Review: The Small Holding, Kilndown

Food at The Small Holding (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Food at The Small Holding (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Talented chef Will Devlin is back and he’s cooking better than ever at his newly opened smallholding in Kilndown

Interiors (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Interiors (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

One of Kent’s most exciting young chefs is back on the restaurant scene, and he’s showing a new maturity and vision.

Will Devlin, who many readers will know from Thackerays and The Windmill in Hollingbourne, branched out on his own last year with a series of pop-ups under the banner ‘No Fixed Abode.’

Now he’s popped up in Kilndown, not far from Bewl Water, where he’s acquired a smallholding with an acre of land to grow his own salads and vegetables, keep pigs, ducks and chickens – and open a rustic restaurant where he can showcase all that wonderful home-grown and reared produce.

Will Devlin (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Will Devlin (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

He’s also become a dad and moved house to nearby Goudhurst, all while launching The Smallholding. “I’m a chef, I’m used to no sleep!” he grins when I ask if his baby daughter is letting him have any rest at all at night.

Will and his friends and family have transformed an old barn that was an outbuilding of the former Globe and Rainbow pub.

Taking ownership this January, they’ve created a sunny decked terrace, cosy bar and a lovely open restaurant with wooden floorboards, industrial-style lighting and old farm implements hanging on the pale blue walls.

Will Devlin (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Will Devlin (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

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With financial support from his father-in-law, plus brother Matt at his side running the bar, it’s a real family affair and the passion and enthusiasm extends to the staff.

Former Sutton Valence pupil Georgie is my delightful waitress and my brilliant wine choices are made by Sally, who is studying at Plumpton and putting her knowledge into practice here.

I can thoroughly recommend her advice, but if your preference is beer, Matt will match your food choices with his finest craft ales.

Sipping an ale in the bar, Will tells me how much he loves not being tied to the kitchen for 80 hours a week, being able to spend quality time with his family and to rediscover his love of cooking.

“I’ve always been interested in produce and super excited at every place I’ve worked to go out into the garden. It’s what so many chefs really long to do and I love it! I’ve jut picked fresh leaves for your salad dish tonight – you can’t get much fresher than that!”

Time to sample this abundance and the first sign of a very different evening to come is the delivery to my table of a brown envelope with the menu on brown parchment tucked inside. I can choose the Half Acre or Full Acre Menu, so of course opt for the full.

My journey begins with a little bowl of the lightest, fluffiest salt-baked celeriac topped with a swirl of pesto made from wild garlic foraged at nearby Scotney. With a subtle tang of woodland, it’s delicious with Will’s home-made sourbread and whipped butter.

To follow is the simplest looking salad, but beneath those freshly picked leaves lies a taste explosion of tiny carrots, young coriander and basil shoots on a pea mousse. It’s both stunning and energising.

A pink and green vision in a black bowl is confit trout with a delicious new potato and dill salad and contrasting ‘hit’ of pickled cucumber and horseradish, each ingredient treated with respect and precision. My tastebuds tingle.

Time for the first of the main events and roast Sussex beef shin on toasted foccaccia – posh beef on toast essentially – served with spring radish and pickled gherkin is meltingly tender. Fabulous with Sally’s choice of Trapiche 2016, all plums, spice and violets.

I didn’t think Will could outdo the beef, but woodfired cod with dainty steamed leeks and burnt butter is my standout dish of the night. Another diner is at the same stage of his meal and we start chatting excitedly about the toffiness of the buttery sauce, so gorgeous you want to spread it on everything you eat from now on.

The only drink that could cut through the sweetness is a biscuity Squerryes 2013, a marriage made in heaven, the bubbles cleansing the mouth between greedy bites.

Canon of Salehurst lamb is almost as spectacular, served with a rich, tangy jus, rainbow chard and East Hall Farm asparagus plus a touch of goat’s curd for contrast. With a glass of Brunito Tuscana San Giovese 2015, I am content.

Puddings maintain the same high standard: a truly wondrous rhubarb and custard mille-feuille with candied ginger and rhubarb sorbet has become my new hero.

I even manage to eat all the treats in my sweet box and sip a creamy Colombian Maypole coffee before reluctantly departing.

My only quibbles: pound signs are missing on the menus (trendy, but confusing) and I agree with my fellow diner: “Nothing good gets delivered in a brown envelope.”

He also found the chairs didn’t invite lingering, but not enough to stop him from booking dinner for the following evening, even if that would mean eating in the bar.

Once you’ve eaten here you too will want to keep coming back: this is how food should taste.

The essentials

What: Modern Mediterranean cuisine and real ales in a traditional country pub and restaurant with terrace and a one-acre smallholding

Where: The Small Holding, Ranters Lane, Kilndown, nr Cranbrook TN17 2SG, 01892 890105

When: 11am-11pm for drinks, food service Wed-Sat, 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm-9.30pm, occasional Sundays

How much: Half-Acre menu: £25, Full-Acre menu £45, beer pairing £15-£25, wine pairing £20-£35, depending on menu

Meet the chef

Will Devlin, chef-owner

Tell us a bit about you

I have been a chef for about 10 years, working in various restaurants, pubs and hotels in a Kent. After a year of running my own pop-up restaurant company, I’ve been lucky enough to open my own restaurant this April.

Your main suppliers?

We use lots of independent farms and producers from around the area, depending on what are the best ingredients available at the time

Your favourite dish?

We have just put on our Spring Salad using the first shoots from our farm. I love being able to pop down to the polytunnel to get ingredients for just before service.

Top cookery tip?

Preparation: work out what you’re making and get organised. Don’t leave everything to the last minute.

Must-have kitchen gadget?

A kettle: no good kitchen should be without good coffee.

Dream dinner guest?

Anthony Bourdain, I reckon we would have a wicked time.

Breakfast this morning?

Toasted crumpet – with lots of butter!

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