Once home to Victorian writer and satirist William Makepeace Thackeray, this “Tunbridge Wells institution” makes an immediate impact on arrival with its all-white, New England exterior that makes it feel like a fairy tale cottage.
Inside, it’s beautifully maintained with glowing lamps, muted colours and exuberantly furnished private rooms – a smart backdrop for some meticulously crafted modern French cooking – a skill the kitchen team has been honing in during nearly 20 years of operation.
There’s plenty of creativity on show here, although it never goes over the top – witness a tantalising starter of cured monkfish with heritage tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, braised octopus, sorrel, and fennel pollen. The rabbit loin with crisp pancetta, apricot, spring vegetables, cashew and a confit leg ‘club sandwich’ has also received much praise.
After that, you might go for dry-aged beef sirloin, roast loin of pork or aged Goudhurst lamb with roast best end, cos lettuce with peas, slow-cooked glazed belly and parmesan. To finish, try the Kentish cherry mousse with sour cherry, frosted pistachio and cherry sorbet. The cheese board, with artisan biscuits and apple chutney is another winner.
It’s all wonderful. One fan goes as far as to call it “faultless” with its “great food and charming professional service”. Real skill, attention to detail and panache is demonstrated in the cooking here, which is headed up by head chef Patrick Hill. Yet, the overall impression is unpretentious and laid-back, without losing its sophisticated identity.
There’s a “particularly good-value” lunch, one fan announces and the tasting menu is “an adventure into the unknown (in a good way)”. The sommelier “deserves a pat on the back” says another fan, for his astute wine pairings, and there’s a gorgeous Japanese terrace garden for fine days – no wonder readers say it’s “well worth the trip out of London”.