Review: The Marquis of Alkham
PUBLISHED: 07:35 03 October 2015 | UPDATED: 07:35 03 October 2015
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
With a new manager and chef at the helm, what’s afoot these days at the chic restaurant with rooms that is The Marquis of Alkham? Kent Life stays the night.
Set in an idyllic Kentish village, in the rolling hills of Alkham, resting neatly in the valley just five miles from Dover and Folkestone, this strikingly contemporary ‘restaurant with rooms’ is overlooked by a pretty little 12th-century church, making it a popular wedding venue.
Head chef Andrew ‘Drew’ King offers seasonally inspired, locally sourced menus which are as fresh as they are imaginative, and his elegant 21st-century styling is exceptional. With new general manager David Harris now at the helm, The Marquis has entered a whole new era.
If you’re staying overnight, there are 10 en suite bedrooms and two vineyard cottages with views across the Alkham Valley, an AONB in the heart of the Kent Downs and a walkers’ paradise.
Mine (Great Everden) was one of five in the new extension (the others are in the original house) and was decorated and furnished in teal, grey and white, with a feature papered wall behind the luxuriously padded bedhead.
I was delighted to see a Marquis ‘signature welcome’ remains under the new team; a cute, cuddly puppy (from Ashford-based Keel Toys) perched on the end of my supremely comfy bed.
There’s a sofa for two so you can watch TV in or out of bed, a mirror-fronted chest of drawers, built-in wardrobes and a small desk, plus your own private walled terrace with space for a table and chairs. The sleek white en suite bathroom has a standalone tub, twin basins and walk-in shower; toiletries are Nobel Isle. The well-stocked tea tray has a Magimix coffee maker.
I caught up with the new GM David Harris in the bar lounge, which is smartly decorated in purple and grey and where several couples were enjoying delicious-looking afternoon tea.
I was restraining myself for the evening’s feast, and it was a treat to be joined by head chef Drew King, who worked with David at Eastwell Manor when the latter was food and beverages manager.
There’s an easy rapport between them after working together at The Marquis for a year now, which is quite handy with a talent in the kitchen like Drew. He’s inclined to change menus rather frequently – especially if he’s been away on one of his favourite carp fishing trips and had plenty of time to mull over new recipes.
I heard all about Drew’s plans for an extended vegetable patch (he grows herbs and artichokes already) with plans for Heritage potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. I also admired a bottle of Chalksole Sparkling Reserve (bottled by Chapel Down) from The Marquis’ own vineyard just up the road, which they think is possibly the nearest vineyard to northern France.
Later on My Work Colleague joined me for drinks in the bar before we settled in for Drew’s special seven-course taster menu, my interest already piqued by his enthusiasm for supporting local suppliers and how keen he is on stimulating every sense with his creations.
We were not disappointed, from delicious canapés that included chorizo and parsley muffins to cucumber cups filled with caviar and smoked salmon and the warm, fresh bread (we chose olive and Rosemary), plus outstanding service from restaurant and beverages manager Tim Weir, this was an excellent experience.
I’ll highlight three standout dishes from each course, which demonstrate Drew’s skill in taking quite humble ingredients to new heights.
Like beetroot. Not usually a favourite of mine, but when you’re presented with the prettiest plateful containing a carpaccio of marinated beetroot, beetroot crisps and the inspired combination of smoked hazelnuts and Kidderton Ash goat’s cheese, you’re suddenly in a different dimension. Earthy and pungent, yet delicate too. Loved it, and the pretty pink Chapel Down English Rosé matched it in every sense.
Our joint favourite dish was the spectacular Chart Farm venison bourguignon, tender meat wrapped in what we took to be the crispest, lightest of puff pastry, it actually turned out to be thin strips of peeled potato wrapped round and round to form a nest and then roasted in the oven. Topped with fluffy pommes purée and a perky sprig of blackberries and matched by a smoky, full-bodied French Plaisir De Chateau Siaurac, this really had the ‘wow’ factor.
Both desserts were exquisite, but the simple sounding ‘celebration of Kentish strawberries’ just pipped the Rosemary crème brûlée (served with a wafer-thin, delicious shard of shortbread).
What we enjoyed was a heavenly strawberry soufflé encircled by baby black pepper meringues (try it, it works) with Madagascan vanilla ice cream and a balsamic reduction which took away over-sweetness. Accompanied by a glass of Chalksole Vintage Reserve, this was superb.
Breakfast is taken in the same intimate room (seats 30), where the grey and burgundy colour scheme works well with a wooden floor and feature wall of exposed brick with inset beams.
Just fresh orange juice, fruit and yoghurt from the buffet and good coffee for me, you’ll be relieved to hear, a fond farewell from lovely Zoe on reception and into the real world, thoroughly restored both inside and out.
Where: The Marquis Alkham, Alkham Valley Road, Alkham, Dover CT15 7DF
What: contemporary restaurant with rooms
When: Lunch 12pm-2.30pm, Mon-Sat; afternoon tea 3pm-5pm Mon-Sat, 3.30pm-5pm Sun; dinner 6.30pm-9.30 Mon-Sat, 6pm-8.30pm Sun; Sunday lunch 12pm-3pm Sundays & Bank Holidays
How much: Pan roast sea bass £18, braised ox cheek £18, butternut squash nut risotto £15.50, desserts £8.50
MEET THE CHEF
Head chef Drew King
Tell us a bit about you
I’m a Kentish man, born and raised in Ashford. I’ve worked in kitchens for 15 years and have been lucky enough to work with some of the best chefs in the country. I started as a commis chef at Eastwell Manor and spent the next 12 years travelling the UK learning from the best chefs I could. I have been here for nearly a year now and really enjoy putting all the knowledge and recipes I have acquired over the years into my own style (which I am still discovering). The support I get from David and the rest of the team is amazing; I’m a lucky chef at the moment.
Your principal local suppliers?
Local suppliers are key to us here at The Marquis. We are surrounded by great produce and passionate producers, from ‘Pete and Gaz’ our fish guys at Romney Marsh, Chart Farm Game, Aldington Farm Shop for Kentish meats and Foodari, who work closely with many small local farmers to bring us baskets of awesome Kentish fare every morning.
Do you have a signature dish?
I’m my own worst critic, so I don’t have a signature dish. I’m not happy enough with one single dish to call it my ‘signature dish’ – yet!
Your top cookery tip?
Remember to not only plan ahead and measure accurately, but also - and most importantly - use your senses! I lose count of how many times my chefs take something out of an oven just because the timer has gone off and don’t check what they are cooking by smell, taste and visual before doing so. Your eyes, taste and smell are your best tools for testing if something is ready and delicious.
Who has influenced you most?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great chefs throughout my career, but one chef who changed the way I look at being a chef is Hywel Jones, he is a legend. His passion and attention to even the tiniest of details is extraordinary - I remember podding a 10kg crate of peas and splitting them into small, medium and large peas. I enjoyed every day in his kitchen and wrote down every recipe I laid my eyes on. Being a part of the team that gained the star is probably still my greatest culinary achievement to date.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
My favourite kitchen gadget is the Thermomix. It’s currently away being repaired and I seriously didn’t realise how much I use it and how brilliant it is at getting beautifully smooth purées and veloutés. Were using the old blender and I now don’t know how we used to manage with it!
Who would you like to cook for?
I would love to cook for Arsène Wenger, he’s a great manager for the mighty Gunners and a clever businessman (and our restaurant manager supports Tottenham).
What did you have for breakfast?
I have to be honest, like most chefs a quick coffee counts as breakfast and I’m off to work, sleep is a precious thing.