Ivy House, Tonbridge - restaurant review

Celebrity chef John Burton Race is overseeing the menu at the revamped Ivy House in Tonbridge

With a celebrity chef overseeing the menu and a classy refit, Tonbridge has just gained a smashing new local in the shape of the revamped Ivy House

As a Tonbridge girl, news that the town was getting a brand new independent restaurant was especially exciting. Even more so that it belongs to the stable of Kent Inns of Distinction, the privately owned restaurant and hotel operator that is taking 'challenging' sites around the county and transforming them into exciting new dining destinations.The company was formed in 2004 when owners Richard and Sherry Martin, who live in Sandwich, did up the Dog Inn at Wingham, followed by The Blazing Donkey in Ham and, earlier this year, Harvey's at Ramsgate. The 15th-century Ivy House at the north end of the High Street is their first move to the west of Kent and rescues a pub that had been shut for a year by the time the couple bought it in March, then spent �150,000 on a smart new refit and installed their son, Daniel Ward, as chef-manager.It gets even better. Celebrity chef John Burton-Race, of the renowned Michelin-starred New Angel in Dartmouth, has joined the company as head of group development. This makes him responsible for training and moving the menus forward into a new realm, and lucky Daniel has already had the benefit of his magic.Joined by The Hungry One, we were pleasantly surprised by an interior that is now both attractive and contemporary while embracing the beams and low ceilings that go with the building's antiquity. Solid rustic tables sit happily on the stone and wooden floor, black and white framed prints hang on the buff-coloured old walls and the chairs are comfy high-backed brown leather. There's a separate bar off the dining area and outside seating on a small patio area, which can get noisy - it is on the High Street - but that wasn't deterring many of our fellow diners from their aperitifs, and those just here for a pint, determined to make the most of a rare fine evening.It won't take you long to whip through the menu, with just six choices per course, but the man in charge wants to keep the selection changing with the seasons, and to use Kentish produce throughout, and Daniel is very happy to oblige. There was no choice for me with the starter - it had to be the intriguing beetroot and vodka-cured wild salmon with local shrimps. As delicious as it was colourful, the pickled endive, dill and mustard sauce provided just the necessary kick of flavours. THO plumped for the 'irresistibly delicate' Hythe crab and avocado salad, though the jury is still out on the accompanying cucumber and fish egg dressing. Other choices that tempted included a hot courgette and goat's cheese tart, and if you are a fan of black and indeed white pudding, it's served here in terrine form with Kentish plum compote on the side.To follow, pinkly tasty slices of roast Romney Marsh lamb were just the thing for a Hungry One, especially when accompanied by a satisfying mound of dauphinoise potatoes. I fared slightly less well with my mixed seafood plate, homing in on the 'seafood' and failing to notice the word 'fennel.' You really do have to love that aniseed taste to get the most out of this dish, and despite the wonderful mix of locally caught fish and shellfish, and a broth made with Kent's own Chapel Down Bacchus, it was the fennel that did it for me. I would have probably fared better with the 'avant garde fish and chips' - I spotted a fellow diner tackling a positive tower of haddock, pollock and whiting with big fat chips, and it looked just fab. Next time...Puds are a delight and nicely local - a poached Kentish pear for me with a more-ish saffron ginger mascarpone and a ginger and lime cheesecake for my dining chum, which disappeared so fast I didn't even get a taste.The wine list is also a cut above your average pub choice. Put together by group sommelier Nick Stebbing-Allen, it includes a Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet that dealt brilliantly with the challenging combo of beetroot and salmon, and a gorgeous New Zealand organic Sauvignon Blanc that even coped with fennel. Here's one local girl who is very happy indeed with her new local in town.

Ivy HouseDining Room & Bar199 High StreetTonbridgeTel: 01732 771249Hythe crab and avocado salad �6.50Romney Marsh lamb �15.50Picpoul de Pinet �14.95

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