Restaurant review: The Marquis of Granby, Alkham
- Credit: Archant
Under new management, The Marquis of Granby has changed its name, transformed its look and brought a fresh, exciting approach to ‘pub classics’
My first visit to the Marquis of Granby under its new ownership was as part of a big table for the 2019 Kent Life Christmas lunch.
A tough test for any restaurant but one to which the kitchen here rose magnificently; it was memorable, imaginative and we all loved our very different choices from the festive selection.
So I was excited to return for an overnight visit and meet the new young landlords Will and Nadine Sheldon, who joined the 200-year-old Marquis at Alkham last April after it was bought by Ashford's GSE Group. The pub-restaurant with rooms underwent a major refurbishment and has returned to its original name, Granby.
And what a first year it's been! Having engaged the services of pub architect John Rogers, whose quirky style will be familiar if you frequented his former Ramblinn's pubs such as The Woolpack at Warehorne or the Five Bells at Brabourne (now also under new ownership), you will know to expect the unexpected.
Entrance is straight into a cosy little lounge area with an open fire, comfy seating - and a ship's bellows converted into a low side table. The bar runs behind (with a particularly enticing choice of gins) and off this is a choice of different eating areas.
Accommodation is divided between those in the older part of the building and the contemporay extension, with 10 rooms in total, all individually styled and named. I was in the new part, in the Sir Thomas Berridge, which I discovered was the personal favourite of manager Hugh Thompson(formerly at The Dog in Wingham; I love how Kent's foodies pop up all over the place).
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I loved my suite too - not large, but lofty, with feature windows, great artwork and covetable cushions piled on the bed; turn a corner and there's a standalone roll-top bath with floating shower opposite an Ercol-style sideboard topped with twin basins.
Contemporary seating with a 60's vibe contrasts with an ornately carved, oriental-style wardrobe - many pieces here are upcycled clever finds. There's no desk, but maybe that's just me ...
Dinner calls and I descend to the ground floor, unwittingly finding myself behind that long central bar (easily done, honest). Untangled, I head for my corner table in a gloriously intimate dining area, where I can overlook both lounge and bar: perfect people-watching territory.
Lighting is flatteringly low and golden, there's the John Rogers' clever use of mirrors, posies of flowers are fresh and seasonal and Carly Simon's You're So Vain is playing softly in the background.
As if that wasn't enough contentment for a Wednesday, I am then both delighted and surprised by my starter of a lamb kofta Scotch egg. Not my typical choice (and I was very tempted by the gin-cured salmon), but manger Hugh tells me it's so popular it's not left the quarterly-changing menu, so I give it a go.
Prepare to lose any associations with childhood picnics! It was the enticing aroma that got me first as young Jess Miller, still at school in Dover but definitely a star in the making, served me a pretty wooden platter bearing the lightest of crispy, spicy, meaty casings enfolding a perfectly cooked egg. With a mint goat's curd dressing and a rocket garnish to add zest, this was a great start: a proper pub classic with a twist, enhanced by the soft, ripe flavours of a glass of Los Espinos Merlot.
Mains tempted on the carnivorous front, with the dry-aged steak and Barnsley lamb chop receiving a very positive reception from adjoining tables. But I plumped for the humble hake - and later I actually went to sleep thinking about it, it was that good.
Anyway, if you perfectly cook a fillet of the freshest hake and serve it on a bed of crushed new potatoes and creamed leeks, with the magic addition of a chorizo and lime crust, you apparently really do create the stuff of dreams.
I'd added a side of curly kale with toasted sesame seeds, and will be sprinkling all my greens with said seeds from now on - and to swap lemon for lime with fish dishes. A glass of Torre Dei Vescovi Pinto Grigio complemented well.
Puddings are gorgeous - Hugh waved a roasted pineapple and caramel pavlova at me in passing, but my love of chocolate won out, so it had to be the utterly irresistible chocolate marquis with honeycomb ice cream for me. And a glass of Sauternes to offset the sheer wickedness and richness.
So to bed, dreaming of fish, and in the morning a tasty breakfast of crushed avocado on sourdough toast with poached eggs and dash of sweet chilli sauce before a reluctant departure into reality.
Keep an eye on this one - the landlords have lots of exciting plans and there's a large terrace on several levels outside seating 100, which proved very popular last summer. Bring on the sunshine!
What: 200-year-old village pub offering 10 rooms, real ales, craft beers and home-cooked food
Where: The Marquis of Granby, Alkham Valley Road, Alkham, near Dover CT15 7DF
When: Mon-Fri: breakfast 7.30-10am, lunch 12-3pm, dinner 6-9pm; Sat: breakfast 8-11am, lunch 12-5pm, dinner 5-9.30pm; Sun: breakfast 8-10am, lunch 12-5pm
How much: Lamb kofta Scotch egg £9, hake with chorizo and lime crust £18, calves liver in red wine jus £18, dry aged rib-eye steak £30, puddings £8, cheeseboard £10
Meet the chef
Stephen Piddock, head chef
Tell us a bit about you
I'm 44 years old, married and I've been cooking professionally for more than 25 years, having been in charge of the kitchen at The Marquis of Granby for three years and seeing the transition come to fruition. I have a real passion for teaching the younger generation, watching new talent develop, and I start by taking basic ingredients and turning them into signature dishes.
Who are your main local suppliers?
Boathouse Fisheries, Gunne Butchers, Dockers Sourdough and Johnson's Fruit and Veg.
Your favourite current dish?
Gin-cured salmon. It's light and simple, a great way to start a meal.
Your top cookery tip for readers?
Use the seasons! Cook what is good and keep it simple.
Who has influenced you most?
The people who help you develop, both in the kitchen and out.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
Who would you love to cook for?
The American chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer, Thomas Keller.
What did you have for breakfast?
A blueberry and kale smoothie.