Review: foodie heaven at The King’s Head in Wye
- Credit: Archant
How partners and hosts with the mostest, Scott Richardson and Mark Lightford, transformed a spit and sawdust pub into a hub of the community and foodie paradise
Did I like Hot Chocolate I was asked before my visit to Kent Life Pub of the Year 2017, The King’s Head at Wye in the heart of the Kent Downs.
Uncertain if I was being quizzed on my musical taste or my favourite hot beverage, I emailed back that I liked both – and upon arrival at this cosy pub in Wye, was delighted to be welcomed by owner Scott Richardson’s offer to make me the most delicious hot chocolate drink ever (by fellow Kent Life Food & Drink Awards winner Hendricks of Hythe, natch). Sadly, no fanfare of You Sexy Thing.
I actually said out loud that I wished I’d brought my slippers as we settled down at a scrubbed wooden table to enjoy our drinks and have a chat. Which Scott is very good at – naturally gregarious, he was brought up in pubs and social clubs in Newcastle and his two brothers and sister all went on to run pubs.
Scott, however, initially resisted the call and made his career in music, working for Virgin before going solo, managing bands and moving into TV and theatre as well, with shows such as ITV’s Big Reunion to his name.
In fact it was when one of his clients from that show, Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon, won Master Chef in 2008 and opened her own restaurant, that Scott really started thinking about having his own place.
The deal was sealed when fellow Geordie and partner Mark Lightford left the world of fashion in which he worked to join Scott in transforming this former ‘spit and sawdust’ pub in the heart of Wye into the community hub it is today.
Five years on and the peach and pine décor, gold dado rails and pew seats that first greeted them are gone (think shades of grey and deep plum accents), two bars have been knocked into one and boarded-up windows revealed in all their handsome glory.
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Mark’s creative touch is immediately evident and as soon as you walk in your eyes are darting everywhere, taking in the welcoming wrap-round bar – where you can buy home-made cakes as well local produce ranging from Kentish Oils to Taittinger and Gusbourne fizz – the standing shelves of books and journals, the hunting photos shot by Mark on the walls and to the eating area at the end. It’s fun and inviting.
There are hand-chalked blackboards listing upcoming events, while dogs are not only encouraged they have a jar of their own posh doggy biscuits made by the chefs.
As well as the main bar there’s a cosy snug with an open fire and lights strung along an old ladder; future plans include transforming the side passage originally used for horses in its coaching inn days into a space for takeaway hand-made pizzas, and turning a first-floor family bedroom into conference room.
It’s time to tear myself away and meet my room for the night, all fresh and bright with cheerful yellow accents against white and grey, a pristine en suite and classy toiletries.
Suitably abluted I came down for what I’d planned as an early supper and early night; five hours later I crawled into bed after a truly fabulous evening that just sped by.
Sipping a glass of Greensand Ridge Gin with grapefruit I studied the menu and contemplated the specials (salmon roulade, cod with chorizo, apple tarte tatin) but had already fallen in love with Manu’s foodie pictures taken earlier.
So my starter was untypical for me – a Duck Scotch egg with cranberry relish and salad – but proved a million miles away from the classic pub-grub, rib-sticker of old. Think perfectly cooked egg encased in the lightest of sausagemeat shot through with roasted duck, the richness offset by the sharpness of cranberries and super-fresh salad leaves.
My main course was never in doubt: the famous fish stew, chef’s personal favourite, despite the lobster bisque base taking three days to make. Within that flavour-packed tomato and lobster base you’ll discover an ocean of delights – fat mussels and prawns, succulent cod, crab and crispy squid, baby new potatoes and the freshest of herbs.
Delivering big, bold Basque flavours the dish managed somehow to be simultaneously filling yet still light and energising; no wonder regulars phone up in advance to anxiously check ‘is the fish stew on tonight?’
Despite thinking I knew best and that a punchy red would be my best accompaniment, the message came back from the kitchen that I was quite wrong and I’d be having a glass of French Viognier instead. Glad I listened, Carl; smooth and fruity, it worked a treat.
For future visits I’m going to try the beef cheeks braised in herbs and red wine or the roast rump of Romney Marsh lamb – or possibly something completely different, as the menu changes four times a year.
Relieved that my pudding would take 15 minutes to prepare, I contemplated the rapidly filling tables around me; despite it being mid-week, all 24 covers were taken and the air was filled with contented chat and munching.
Service here is friendly, chatty and efficient. The staff are taken out by Scott and Mark once a month to a different supplier so they really know their stuff. I was looked after by the delightful Ronnie and Amy throughout my meal.
Ta-da – here came my divine chocolate fondant, complete with proper oozy filling and beautifully contrasted by the sharpness of a blackberry compote and vanilla crème fraîche. So worth any wait.
Joined then by Scott, Mark and head chef Carl Jordan, the craic was so great (and the wines so generously poured) that my plans for an early night totally evaporated into a state of near blissful contentment.
God knows how the boys got up so early the following day, but I finally managed it and found myself tucking into avocado and tomatoes on toast topped by two poached eggs, which Scott said he’d predicted I’d pick (“all the girls do”). Predictable or not, I loved it – and the whole experience. Kent Life’s thoroughly deserved Pub of the Year winner.
What: Welcoming, foodie village pub with rooms
Where: The King’s Head, Church Street, Wye TN25 5BN
01233 812418 or email@example.com
When: Sun-Tue 8am-10pm, Wed-Sat 8am-11pm
How much: Crab, chilli and lime fish cakes £8; Romney Marsh lamb, Savoy cabbage and bacon and boulangère potatoes £18.50; fish stew £18.50; desserts all £7
Meet the chef
Carl Jordan, head chef
Tell us a bit about your
I’ve been a chef for 14 years, working in hotels, restaurants and gastro pubs in and around Kent. I’ve been at The Kings Head for the last two years, first as a temporary sous chef then I took on the role of head chef when the previous chef moved on to open his own restaurant. The most enjoyable part of my role here is the Kings Head’s policy of using the best locally sourced and seasonal produce, and building relationships with the producers and suppliers to ensure the quality of the food is of the highest standard. Having the autonomy to create seasonal menus four times a year and keeping with our ethos of making everything from scratch not only keeps our customers happy, but makes for a happy kitchen brigade too! The environment, atmosphere, and staff of the pub is what makes it a great place to work.
Main local suppliers?
Ripple Farm Organic, Wye Community Farm (using their hogget and beef whenever possible), Tom our local egg farmer, Stour Valley Game, Perry Court Farm, Wooden Spoon, Kent Oils, Bajafarm in Brook and P&H fisheries in Hastings.
Fish stew is my personal favourite on the menu, it takes three days for us to make the lobster bisque base for it, but it’s worth it! The black bean chilli-filled sweet potato is a very close second, such a good vegetarian option that’s sadly often neglected on chef’s menus these days
Top cookery tip?
Don’t over complicate dishes, work towards packing in flavour instead. Use good, fresh local ingredients, and most of all enjoy the experience of cooking.
My dad, he got me excited by food and was the first head chef I worked under, it was a very hard experience, but it taught me a lot.
Must-have kitchen gadget?
My sous vide (water bath).
Breakfast this morning?
Cup of tea and later in the morning poached eggs