The Mulberry Tree - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 16:25 27 July 2010 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013
What special ingredients do you need to be the Taste of Kent restaurant of the year? Kent Life visited The Mulberry Tree to find out
Directions have never really been my thing, but to have got spectacularly lost not once but twice trying to get to the same restaurant is special even for me. Fortunately The Mulberry Tree more than makes up for being a tad off the beaten track once you get there, though its appearance - uncompromisingly modern and surrounded by gravel, in an extremely rural setting - is unexpected, to say the least.
I last visited nearly two years ago, when owner Karen Williams had only been open a couple of months, having spent a year and a half getting planning permission to convert the tumbledown pub and chicken sheds that occupied the site into the stylish venue it is today.
Having won the Taste of Kent Restaurant of the Year award (April Kent Life, page 46) and just been named as The Good Food Guide readers' favourite restaurant in the south east (despite being yet to appear in the publication), it was definitely time to return and find out just what's been happening here in deepest Boughton Monchelsea.
Inside, you're greeted by a gleaming bar and comfortable lounge area before moving into the dining areas, where Karen has introduced feature wallpapered walls with bold flowers on a brown background, contrasting with the wooden floorboards and large wooden tables. The specials of the day are written on a large mirror - a decidedly cool touch - and there's plenty of seating, too, on the patio for summery al fresco meals.
The Good Food Guide describes ex-Chapter One head chef Alan Irwin's cooking as "heroically seasonal, based on first-class local produce", which it most decidedly is. As Karen explains: "Alan and I both really passionate about the product - he talks to the suppliers every day, especially our fish suppliers, and we print the menu daily and date it to show that it's genuine. Fluctuations of the seasons are so subtle, so it doesn't all change every week, but dishes do come and go all the time."
And it's this vigilance that really has tipped the balance for The Mulberry Tree, which even lists its suppliers on the back of the menu, all of whom are very local (Turners of Goudhurst, Chapman's of Sevenoaks, Jenkins & Son in Deal for fish supplies).
Karen has also introduced feedback cards on each table and really does listen to what her customers say.
"I leave the choice of dishes to Alan, but I always pass on feedback from customers, which means we can adapt and evolve all the time." she explains.
"Being in the middle of the countryside, people are fanatical about things like where their potatoes come from and we always incorporate a potato dish and other vegetables."
But the proof is in the eating, and from a deliciously summery selection, The Hungry One immediately went for the risotto of Whitstable cock crab and cockles with saffron, which had bags of eye appeal and was deemed "a bit paella-esque, very Mediterranean - and you can really taste the saffron."
It won't be on the menu now, as it's so terribly seasonal, but my poached hen's egg, with sauted morels and new season asparagus (pictured above) was delicious, the addition of the slightly earthy morels really adding to the 'wow' factor.
TOH was certainly living up to his name, simply tearing through the delicious bread (which will be made using local flour from September), and there was no real choice for him over a main course - especially when he learnt that chef slow roasts a whole Angley School Farm rib-eye steak overnight in a combi oven to tenderise it and really bring out the flavour.
Served with Barnaise sauce, triple-cooked chips and a skewer of mushrooms and tomatoes with herbs, this was proper man's food and kept him quiet for at least 15 minutes, especially accompanied by a glass of robust Oveja Negra from Chile.
My salmon may have come from Loch Duart, but chef joked that as he's from Glasgow, it's still local - and it tasted superbly fresh. The standout part of the dish for me, however, was the gorgeous gratin of Whitstable shellfish with young spinach and tarragon Alan teamed it with - piping hot, packed with herby flavour and the most vivid green you could imagine, it was almost a dish in its own right, and perfect with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
We were both pretty full by now and could only manage light desserts (a vanilla creme brle for me and apple sorbet for THO) and really excellent coffee as we chatted to Karen. So what next for the winning team, which also includes Karen's mum, daughter and even surveyor husband when the day job permits?
With three acres of land, they've been able to register as a smallholding and now have pigs on half the field - Middle Whites from Grafty Green - "so ultimately we'll have Mulberry Tree pork on the menu", as Karen says. They'll put fruit trees on the other half and have created a kitchen garden too, with tomatoes, three sorts of beans, strawberries, rhubarb and potatoes to supply the kitchen.
"We've also have a pond at the bottom of the garden, where we'll keep ducks. I'm not a vegetarian, but I'll still go out for lunch the day they go!"
The Mulberry Tree
Hermitage Lane, Boughton Monchelsea ME17 4DA
Tel: 01622 749082 / 01622 741058
Set menu Tue-Sat lunch and Tue-Fri dinner, 12.95 for two courses and 15.95 for three. Set menu Sun, 14.95 for two courses and 17.95 for three.