Review: Waterleaf Restaurant at Reynolds Retreat
PUBLISHED: 07:40 23 March 2015
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Combining a luxury health spa and gym with a fine dining restaurant proves a recipe for success
To discover somewhere I consider genuinely unique is rare, but the new health spa, gym and restaurant in Borough Green set in 16 acres of parkland at historic Basted House really does nourish you inside and out.
The vision of former Kent ballet dancer Emma Reynolds and her builder husband Jason, Reynolds Retreat is not the easiest place to find. However, as Emma points out, it’s meant to be hidden away and once found, you won’t forget that sweeping tree-line driveway to the house, which was once affiliated to Basted Mill and part of the region’s paper-making heritage.
The couple has run health clubs, spas and dance academies in Kent for 20 years, tending towards the quirky and historic (their Bexley fitness spa was a Georgian chapel, the Rainham spa a Queen Anne property). They fell in love with this Victorian country house and grounds and set about transforming it to offer the latest fitness, thermal spa and treatment facilities available. And a rather special restaurant.
Inside it’s stunningly decorated and immaculate, and I’m not surprised when Emma says: “I do all the interior design, including the spa, from sourcing the pictures to personally designing the furniture. It’s the fun bit of what I do.”
Born in a council house in Tweedle, Emma went to school in Rochester but left when she got a scholarship to attend full-time dance college. By the age of 19 she had launched Reynolds the business, using the insurance money she received after a burglary. She hasn’t stopped since.
The plan is now to open more Retreats, using this one as the model, and she’d like 10 more within the next five years.
Emma also wants to put in 20 luxury ‘green’ pods in the grounds so people can stay and relax and be very “private and serene.” Building is planned this year.
Three cottages in the grounds have been knocked down to make way for another building to be used for weddings and functions and training during the day; there are plans for a marquee in the grounds so that they can cater up to 200.
“I want to create a boutique hotel-style place that feels like a non-intimidating extension of your home rather than a spa, where you feel comfortable taking tea in the lounge or a glass of wine on the terrace in the sunshine,” says Emma.
Or enjoy a delicious lunch, as My History Writer Friend and I do in the upstairs Waterleaf Restaurant, named after the eponymous paper made at Basted Mill.
Combining Victorian elegance with contemporary style (neutral walls hung with paintings, dark wood flooring, tub chairs), there’s a private dining room too with a viewing window onto the kitchen.
Led by Kent chef director Mark Sargeant, Waterleaf is open to both members and non-members – an important point to note; I’d hate you to think you couldn’t go if you weren’t a gym member.
Talented chef David Pigram has worked closely with Emma to create a menu of dishes infused with superfoods rich in nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, with improved vitality their goal. So the food is not only very good for you but also tasty and nutritious. What could be better?”
What indeed, agree MHWF and I, who are positively bouncing after our feast that introduces us to new tastes like the Vitamin A-packed Chia seeds that appear on a gorgeous honey-roast parsnip soup and in my apple juice-based Turbo Kick cocktail.
Or Spirulina (a protein-packed algae), which is used in tiny quantities in one of the butters we try and with the pickled cucumbers that accompany my vibrantly fresh poached salmon starter.
Our favourite new taste, however, is Maca, a natural Peruvian ginseng that gives you tons of energy and transforms butter into something you want to eat for pudding.
We could easily have just stuck with the buckwheat and black treacle, white spelt and linseed and the rye and maple bread spread with Maca butter, but a good job we didn’t; I learn later it’s known as the female Viagra (no wonder we were bouncing).
Rather surprisingly, we weren’t asked how we wanted our mains cooked and both my aged beef fillet and MHWF’s lamb rump were extremely pink, although I have to say both cut beautifully and were tender, juicy and flavour packed. I still prefer my meat a little better done, however.
A highlight was the splendid selection of vegetables: vibrant kale with chestnut mushrooms, honey glazed carrots and deliciously nutty, buttery Ratte potatoes.
Now came a dilemma – it was nearly the end of the school day and MHWF had to leave before her pudding! Naturally I stepped nobly in, tucking into a divine Valhrona chocolate shortbread with Maca ice cream and also managing most of her freshly made fig and almond cake too.
The only thing I was fit for afterwards was to put myself in the capable hands of spa manger Alison Desmond, who gave me a wonderful Decléor Vitamin Glow facial, which began with a back massage and face mapping and left me glowing and relaxed.
Next time I’ll explore the spa with its infinity pool overlooking the grounds. But I’m definitely coming back for the butter.
Meet the chef
Your favourite dish on the menu?
Sea bass, clam and poached potato, we get amazing quality stone bass from Chapmans in Sevenoaks; this dish is simple but perfect.
Your top cookery tip?
Never stop learning, don’t be afraid to try something new, use all of your senses and taste, taste, taste, at every stage of cooking.
Who has influenced you most?
I worked in Australia for a year under a chef called Grant King, who completely changed my views on cooking. I had always worked in classic French until then, but Grant introduced me to a much lighter way of putting dishes together. Over the last year Emma has introduced me to a whole other world of ingredients, I love her drive and relentlessly looking for something new.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
Such a tough choice, but I think I’d have to go with a thermomix, it’s such a versatile piece of equipment, it offers consistent results and keep on working for you when anything else would have broken!
Who would you love to cook for?
My late grandfather, he was an amazing baker and made the most beautiful wedding cakes. I wish I could have had an opportunity to cook for him and talk about everything kitchen related over a glass of claret.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Porridge with sultanas and COQ10 (Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that occurs naturally in some foods).
Where: Reynolds Retreat
Quarry Hill Road
Borough Green, Sevenoaks TN15 8PB
For satnav, use: TN15 8RH
01732 446051, www.reynoldsgroup.co.uk
What: luxury spa, gym and fine dining restaurant in a secluded rural setting
When: Sun 12pm-2.30pm, Mon closed, Tue 6.30pm-9.30pm, Wed-Sat 12pm-2.30pm and 6.30pm-9.30pm
How much: poached salmon starter £9.50, aged beef fillet £28, fig cake £6.50