Will one of the area’s best dining destinations live up to the hype? Eileen Leahy hops along to the Kentish Hare, in Bidborough, in order to find out…
THE KENTISH HARE occupies a scenic little spot in the picture-perfect village of Bidborough, just a few miles north of Tunbridge Wells. It offers a comprehensive list of local ales and craft gins and both a bar and fine dining menu. So far, so country gourmet pub you might think but that’s where any similarities technically end with its nearest competitors as this establishment is run by two of the country’s top celebrity chefs, brothers James and Chris Tanner, who have put Bobby Brown, a Gordon Ramsay protégé and star of BBC Masterchef: The Professionals, in charge of its kitchen.
Since it launched in 2014 The Kentish Hare has also garnered two AA Rosettes and is now listed as one of the country’s top 50 gastro pubs. So, does such impressive culinary pedigree result in an extra enjoyable dining experience? Well in the interests of investigative journalism I’m about to find out…
It’s a warm summer’s evening when my husband and I arrive at its pretty rural location, just a few minutes by car from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells and a stone’s throw from the stunning vistas of Bidborough Ridge.
Situated on the former site of The Hare and Hounds pub, its smart painted tongue and groove exterior and manicured window boxes certainly make it look very different to its predecessor.
‘Run by two of the country’s top celebrity chefs, brothers James and Chris Tanner,
The Kentish Hare also has Bobby Brown,
a Gordon Ramsay protégé, in charge of its kitchen’
The inside of the building, which the Tanner brothers saved from being demolished, is a similar stylish story. Boasting a colour palette of tasteful on-trend sage green and putty tones with exposed floorboards, stag heads and vintage leather sofas dotted around it certainly looks like it means business when it comes to providing its customers with a memorable drinking or dining experience.
Our friendly Maitre D’ Eamon, ushers us into the inviting snug bar for a drink while we check out the menu. As we jostle past a group of cricketers quenching their thirst with an early evening pint and throngs of lively locals chatting and drinking, it’s fair to say that the ambience here is positively buzzing.
My husband Steve opts for a glass of Chapel Down’s Curious Brew lager while I decide that a refreshing G&T is in order on this warm summer’s evening. I’m told by one of the bar staff that The Kentish Hare stocks 15 different types of gin. I choose local tipple The Silent Pool which comes served with a Fever Tree Mediterranean mixer over ice and a sprig of coriander. “This complements all those wonderful juniper berries” the barman says and with just one sip of its ice cold, sweet and spicy flavours I think I just may have found my favourite new summer drink.
We’re soon taken through to the very busy vaulted dining room towards the back of the pub which overlooks a pretty, wisteria festooned decked area outside. The aesthetic attention to detail is again immediately evident here with its exposed brick walls, wooden flooring and each table boasting posies of fresh flowers and glimmering mercurial glass candles.
We’re spoilt with a window spot and promptly offered a box of crusty artisan breads with marmite flavoured butter – a simple idea which gives added depth and a salty kick to the selection of fresh focaccia, sour dough and baguette.
For starters there’s a strong emphasis on seafood and fish and our friendly, knowledgeable waitress Julia tells us that the Kentish Hare team try to source every ingredient as locally as possible. After pondering the salmon ceviche served with slivers of pink grapefruit, jalapeno and coriander (£9.95) I decide upon the crab salad with pickled cucumber, pomegranate and brown crab mayonnaise (£10.95). It’s deliciously fresh, generous in size and beautifully textured. Steve is also impressed by the crustacean offerings and decides to dine on the seared scallops, curried cauliflower purée and maple bacon (£12.95). The scallops are plump and creamy and artistically presented on glazed quenelles of curried cauliflower with the shards of bacon giving the dish good crunch.
Our sommelier’s choice of Hush Heath’s Skye’s Chardonnay (£4.95 125ml) to accompany our food choices is a perfect pairing thanks to its clean, citrus character.
As we await our ‘main events’ as they’re so called on the restaurant menu, we catch a glimpse of head chef Bobby through the exposed kitchen window working his gastro magic alongside his team. He cut his culinary teeth at Gordon Ramsay’s Breadstreet Kitchen in London and Age & Sons in Ramsgate before moving to The Kentish Hare in 2014. Just visible are the Green Egg barbeques Bobby cooks on to ensure the meat is cooked to perfection.
After sampling a slice of Steve’s filet steak (£26.95) which he further enhances with a Kentish Blue sauce and a serving of healthy ‘stealth’ fries (£4.50) I can attest that the Green Eggs are definitely doing their job. The meat is beautifully tender yet boasts that delicious chargrilled texture and taste.
My main of curried hake with onion bhaji, carrots, chicory and cucumber (£17.95) is very delicately spiced but as I’m such a heat fiend I have to admit I’d have liked it with just a little bit more of a hit but for what the fish lacks in exotic seasoning the aromatic bhaji makes up for. Again, the presentation is outstanding and Julia tells me this is one of the dishes Bobby created for his stint on Masterchef.
By now the sun has long gone and so have our appetites but after a short break we do sneak a peek at the ‘Final Flings’ dessert menu. We decide that we want to leaving feeling with our appetites perfectly sated, not saturated so opt to share the clotted cream parfait with English strawberries, balsamic, olive oil and strawberry sorbet (£7.95). It’s like a traditional British summer on a plate thanks to its perfectly ripe, refreshing flavours which are cleverly tempered from being too sweet by the balsamic and olive oil drizzle. It is quite simply the perfect ending to a perfect evening.
James Tanner will be hosting a pop up restaurant based on The Kentish Hare in the Queen Anne Enclosure at Royal Ascot all this week until Saturday June 24. For more information see www.ascot.co.uk