Stepping into Updown’s manicured gardens feels a bit like intruding on a private soiree at someone’s very lovely country home. We imagine this was the effect that owners Ruth Leigh and Oli Brown had in mind when they set out to restore the 17th-century building, together creating a rustic oasis in the heart of Kent that’s somewhere between a home-from-home and a magical fairyland.
The restaurant has been resurrected in the barn opposite the farmhouse, with the doors flung open in the summer to unite the front ‘patio’ with the main space. Inside, trailing ivy weaves across the structure’s thick wooden beams, while terracotta plant pots, distressed hanging lanterns and red brick walls have the effect of bringing the garden inside. It's absurdly beautiful.
This ode to the English countryside is reflected in a seasonal, monthly-changing menu. We start with pizzetta fritta, all puffed up and crisp, and piled high with jammy fried courgettes, creamy ricotta and fresh mint. As if on cue, one of the chefs pops into the garden to collect more herbs for the kitchen, a real time preview of garden-to-table dining.
Things go from very good to outstanding. Soft, torn chunks of mozzarella on a bed of wilted greens are seasoned with salty, shrivelled olives and good olive oil, while a plate of lobster tagliolini swimming in a flavoursome tomato and basil sauce is rich and cheesy. Mains include a beautiful piece of torched mackerel with rhubarb, chilli and more of that mint, but the real star is a vegetarian number: a magnificent taleggio and new potato tart smothered in verdant pesto, delicate asparagus and served with what can only be described as a cheesy hollandaise.
There's a considered French and Italian wine list with the cheapest bottle starting from £27, and about four cocktails, including a wonderful Spring Spritz the colour of fresh peaches that's finished with a fresh orange slice and a green olive.
Updown offers a romanticised view of country life, and we're more than willing to give up reality to be a part of it.