CHARLIE BOND HEADS FOR DINNER AT THE KENTISH HARE TO DISCOVER WHAT MAKES THIS LOCAL EATERY SO SPECIAL
I feel a little ashamed to admit, that prior to my recent dining experience at The Kentish Hare, I’d only been to socialise, but not to eat. The pub opened in its current form in 2014 and has been thriving since. After my meal there, I’ve realised that I’ve spent three years missing out – and I’ve got a lot of making up to do!
The Kentish Hare is owned by the renowned Tanner brothers, and is set on the idyllic Bidborough Ridge, with unparalleled views across the surrounding countryside.
Boasting two AA Rosette awards, and a frequent accolade collector, the pub has consistently received rave reviews since its opening.
Entering through the snug area, we’re greeted warmly at the bar by manager Paul, and taken through to our table in the
restaurant. Although there are separate areas for dining, drinking and socialising, the space feels inclusive, with each room leading on from the other without creating an obvious divide.
The restaurant is busy – for a Thursday evening it’s pleasing to see so many tables filled, and scanning the room I already spot plenty of tantalising dishes I wouldn’t mind sampling.
Once presented with our menus, the choice becomes even harder – as well as the steak night offer (tonight’s cut is sirloin, and two people can enjoy steak plus half a carafe of wine for under £40), there’s everything from roast duck breast to burgers available, a set menu and an abundance of starters and sides.
Typically indecisive, we call on Paul for help, but with so many popular dishes, even he has trouble narrowing the choice down. Eventually, my guest settles on the barbecue chicken wings (£7.95) to start, while I opt for the seared scallops (£12.95).
We to-and-fro over who’ll order which main, with the vision being we’ll ‘share’, so I eventually plump for the curried hake (£17.95) while my guest chooses the grilled lamb rump (£21.95) with a side of triple cooked chips (£4.95). I’m especially impressed that when we place our order, our waitress asks whether we have any food allergies – it’s a simple, but notable touch to an already impressive service.
For a sunny spring evening, and with fish dishes pending, I choose a crisp white wine in the form of the Bishops Leap St Clair Sauvignon Blanc (£6.95 for 175ml). One sip confirms this was an excellent choice – it’s fresh, zesty and incredibly moreish. I almost feel as though I’m on holiday, and I note that carafes are also available, which would certainly add to the holiday vibe, regardless of whether you lived a mile or a thousand miles away.
We don’t have to wait long before our starters arrive – my scallops are delicately placed atop parsnip puree, with bacon crisp to accompany, while my guest’s chicken wings look incredibly mouth-watering, coated in a sticky
barbecue glaze and garnished with spring onion and coriander.
Our decisions have paid off – my scallops are wonderfully tender, with the parsnip adding a subtle earthy flavour, and the crispiness of the bacon giving the dish a nice array of textures. I ask my guest what he thinks of his chicken wings, but then I decide to find out for myself by sampling one (oh okay, two) before he has the chance to refuse.
They’re equally delicious – the sauce is sticky and sweet but not sickly, the coating is perfectly crisp and the addition of coriander and spring onion rounds the flavours off nicely. I have no regrets – except for my outfit choice perhaps – the wings don’t pair well with a white blouse!
The Kentish Hare has an open kitchen, so not only is it fascinating to see the chefs at work behind the scenes, it also means you can get excited when you see that it’s your dish up next. We don’t have to wait long for our mains to be plated up and brought to our table – and they truly are a sight to behold.
My guest’s lamb is served with a potato crisp, braised lamb shoulder, pureed celeriac and a
bed of kale, while my dish is a vibrant rainbow of colour – the hake sits upon spinach and is surrounded by carrots, chicory and ribbons of brightly coloured vegetables, plus onion bhajis.
We do the obligatory ‘share’ (aka, cut a tiny piece off for each other to try) before tucking in to our own dishes and forgetting all about the idea of going 50/50. My guest is more than impressed with his lamb – the rump is tender and flavoursome, while the braised shoulder melts in the mouth.
My dish is so incredible it’s hard to put into words – every mouthful is a taste sensation – the hake is cooked to perfection, and the light curry flavour is delicious but in no way overpowers the dish. The onion bhajis are the best I’ve ever tasted, they’re salty, lightly spiced and the perfect accompaniment to the fish. I feel bad not sharing more, but my guest doesn’t seem to mind – his lamb, as he tells me repeatedly is “perfect”.
Admittedly, we do have to let our food go down for a long while before contemplating the dessert menu, but eventually we both choose the chocolate fondant (£7.50), served with a milk sorbet, and coffees to accompany.
Dessert can sometimes be a let-down, but that’s certainly not the case here – the fondant is the perfect consistency; soft, indulgent and gooey where it needs to be. It’s wonderfully rich and not too sweet, and for a couple who’ve already devoured two courses each, they slip down far too easily. At least this time we’ve been wise and ordered the same thing so there’s no concern over the matter of sharing.
The whole way home, and well into the night, we continue to enthuse about what a wonderful time we’ve had. From the impeccable service to the outstanding food, it’s an experience I’ll be looking to repeat very soon…