-changing menus are pretty simple too, just telling you the basic elements of each dish (‘Pork,’ ‘Smoked Haddock’), with the proviso that if you fancy the combination then Graham asks you to “trust to his artifice in the kitchen.”
For this is the heart of the conundrum that is Graham Garrett – it’s all about the food, frills aren’t important, but taste, freshness, ruthless seasonality, presentation are everything. As is trust.
So My Dining Chum and I trusted away and were immediately wowed by a glass of fizz and a delectable selection of savoury biscuits. I could have happily eaten nothing but warm Parmesan shortbread all night.
Tearing ourselves away from the equally more-ish digestives filled with goat’s cheese, MDC dived into her richly sauced crayfish risotto with sun-dried tomatoes, chorizo, baby pea shoots and a subtle touch of chilli. Divine. As was my beautiful slow-cooked Var salmon and its tartare with beetroot, the untamed flavour of the fish – as different from farmed salmon as you could get – enhanced by a gorgeous hint of ginger juice. A stunning dish for eye appeal and tastebuds alike.
Nibbling on home-made sourdough bread presented in a little cloth bag and sipping a glass of nicely dry Riesling (MDC) and a full-bodied Spanish Bodegas Pittacum for me (chosen from a list of some 80 wines), after just the right gap we were enjoying our mains.
MDC’s ‘Chicken’ turned out to be free-range roast Temple Farm chicken with an onion broth, just-picked broad beans and Parmesan ravioli, the wafer-thin crispy skin particularly enjoyed and the unusual combination thoroughly approved of.
I chose the Romney Marsh lamb, which gave me both rump and braised neck, both beautifully cooked to a pink tenderness and with the magic addition of my favourite minted new potatoes. The only thing I didn’t quite ‘get’ was the scorched lettuce; it tasted a bit on the bitter side and I’d have preferred it flame-free. But I’m probably just a heathen.
Don’t come here if you’re counting calories – instead of running out of steam with pudding, Graham takes just as much care with desserts and his playful, cheeky side really comes out.
Look out for unexpected touches – such as my Rum baba living up to its menu name of ‘Mojito’ by the addition of mint sorbet, lime curd and granite sprinkled on at the table. And ‘Milk & Honey’ isn’t as innocent as it sounds; I had to ‘help out’ my dieting mate with her gorgeously sweet honey ice cream, caramelised chocolate, creamy milk mousse, nuggets and crisps. Any time.
Graham’s honesty, lack of pretension and the friendly, informal, but spot-on service guarantees a truly memorable meal.
Read more about Graham when we reveal our finalists in the October and November editions of Kent Life. n