Restaurant review: Thackerays in Tunbridge Wells
- Credit: Archant
If you’re looking for a special meal for two this Valentine’s then they don’t come much more highly recommended than this Michelin-starred favourite
There’s a new kid on the block at Tunbridge Wells’ finest – Shane Hughes has brought a fresh energy to the kitchens of the always exciting Thackerays in the 10 months since he joined Richard Phillips’ team.
And I had the pleasure of bringing along a first timer to dinner at this very special Grade II listed, white weatherboard-painted restaurant facing the Common, so was able to relive something of the emotion I felt 10 years ago, when I dined here for my first-ever review in Kent Life.
Sipping a glass of fizz each we perched on stools in the tiny ground-floor bar and chatted to general manager Gary Beech, who was as relaxed, funny and friendly as ever, despite a large lunch party in one of the upstairs private dining rooms still showing no signs of leaving six hours on and the cellar running low …
But you never do feel rushed here, which is a Good Thing as Shane’s food is far too delicious to hurry. And rest assured, the wine will never run out. Take in the scene first: ancient, sloping wooden floors, low ceilings, warm lighting and cool, modern décor (it was fabulously refurbished in 2010 and is still looking mighty fine).
Nibbling on garlic and Rosemary bread with unsalted butter, as we studied the menu we were served a dainty glass of vibrant pea velouté (which I promptly spilt on the crisp white table linen: top tip – drink it, don’t bother with the tiny spoon).
There are six each of starters and mains, and such a tempting selection it genuinely is a struggle to decide what to choose. Luckily we’d had a chance to meet chef before the meal and My Tall Friend was quick to bag Shane’s signature dish of baked quail and foie gras pithivier.
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The marriage of flavours between the sweet bird, fresh puff pastry, wild mushrooms and quail sauce finished with a Muscat de Beaumes de Venice wine was stunning and MTF, a glass of perfectly matched Bolt-geyl Riesling, Alsace in hand, declared it the best starter ever.
That title was, however, in dispute as I realised to my relief that the combination of rabbit and scallops wasn’t as bonkers as it sounds and that when you team the very finest hand-dived Orkney scallops with mozzarella, tarragon and shimmering rabbit jelly, something magical occurs. Add a soft, mouth-filling aged Chateau de Fonsalette and you achieve perfection.
A word on the wines; if you prefer a different variety by the glass for each course, then the selection here has doubled overnight with the investment in a Coravin system. It uses technology that keeps the cork in the bottle, enabling your waiter to pour a glass of whatever you like and know that instead of oxidizing, the remaining wine will continue to age naturally.
Our mains of ‘mullet’ and ‘mallard’ nearly caused ordering chaos with their alliterative similarity, but couldn’t have been more different. I had the seared red mullet with Parmesan gnocchi, marinated artichokes and ham – full of big, fat, intense flavours and a needing a proper chewy red with a great nose to cope with it. Luckily Garry’s skilled use of the Coravin was able to grant me a taste of the rare Meursault Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet.
MTF had the pot-roasted duck served with puréed potato, red cabbage and a bundle of green beans tied up in streaky bacon – which a rich, dark glass of 2007 Chateau Jean-Pierre Gaussen Bandol Cuvee complemented admirably.
Replete, quite frankly amazed at what we’d tasted and aware from our chat with Shane that he “doesn’t like to faff around” with ingredients but prefers to “push in” really big flavours (boy, does he succeed), we didn’t really expect him to be that keen on fiddly old desserts. How wrong we were.
My Black Forest was literally that – a slightly sinister, Grimms fairytale-esque but wonderful garden of delights which included a distinctly phallic cherry and marshmallow mushroom, bushes made of wild sorrel sponge (alas, not as tasty as they were pretty) and bark created from bitter chocolate. Unleash your inner child and dive in, glass of Chinese Ice Wine in hand.
An Italian lime torte was far more grown up but still full of surprises; an initial hint of black pepper and lemongrass softened by almond sponge with lime leaf syrup and MTF’s favourite bit, really yummy Bayleaf ice cream. What are you waiting for? n