The Marquis at Alkham, Kent, reviewed

Fine dining with a twist, deliciously local and seasonal menus plus a country village setting and luxury bedrooms mark The Marquis as a true Rising Star

The Marquis at Alkham, Kent, reviewed

Fine dining with a twist, deliciously local and seasonal menus plus a country village setting and luxury bedrooms mark The Marquis as a true Rising Star

I first encountered the young owner of The Marquis at Alkham more than five years ago when he was working with his father at The White Horse in Bridge. Ben Walton’s menu then was extraordinarily ahead of its time, relying solely on local and seasonal produce – now the norm everywhere, but in lean February all that time ago it felt bold and very, very brave.

Now less in the kitchen and very much the public face of his new empire, Ben is running a delightful restaurant with rooms near Dover with his sister, Hannah, who looks after the weddings and events side of this busy little operation but on this occasion also looked after us, and very nicely too.

The pretty village setting and a gorgeous Spring day certainly helped fuel expectation, and the simple but stylish 74-seater restaurant – wooden floors, walls that are open brick or painted an elegant grey, comfortably upholstered high-backed chairs, darkwood tables - was reassuringly busy on a weekday lunchtime.

Named after the Marquis of Granby, who used to install his regiment in pubs, the 200-year-old building was completely gutted and refurbished before opening 18 months ago and now offers five en suite bedrooms and two cottages with lovely views of the Alkham Valley, as well as quite simply stunning fine dining.

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In the kitchen is head chef Charlie Lakin who, despite being just a few days away from being a first-time father, had not only found time to forage wild garlic en route into work by bike that morning, but also kept a remarkably steady hand with his famous souffl�s, which people travel miles for – but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Ben Walton’s influence is all over the menus, which change daily for both lunch and dinner to keep it local and seasonal. There are just five starters, five mains and three puddings, but it still makes choosing tough – you want the lot. But nibbling on home-made crisps as canap�s, My Work Mate and I finally made a decision and for me, it was a no-brainer how my meal would begin.

Eating here in mid April meant I got to taste my first asparagus of the season (courtesy of Watts Farm of Orpington) in a starter that combined the tenderest green shoots with a featherlight asparagus mousse and sparklingly fresh crab salad from Jenkins of Deal. For flavour, freshness and sheer eye appeal, this was going to be a hard act to follow, especially paired with a glass of Throwley Vineyards of Faversham’s finest sparkling.

MWM went for the earthy appeal of wild mushroom and watercress soup, the mushrooms supplied by that well-known expert Fergus the Forager, and loved the depth of flavour and slightly grainy texture. Both courses went very well with fresh-from-the-oven home-made bread: onion and Rosemary, sun-dried tomato and granary.

Now I am aware my love for sea bass is bordering on the obsessive, but on this occasion I found heaven in the shape of piping hot pan-roast turbot (jenkins again) served with a brilliant green garden pea pur�e, salisfy and the best potato dish (salardaise – no, me neither) I’ve had in a long time. Try it with Biddenden Vineyard’s award-winning Ortega for maximum local appeal.

My dining chum knows her stuff when it comes to meat and thoroughly approved of Dexter beef on the menu. Fresh from Sladden Farm literally just up the road, this is our smallest native breed and produces a traditional type of beef, with a greater level of fat marbling than is seen in your average supermarket type. Her cut of braised neck in Black Pig ale was meltingly tender, the accompanying blankette of turnip, tiny fresh broad beans and creamed potato providing the perfect accompaniment.

You’d think Charlie would have peaked by now, but oh no – desserts are seemingly his forte, and his souffl�s so popular he daren’t ever take them off the menu for fear of riots. Suffice it to say, if you’ve never had his passion fruit souffl�, served warm with ice-cold chocolate sorbet on the side, you’ve not properly lived.

And a rhubarb Eton Mess, with honeycomb on the top and a blob of pink rhubarb mousse on the side disappeared so fast I swear it didn’t touch the sides. There is a fantastic looking cheeseboard, too, including two Kent varieties, but maybe next time…

I honestly didn’t expect to be this impressed, but I am: this is seriously accomplished cooking, with its (local) heart firmly in the right place and a capacity for invention and execution that is commendable. Great service from a young team, stunning presentation skills, a super setting and a Michelin Rising Star already in the bag, there’s a very bright future ahead for The Marquis.

The Marquis at Alkham

Alkham Valley Road

Alkham, near Dover CT15 7DF

*Tel: 01304 873 410

Email: info@themarquisatalkham.co.uk

Open: Tue-Sat 12-2.30pm, dinner Mon-Sat 6.30-9.30pm, Sun lunch 12-6pm,

table d'h�te menu only served Mon

Prices: lunch three courses �19.50, two �15.50; dinner �24.95/�39.50 three courses, tasting menu �50 seven courses

* In the Weddings supplement in our May edition we inadvertently supplied the wrong contact details for The Marquis (page 162): please use the details above to get in touch for all your wedding requirements.

MEET THE CHEF

 

 Charlie Lakin, head chef at The Marquis of Alkham

Tell us about yourself

I’m a farmers’ son, born in Yorkshire. I trained at Yorkshire Coast College then worked as sous chef under Andrew Pern, became head chef at the Feversham Arms, Helmsey and moved down to Deal as head chef at Dunkerley’s, which was a great introduction to the area. The Marquis opened in 2008, giving me a great opportunity to use local ingredient and introduce my own style of cooking to the south east.

What’s your signature dish?

Pig’s trotter – a great comfort dish, with an interesting slant on the old ham ‘n’ eggs.

Your top cookery tip for readers?

Make sure you practice first-time dishes before cooking them for guests, especially if it is a special occasion.

Who has influenced you most?

A wide variety of chefs I’ve worked for and whose restaurants I’ve eaten in. But my biggest influence has to be Simon Rhatigan – owner of the Feversham Arms. He taught me that you can be comfortable doing the classics as long as they are executed to the best of your capability. Simon also taught me how to balance a dish – the textures, flavours and temperatures.

Who would you like to cook for?

Lemmy from Motorhead, but if I was to choose someone from my past it would definitely be my first ever boss Ken Matthews at Bronton Forge. I worked there when I was 14, the start of my career!

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