There is a subtle hint of the nautical about The Hide Out, a jazzy eaterie on the corner of London Road and Castle Street, Tunbridge Wells. A pair of bronze ship lanterns, one port and one starboard, sit in the window, and the custom-made tables, with their hickory tops and steel legs, are reminiscent of an ocean-going yacht.
That is hardly surprising since the owners, chef Jamie and his partner Fiona, have spent four of the seven years since they met at sea cruising the Caribbean and the Galápagos on chartered yachts where they worked as crew.
The pair have now eagerly swapped turquoise seas and a blistering sun to come back to Tunbridge Wells where, a year ago, they opened their own restaurant.
It was two years ago when Jamie, who grew up in the town, received a message on his mobile while cruising around St Barthes from an old friend telling him the lease on the building was up for sale – and he jumped at the chance.
He said: “I’ve always loved this building. It has a charm to it. It’s just tucked away and quite an interesting looking building. It was a Chinese for years and I always used to look at the garden and think, ‘Wouldn’t that be an amazing place to sit and have a drink in the summer?’”
Since then the couple have taken the place over, transformed the interior into a modern and ambient dining room, and the business is going from strength to strength. They came back from holiday in mid-January to find their inbox full of requests for tables, and have been fully booked every weekend since.
The menu is short, with only four starters and four mains on a list that changes every month, but this is because Jamie’s focus is on top quality ingredients that are seasonal, and he is guided by what his suppliers recommend. Nevertheless there is something for everyone – whether you like fish, meat or vegetarian.
On a chilly evening last week, and after a long day in the office, it was a relief to walk into this hip joint, with its bold, black décor, candlelit tables and ambient trance music. We already felt like we had been transported to the interior of a luxury boat on some far-flung tropical island… and that was before any of the seafood came out.
I always like to start with something light – leaving more space for mains and dessert – so I chose the Courgette and Feta Soup which sounded original and warming for a winter night, while my friend chose the Tempura Prawns. The soup was velvety with a salty, sheep’s cheese edge, and the plump prawns were among the freshest I’ve tasted, and cooked to perfection. They came with a dip reminiscent of the
Caribbean: Chilli, spring onions, palm sugar and cane vinegar.
For mains, I chose Thai Coconut and Pak Choi Broth with added prawns (the little nibble I’d had of my friend’s starter had whetted my appetite), while she chose Pan Roast Garlic Chicken. The broth was actually more like a noodle dish, but was again wonderfully fresh, while the chicken had a crispy skin, well balanced with the creamy mash and wilted spinach.
To drink we chose the house red from Italy, as we both prefer a light, fruity wine which does not overpower the food, and the Prima Pietra Cabernet Merlot from Italy was the perfect choice.
To complete the tropical theme of the evening I suppose we should have chosen a fresh fruit salad as our dessert but there is only so far you can push a metaphor, and it was, after all, mid-winter outside. So we chose a February favourite to share: a portion of the sticky toffee pudding. It came with the tart, citrus accompaniment of redcurrants, tempered by the smoothness of raspberries, vanilla ice cream and a fan of thin chocolate.
If you like restaurants with excellent service, wholesome, fresh food and something a little original and different, The Hide Out is a great place to eat.
The Hide Out, 26 London Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1DA
Phone: 01892 315297
Starters from: £5.95
Mains from: £11.95