Restaurant review: Twenty Six, Southborough
- Credit: Archant
Led by a female Australian head chef, the Twenty Six is benefiting from a menu that celebrates sharing, seasonality – and the joys of brunch
"Welcome to Narnia!" exclaimed our host for the evening, Andy Green, as we pushed our way through a winter-thick curtain covering the doorway to the Twenty Six.
And the stuff of fairy tales it is, with a woodburner blazing in a big brick fireplace, oversized naked bulbs dangling from lofty rafters, mirrors your gran would love hung everywhere, reflecting light and faces, an inviting bar and a steep wooden staircase winding down from the upstairs kitchen where the magic happens.
Because it's so small and cosy (twenty six chairs for twenty six people, get it?) it's easy to chat across the restaurant and My Vegetarian Friend and I were soon doing just that, intrigued to find out where Andy is from. That accent is half Thai, half North Yorkshire with a hint of American in case you want to cheat and be the first person to guess it right.
He explains the thinking behind the menu, which is based on the concept of sharing plates rather than the conventional starter, main and dessert. It's the steer from Aussie head chef Megs Buchanan, where eating out tends to be a far more informal, communal experience.
Admittedly it works best with larger groups, which are a frequent booking here - although small, the space is infinitely versatile - and not diners like us where one eats meat and t'other doesn't, but I love the concept.
After a jaunty glass of fizz, we dive into our 'nibbles' - spiced cashews, almonds and pecans in an addictively flavoursome oil - and a bowl of crisp, light, sweet potato fries with salt and garlic. Simple, tasty and exciting the tastebuds for further delights.
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Guided by Andy, we went for two small plates each to enjoy next (the price is the clue to size).
My scallops with pancetta and stickily gorgeous chilli jam were deeply satisfying, while MVF was in ecstasies over her first-ever taste of chicory, served here with hazlenuts, an orange and marmalade dressing, red onion puree and topped by a gorgonzola tuille with a perfect 'snap' to it.
Presented in a pretty half moon shape on the plate (see below), there's nowhere to hide with a dish like this and every element and ingredient was spot on.
Our large plates were up next and, guided by Andy, I opted for the duck breast, which cut like a dream and was complemented beautifully by a rich currant and duck leg sauce, cauliflower and my favourite way to eat kale - oven cooked until just crisp.
Across the table Megs proved that vegetarian mains can be just as satisfying, despite my initial reaction that my plate looked so much more, well, substantial.
Although the individual ingredients of celeriac, pear, walnuts and quinoa seemed simple, Megs' magic turned them into something exquisitely ample. MVF now vows to add toasted walnuts to all her savoury dishes.
Puddings are equally restrained in their descriptions, but I can assure you that 'apple, oat and cinammon' was the perfect finale - a combination of stickily cooked Braeburn and Bramley with slices of fresh Cox for contrast, ice cream and a hint of subtle cinammon throughout.
MVF fancied the cheese and I barely got a nibble of my favourite smoked Winterdale cheddar served with home-made crackers and piccalilli.
The wine list here is worth a mention as many are organic, including the dry, aromatic Spanish Campo Flores Blanco we both enjoyed with our starters. Chapel Down Brut was the only Kentish example on our visit.
Megs joined us for coffee and delicious petit-fours and revealed it was just herself and West Kent College apprentice chef Adam Flint, 18, running the kitchen.
She talked about her passion for brunch and how popular it has become at Twenty Six, and when we looked at the menu we immediately started planning a return. Well, how you could you resist the likes of mixed grains with sweet potato, poached eggs and feta or porridge with pear, blackberry, pollen, walnut and honey? We'll be back!
What: Intimate restaurant where brunch and sharing plates rule
Where: The Twenty Six, 15a Church Road, Southborough TN4 0RX
When: Open seven days a week, 9am-4pm (food served 9am-2pm) and Thu, Fri and Sat 6pm-11pm
How much: Brunch £10; other options include confit duck, celeriac, creamy mushrooms, poached eggs, truffle oil £12; pancake, coconut, chocolate, cherry compote, maple syrup £9. Dinner: sharing plates, for example miso-cured salmon, kohlrabi, puffed rice, sesame £10, pork belly, apple cider, brussel tops, black pudding £20
Meet the chef
Megs Buchanan, head chef
Tell us a bit about you
I'm from Australia. During my last years of high school I did a placement at a local restaurant and enjoyed the creativity that food presented. I went on to do an apprenticeship in Australia, where
I then worked my way up the different roles in the kitchen to expand my knowledge. I travelled
for a few years and did a few ski seasons, where I met my fiancée who was also a chef in a boutique chalet.
And your current role?
I've been at The Twenty Six for more than a year now and I enjoy working with the team. I love our brunches and it's great to showcase dishes that are not the standard brunch norm.
Your main local suppliers?
Chapmans for fish, Seasons by Nature, Longcroft & Old butchers.
Current favourite dish on the menu?
Pumpkin bread, kale poached eggs and pine nut dukkha. This dish is very different and we get to make the bread, which I enjoy.
Top cookery tip for our readers?
If you don't know what to add, add butter.
Who has influenced you most?
My previous boss, Dave. He was the first chef I could relate to and he helped guide me through the
choices that were made.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
Your breakfast this morning?
I didn't, that's a chef's life.