Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thackeray's, Tunbridge Wells

85 London Rd
Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1EA


Thackeray's had a Michelin star until about two years ago and if our excursion there on Saturday night is anything to go by, they should get it back pretty pronto.

The restaurant is about a five minute walk from our front door and is in a cottage overlooking Mount Ephraim and the Common in Tunbridge Wells. It has the distinction of having been stayed in by the author of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray, hence the name.

The restaurant has a couple of downstairs rooms, nicely laid out (although a couple of tables are close enough that the waiters need to be quite slim to pass between them) and pleasantly lit. There is also a small bar tucked away in the corner. Upstairs, there are a couple of private dining rooms and another bar.

We were seated and we sipped a couple of drinks while perusing the menu. I had the luxury of my own vegetarian menu, which had a choice of two starters and two mains on it. I'm in two minds about separate vegetarian menus as I always feel as though a meat free dish should just fit nicely into a standard menu. It works in Italy, so why not everywhere else?

So, we ordered our food and very shortly we were presented with a choice of bread (black pepper, red pepper and olive) and then an espresso cup containing an amuse bouche of watermelon and ginger soup with a swirl of crème fraiche arrived. It was amazing. I'm not usually one for cold soups, but this was really light and refreshing.

For my starter I had a goats’ cheese and beetroot parfait. Now, goats’ cheese seems to be de rigour as a veggie option, so I wasn't expecting much but what arrived was quite different. In the centre of the plate was a small tower of alternating layers of goats’ cheese and thin beetroot slices. Atop this was a very tiny salad and the whole thing was surrounded by dots of a sauce topped by a tiny piece of walnut. The presentation was immaculate. The taste? It was pretty amazing. The cheese and beetroot were a perfect match.

My wife had chosen scallops and her plate arrived with four of them, each on top of a different puree, potato and mustard, spinach cauliflower and creamed corn. Again, the presentation was immaculate and her opinion upon tasting it was that it was “stunning”.

Thackery's have quite a lot of wines by the glass on their Wine List, so we asked the sommelier to recommend a wine from the list for each course. For the starters my wife had a Chablis and I had a Riesling. Both worked very well with the food.

For the main course, my wife ordered lamb. Perfectly cooked (she said) and accompanied by roast potato (just the one – perfectly cuboid...) a crispy aubergine skin topped with an aubergine puree, and caramelised onions with olives. Once again, the presentation was very picturesque.

My veggie option was gnocchi with wild mushrooms, a parmesan crisp and globe artichokes. It was presented very imaginatively. The gnocchi and mushrooms were bound together with a sauce in a sort of tower upon which was the parmesan crisp. On top of this was a couple of sections of quartered globe artichokes. Elsewhere on the plate was a puree. The gnocchi was great. However, as much as I love artichokes, and tasty as they were, they were out of place with this dish.

Wine wise, I had a Rioja and my wife had a Pinot Noir. Again, both matched the main courses very well.

Before the dessert, a small dish arrived for each of us containing a small banana and ginger roulade and very nice it was too.

And so to dessert. They all sounded very nice, so what to choose? Luckily, Thackery's do what they call a “Sharing Plate” which contains a selection of all the desserts. So, between us we sampled Trio of Chocolate Cannelloni, Raspberry Soufflé with Raspberry Jus, Apple Tart Tatin and Mango and Mascarpone Terrine. All very tasty and all accompanied by an extremely nice Californian black muscat.

Once we had finished the meal, we retired with coffee and Balvenie Doublewood (myself) and Tawny Port (my wife) to the upstairs bar, where we then proceeded to demolish a plate of petit fours.

We both agreed that we'd had a great evening and that we would return. The bill for the two of us came to £175 which included the tip that they had added on for us.

However, there was one more pleasant surprise to come.

As I handed over the bill and credit card, the waitress asked if we had enjoyed the evening.

“Excellent,” I replied, “and if your chef ever has a moment of madness and decides to do a vegetarian tasting menu, I'll give you my number.”

“No problem,” she replies. “Give us a ring a few days before your next visit and he'll sort one out for you.”

“I'm not a veggie,” says my wife. “Would I be able to have the normal tasting menu if my husband has the vegetarian one?”

“Of course,” replies the waitress.

We'll be back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cinnamon Club, London

The Old Westminster Library,
Great Smith Street,
London SW1P 3BU

A couple of weeks back, I joined Toptable and was thrilled to discover that the Cinnamon Club was offering three courses and a free Cinnamon Bellini for £22.

I booked a table for a weekday evening to give it a go. The three courses were from a set menu and I added a message to the booking to check that the menu contained a vegetarian option. About half an hour after booking the restaurant phoned to tell me that there was indeed a veggie option for both starters and main course which goes to show that the Toptable booking system really works well.

So it was that I turned up on a very rainy weeknight to sample their fayre.

Despite it being a very imposing building, I walked past the restaurant first of all, as there is no huge sign proclaiming the name of the place, just a couple of very inauspicious brass plaques.

Hower, once inside, the restaurant is very well laid out in a large room, with a balcony around with bookshelves etc, keeping some of the majesty and atmosphere of the old library.

We were presented with the menus and after choosing, an amuse bouche arrived at the table. It was a very tasty little spicy dumpling.

My starter was crispy rice cakes served with a spicy sauce. I had expected something more like the earlier dumpling, but these were indeed very crispy and very nice.

The main course was rice pancakes served with mint chutney, dhal and vegetable curry. Both this and the other courses were very well presented, reminding you that this isn't your run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant. The pancakes and accompaniments were really nice, as was, apparently my friend's Barramundi and we ordered some bread to accompany the dishes. Three different types of naan arrived at the table, keema, plain and one with a sweet filling. These, of course, were extra to the special offer.

For dessert I had a very nice Banana and Ginger Parfait.

So, after a coffee we waited for the bill. And waited. We kept trying to catch the eye of the waiters as they passed without success. Eventually, we did manage to get the bill and paid. Apart from this minor quibble, it was an excellent night out and well worth the money. I shall definitely be keeping a close eye on the Toptable offers from now on.

Signor Franco, Tunbridge Wells

5a High Street
Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN1 1UL


You can walk past the entrance to Signor Franco's quite easily without noticing it, as it is just a small entrance between two shops.

The restaurant itself is up a flight of stairs flanked either side by autographed photos of many famous stars who, one assumes may have dined here (or at least et the owner) over the years. At the top of the stairs, the restaurant opens up into a very neat, airy space with white-clothed tables . Part of the restaurant is situated in a large "conservatory" area that overlooks the high street.

The menu is fairly standard Italian fare, which is just fine by me.

I started with Carciofi Alla Nerone described as "Warm Roman artichokes topped with marinated sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, fine herbs and served on a bed of rocket lettuce." The presentation was really good, the way that the petals on the artichokes had been trimmed made it look like a flower arangement. It tasted very nice too.

For the main course I chose Fagotti A Funghi Porcini (Fresh pasta filled with wild mushrooms and parmesan cheese, sauté in a cream wild mushrooms and parmesan cheese sauce.) It was quite nice. The only downside was that the porcini mushrooms were slightly bitter, and I'm not sure whether they were fresh or rehydrated ones. The sauce and the pasta filling were lovely though.

For dessert I had a pancake filled with custard and topped with an amaretto sauce. It was gorgeous.

The service throughout was pretty good, although we did seem to have quite a few different waiters throughout the evening. We're planning to go back some time and, when we do, we're going to make sure we get a table in the "conservatory" area.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Royal Tunbridge Wells

We moved to Tunbridge Wells a couple of months ago, and it's great to be able to walk to so many good eateries.

Of course there is my favourite Carluccio's which I have been to many times. and never been disappointed by the food or the service. We are now gradually working our way through the various other restaurants in the town. The Raj Pavillion is reviewed in an earlier post, but since then we've been to other local restaurants and cafes, so I thought I give you a quick run down with a brief impression of each.

The blurb says that only fresh ingredients are used and that no artificial colour, preservatives, SG or GM foods aer used. We popped in one evening for a pizza and it was really nice. The service was good, and really friendly.

Relish, 28 Camden Road
We popped in here one morning for breakfast. The restaurant itself has a sort of rustic feel to it with its wooden tables and floor. There is a small delicattesen sectio where you can buy various cheeses, vegetables and salads. The brekky menu was pretty good, and when the food arrived it was well cooked and there was plenty of it. On a subsequent visit however, the place seems to have headed downhill rapidly. The service was very slow and things were forgotten. They were advertising for a new chef. Hopefully they'll get things sorted out sharpish, as this could be a really good place if run properly.

Masala, 51 The Pantiles
The outside of the restarant looks quite imposing (despite the current scaffolding) and the Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells is a lovely area. However, unfortunately the food wasn't that exciting and certainly not up to the standard of the Raj Pavillion.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, 41 Mount Pleasant Road
There are a few veggie options on the menu, which is nice to see and I chose the Summer Veggie Stack. What arrived was a teetering tower of roast vegetables that was impossible to eat "burger style" and had to be separated and eaten with a knife and fork. However, although it basically ended up as a plate of roasted veg, it tasted okay.

Wagamama, 54-58 Mount Pleasant Road
If you've been to a Wagamama, you'll know what to expect. If not, then it's definitely worth a visit. The food is cooked fresh and arrives at your table when it's ready. This means that people in your party get served at different times, side dishes arrive before mains etc. However, once you realise this (and the waiting staff do tell you when you order) it all works just fine. And, most important of all the food tastes great.

We've plenty more restaurants to visit and I'll be posting reviews on here as we try them.