Once home to writer and satirist William Makepeace Thackeray, the oldest building in Tunbridge Wells makes an immediate impact with its all-white, New England exterior. Inside, it’s beautifully maintained with glowing lamps, muted colours and exuberantly furnished private rooms – a smart backdrop for Richard Phillips’ meticulously crafted modern French cooking, which is “creative and interesting without going over the top”. Roasted saddle of Kentish rabbit with Medjool dates, Gruyère bread Sauce, Belgian chicory and rabbit jus gras makes for a tantalising starter ahead of, say, pan-fried Atlantic halibut with braised Roscoff onions, dried duck crumble, bay leaf purée, feta cheese and poached salsify. Desserts could feature raspberry soufflé with raspberry sorbet and vanilla sauce, and the cheeseboard is loaded with ripe Anglo-French specimens. In fine weather, the gorgeous Japanese terrace garden is an alfresco must and “great for special occasions”.
No reason for the green-pen brigade of Tunbridge Wells to be disgusted with the wine list at their local eatery. Thackeray’s has a well-chosen medium-sized list that mixes the well-priced and recognisable with showier offerings to great effect. The highlight of the list is the 30-or-so wines on the Selection pages – all of which are available by the glass.