CULINARY COUNTY

WE LOOK AT WHY KENT HAS BECOME THE GO-TO FOODIE DESTINATION

Here in the Garden of England we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to gastronomic delights. From farms to fine wines and microbreweries to Michelin-starred restaurants, Kent boasts a booming food and drink industry.

The local food and drink sector in South East England is worth £550million per year – and Kent plays a significant part in that sum. As the growth of English wines reaches a record high, farmers markets flourish and eateries spring up in every corner of the county, there’s no doubt that our part of the world has become a foodie destination, held in high esteem for its produce and variety.

HOME GROWN

It might not be immediately apparent how much produce hails from our county but you only have to take a stroll in local surrounds to realise how much is growing all around us.

“Kent has such a diverse countryside – from the rolling hills of the North Downs, to the rich pastures of the Romney marshes, not to mention the vast and versatile coastline. This has meant that for centuries, we have been able to produce a whole host of crops which all require different growing environments,” says Jo Gurr from Produced in Kent – a trade organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting  food, drink, products and services in Kent.

A huge variety of food and drink that serves the country, and even the world is, in fact grown right here in Kent. 90% of English cherries are grown in Kent, 2,200 varieties of apples can be found growing at Brogdale Collections near Faversham, and the fi rst successful sweet potato crop to be grown in Britain came from a farm in Swanley.

“The availability of fresh, free range and organic produce within a short distance is what sets us apart from other parts of the country and I believe it’s our greatest asset as a food community,” says Adam Brown, a food blogger who runs @GoodFood_TW – social media accounts dedicated to the local food scene. “Restaurants and cafes, especially independents, are using this to their advantage as customers are looking to support local producers.”

GOING INDEPENDENT
For the past decade there has been year-on-year growth in the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners consumed in the nation’s cafés and restaurants, and we’ve certainly seen this come into fruition locally.

According to research commissioned by VoucherCodes.co.uk, diners prefer to treat their taste buds at independent establishments. 49% of Brits class independent restaurants as their favourite places to eat, while 34% said they favoured local pubs and cafés, so it may come as no surprise that independent restaurants are on the rise – you only have to walk down one of our local high streets to notice the abundance of eateries springing up.

“It’s an extremely exciting time for independent business owners as customers look to spend their money on great food whilst also supporting people in their community,” reckons Adam. “Our food scene is thriving because of the diversity and creativity that independents are bringing to all parts of Tunbridge Wells.”

While we may not have seen the end of chain restaurants, there’s certainly been a decline in their prominence locally.
“I think chains are a dying breed on the local food scene, with many facing closure or choosing not to open a branch at all as residents increasingly support independents,” says Adam. “The best example of this would be the closure of Jamie’s Italian on the High Street. Whilst family run Il Vesuvio on Camden Road thrives with repeat custom, Jamie’s couldn’t garner enough support to stay open.”

FREE FROM

It’s no secret that wellbeing is now more prominent than ever before, and the local dining scene has caught on to this, offering a greater variety of ‘free from’  options to cater for all kinds of dietary  requirements. While London may have been  the go to place for such eateries in the past, Kent is quickly catching up, and it’s a trend Adam has noticed taking place on our local high streets.

“The rise of gluten free and vegan options has been great to see over the last couple of years. Whilst options would have been very limited not so long ago, it is now standard to offer these choices at many eateries. With The Plant Base recently opening on Camden Road, and Basil on Lime Hill Road offering a greater selection of indulgent gluten free cakes and yummy vegan salads, it is now easier than ever to enjoy a lovely meal out without struggling.”

RAISING A GLASS

The English wines industry has reached unprecedented levels of success, a significant amount is grown and produced right here in Kent.

Award-winning wines that beat Champagnes in taste tests are made but a mere stone’s throw away, and local wines are even finding their way into prestigious events, such as Chapel Down replacing Bollinger Champagne as the official partner of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

But, it’s not just fantastic wines we make here in Kent – beer, cider and even gin production is on the rise, and we’re becoming known for our brewing and distilling skills, too.

“Over the last few years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of micro-breweries, which was quickly followed by the rise of the micro-pub; these trends have in turn meant fields have been re-planted with hop vines, in order to supply the growing demand for local ingredients,” explains Jo. “Kent is also at the forefront of the current nationwide trend of all things gin. We now have at least six distilleries in the county – for almost 200 years we didn’t even have one! The distillers all share a passion for creating unique drinks utilising the vast array of botanicals that can be found growing in the Kent – including everything from hops and lavender to samphire and cobnuts.”

LOVE LOCAL

As you can see, there’s so much to celebrate about Kent’s foodie scene, so whether it’s buying locally grown crops to put in your lunch, or dining out at an independent restaurant, there are plenty of ways to support our growing foodie industry.

Kent is on the rise as a food destination – we have seen an increase in fantastic places to eat, drink and stay and there are more and more opportunities for people to get hands on with food,” says Jo. “Whether it’s making bread, touring a vineyard or visiting one of the many food and drink events around the county. Why wouldn’t people want to discover what Kent has to offer?”