Kent restaurant of the month

The Coach House in Sidcup reviewed

Mama Mia!

For those who love food and want to be part of a big happy family, then a trip to Italian favourite, The Coach House in Sidcup, is an absolute must

For readers of a mature vintage like myself, a visit to The Coach House Restaurant based at Ruxley Manor Garden Centre in Sidcup is a bit like a trip down memory lane back to your first-ever grown-up restaurant meal.

Wall-to-wall horse brasses, beams galore (festooned with hops for a nod to Kent), enormous bread baskets – hung from said beams to maximise space - and even live accordion music at one point. Think Alpine Italian holidays and you’re pretty much there.

It could be retro-chic or even tongue-in-cheek, but this is the real deal. And if it worked 30 or even 40 years ago, why change a thing?

Why indeed, My Artist Friend and I soon agreed, as we found ourselves in the middle of the sort of party atmosphere only a much-loved restaurant can engender. Seating just 60, it’s nearly always full, and there was a happy buzz of chatter and laughter all night from our fellow diners, most of whom appeared to be regulars.

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The magic ingredient – apart from the excellent food – is the quite brilliant staff and when you’ve got no less than six Italian waiters in a relatively small space you immediately become part of one big happy family.

They’ve all been together so long that they work the floor in perfect harmony, missing nothing yet with seemingly endless time to chat to everyone. Take Felice Mutti, who co-owns the restaurant with John Evans, father to James Evans who runs the garden centre where the Coach House is based – do keep up - he’s known chef Nicole Lopez

for 40 years and has been here since it opened 30 years ago. Yet you’ve never seen a more smiley man and he clearly loves his job.

So – to the important bit, the menu. It’s long. Very long. And you realise you haven’t had to make a selection from 11 cold starters and 13 hot for possibly decades. Then there’s pasta, chicken, meat mains, fish, with lots of sauces…

Possibly sensing our slight panic at where to begin, Felice and co. glided in and literally took over – to the extent that I’m embarrassed to admit we ended up having the same meal without quite realising what was going on, but by that stage it didn’t matter. We were in very capable hands.

After a few questions about what we liked, a perfect platter of Parma ham with the juiciest melon and mango and a rocket garnish materialised with a flourish – simple but immediately energising, the sheer quality of the ingredients shining through. Even the appearance of one of those giant pepper mills over our shoulders didn’t seem at all out of place in 2011.

For our main course we had my idea of heaven – all my favourite seafood on one plate (lobster, scallops, salmon, sea bass), piping hot and accompanied by expertly served vegetables that included gorgeous deep-fried zucchini.

The sauce (chosen by Felice) was more of a subtle suggestion of white wine, garlic and fresh herbs than any conventional rich concoction, and sommelier Enzo was spot on with his recommendation of a delicious Pinot Grigio from the borders of Venice. Not that we had any say in the matter, of course.

MAF had been fighting a head cold, but by the time we got to the desserts (naturally there’s a groaning sweet trolley) and were presented with two highly alcoholic platefuls of fruit – strawberries and blueberries in a Maraschino liqueur for me, oranges marinated in Grand Marnier for him – he was feeling distinctly better.

So come here and relive your youth with avocado and prawns, spaghetti alla carbonara and fillet steak with Stilton and Port wine, or hand yourself over to the team and just sit back and enjoy the ride and whatever they come up with. You’re in safe hands.

Meet the chef

Nicole Lopez

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I first met Felice, one of the owners of The Coach House, while working at The Siciliano in Soho before moving to Gianino’s in Keston. Then a partner and I bought The Hacienda at Poll Hill, selling it in 1999 and moving to The Coachhouse.

What’s your signature dish?

Sole roulade with fresh crab and lobster.

Your top cookery tip for readers?

Always try and buy what is in season.

Who has influenced you most?

When I first arrived in England I trained at Le Carosse in Chelsea under Felipe, who was then the head chef, and his influence has lasted to the present day.

Your must-have kitchen gadget?

Good, sharp knives

Who have you always wanted to cook for?

The Prime Minister



Where: The Coach House Restaurant @ Ruxley Manor, Maidstone Road, Sidcup DA14 5BQ

0208 300 4241

What: larger-than-life Italian happy families

What’s the damage: Parma ham with melon and mango �8.60, veal escalope in lemon juice and white wine, lemon sole �17.50, cr�pes Suzette (for two) �17.50

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