Having graced the edge of Tunbridge Wells Common for three years, just off the High Street in London Road, The Hide Out restaurant and bar is a consistently popular haunt for refreshment-seekers and diners alike. Here, Hannah Patterson meets Head Chef Jamie Tsui, who co-owns the establishment with Fiona Berg, to find out the secrets of the venue’s longevity in such a competitive local market
It’s been over a year since we last spoke. What’s been happening here at The Hide Out?
With regards to the menu, we’ve been keeping things as they were – we seem to have found a formula that works!
You used to change your menu fairly regularly…
Yes, I’d play around with it every month. But after a while we started getting regulars through the door who had a favourite dish, and if their dish wasn’t on the menu there was visible disappointment. Now that we’ve developed favourites, customers want to come back for them, so we decided on a more fixed main menu and then an array of changing specials to accompany it.
And how would you describe the current menu in five words?
Absolutely. Amazing. Worth. A. Try.
Very good! And if someone gave it ‘a try’, what could they expect?
It’s a little bit of everything, but there’s some definite Asian influences as well as some Northern Brazilian influences. I tend to go for the things I’d want to order myself in a restaurant – if it works, it stays.
When did you first become interested in food and develop a passion for it?
Unconventionally, it was because my mum was an awful cook. So I started cooking at home, and when it came to finding a path after school I took a washing-up job in a
local pub, and eventually the rest followed on from there. So I fell into it, really, but also
discovered a love for it, which led to me learning to cook properly at Westminster College and then travelling the world, furthering my knowledge of food. I love making food for people to enjoy.
Which of your dishes in particular do people come back for?
Everyone seems to have their own favourite. That said, the Nasi Goreng is always a winner and extremely popular. It’s an Indonesian rice dish topped with fried egg and crispy vegetables, with the option of adding either chicken or prawns. It’s been a staple of the menu since the restaurant first opened, and there have been customers who have requested it based on a recommendation from a friend.
As a restaurant in the village area of town, what kind of customers do you tend to get?
Very particular ones. The people of Tunbridge Wells certainly like to keep us on our toes,but we love that the town is full of people who take their food seriously, know what they want, and have high expectations when it comes to quality. We are always listening to our customers and catering to their wishes whenever possible. For example, we get a lot of requests for particular wines.
Is the key to longevity evolving with the desires of the customers?
I think it must be, though I think longevity requires a healthy dollop of luck as well. There are a lot of nice restaurants in Tunbridge Wells so, as a restaurant owner, you’ve got to find a niche and make it work for you. Our garden area has really brought people in – it’s such a nice place to kick back with a drink on sunny afternoons, especially with our 2-4-1 weekday cocktail offer. A lot of the restaurants here are successful as a result of good footfall and aesthetic, but as we are slightly more tucked away, we have to rely on quality food and quality service to get people through the door.
A lot of your reviews focus on your customer service – is this something that is particularly important to you?
Definitely. Fiona is the face of the place. She’s always got so much energy and a huge smile on her face. We used to work on Disney cruise ships, private yachts and all sorts of high-end ships. Have youever known anyone who’s worked for Disney? They take customer service very seriously, and we learnt a great deal from that. They go to great lengths to ensure that their service is beyond excellent. Once you’ve dealt with the customers on one of those ships, you’re ready for anything! I suppose we can credit a fair chunk of our success to the service we provide.
If you swapped places and were a customer here, what would you order?
Easy. I’d go for the calamari squid to start – such a simple thing to make, but always so delicious and bursting with flavour. Then I’d go for the Nasi Goreng, followed by a warm chocolate brownie with our banana fudge ice cream. We’ve got a range of ice cream flavours you can choose from, but that’s my recommendation. Fiona would probably do the same, but she loves the Camembert to start, and often goes for the steak and chips – she loves the blue cheese sauce.
Finally, what do you think the future holds for The Hide Out?
At the moment we have no major plans – we are just continuing what we’ve been doing, as it appears to be working. And we have been taking event bookings for the holiday season.We don’t offer any kind of packages, instead we just ask people to call up and we can work something around them – it’s a lot more personal that way. Our restaurant can accommodate up to 36 covers for private dining with a varied wine list and scrumptious food, and the upstairs lounge can fit up to 35 people comfortably for canapés. Alternatively, you can hire the entire venue, which can accommodate up to 80 people. The restaurant makes for an amazing dance floor once all the tables are cleared. We can do anything, from clearing the whole place, getting security in and arranging a band or DJ to hiring out just a single room for some cocktails. We can arrange drinks, drinks and canapés, drinks with a meal… whatever you like. That’s the main focus for now. And hopefully getting some more use out of our lovely, sunny garden area!
The Hide Out
26 London Road
Tunbridge Wells TN1 1DA
T: 01892 315297