Since its jazzy refurbishment, Cross Keys appears to be striking a chord with diners. We sent Debbie Attwood along to see if the Southborough gastro pub has really unlocked its potential…
After taking a quick look around the website before my visit to the newly-refurbished pub, my mouth was already watering – and it wasn’t even lunchtime. So it felt like a long and hungry afternoon before it was time to make our way to St Johns.
On arrival we receive a warm welcome and are offered a table in the bright conservatory by manager Jerome, who explains that his initial intention was to turn the venue into a jazz club – indeed, the dulcet tones of jazz fill the restaurant throughout the evening.
After ordering some crisp and fragrant house white, we’re talked through the fantastically varied menu. There is the option of a full three-course banquet or you can choose some tapas (or ‘evening nibbles’ as they’re known). Jerome tells us he wants his customers to enjoy a taste of tapas without having to only offer Spanish dishes and so the menu includes a range of fish dishes, breads and olives, onion rings and lots more.
My partner and I choose a couple of fish dishes from the nibbles menu as a starter. On Jerome’s advice we decided on the assorted smoked fish, which today include some smoked salmon and mackerel (£3.50), the calamari (£4) and some spiced Cajun whitebait (£3.50). While we wait for the food we have a look around the garden and it’s evident the pub has changed for the better since the refurbishment. Despite being situated on the main St John’s Road the conservatory is extremely quiet and peaceful.
Soon the fish arrives and we dig in. The assortment is well cooked and has a delicate fresh taste. The Cajun spices on the whitebait make for a different taste to the usual fried starter and the calamari isn’t overdone or covered in too much batter, as is the case with some squid dishes.
For our mains, we both decide on some hearty English dishes. I chose the lamb rump (£17) which has a rich taste and is cooked to perfection, pink on the inside and not overly seasoned, accompanied by Dauphinoise potatoes, fresh vegetables, a parsnip puree and rosemary jus. The flavours from the plate all complement each other perfectly with the puree proving a great contrast to the rich lamb. My friend decides to sample the 8oz 28-day aged sirloin steak with hand cut chips, grilled tomato and mushroom (£17). The steak is well cooked, juicy and medium rare, and both dishes are perfectly portioned.
On clearing our plates Jerome offers us the dessert menu. Although both stuffed to the brim, the delights of the sweets are too good to resist, especially after he explains about the homemade ice cream with a range of flavours including cookie dough, passion fruit, mango coffee and many more. We chose to share a mixture of ice creams and a chocolate fondant (both £5), which is creamy and extremely decadent – but comes with homemade vanilla ice cream on the side to clear the palate. Feeling somewhat like beached whales by the time we’re done, Jerome guides us to the ‘snug’ – a little comfy hideaway where we can relax. It’s a perfect way to end a very British evening.
If you’re looking for tasty pub food and a friendly relaxed atmosphere, Cross Keys should definitely be on your radar. And it has regular jazz nights.
Cross Keys, 236/238 St Johns Road, Tunbridge Wells TN4 9XD
01892 536 516 www.crosskeystw.co.uk