Charlie Bond visits Bill’s in Tunbridge Wells to see what this eatery has to offer.
Having originated in Lewes as a greengrocery, Bill’s (named so after creator Bill Collison) is now a much bigger affair, with almost 70 restaurants across the UK. The Tunbridge Wells branch opened its doors in 2013 and quickly became a firm favourite in the town, offering everything from breakfast to bellini’s.
I’ve visited the establishment before, but mostly for rushed breakfast meetings where I’ve never had the benefit of being able to savour my pancakes, and my main focus has been on not spilling syrup down my blouse. Today though, I’m paying the restaurant an evening visit to sample their dinner delights.
We’re greeted at the door by Lewis, who leads us to our table. The restaurant has a chintzy, shabby-chic décor, with low hanging chandeliers, wooden partitions and glowing candles all adding to the look.
We begin by ordering drinks. Lewis quickly demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the menu and everything on offer, so his suggestion of wines is welcomed. For my guest, a glass of Little Eden Pinot Noir (£5.65) – an Australian smooth red, and for myself the Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux la Cote Famenc du Languedoc (£5.65) – a deliciously fruity white, not dissimilar to a Sauvignon.
Wine dutifully tasted, we move on to the main task – selecting our dishes. The menu offers a real variety of foods and flavours – everything from Greek style koftas to sticky barbecue ribs, so we spend a long time perusing without much success. Luckily, Lewis is on hand to make suggestions, and, noting that I’m wearing white and perhaps the ribs may not be the best option for me (he’s obviously heard about the pancake syrup scenario), he recommends the pan fried seabass (£12.95). Continuing with the sea theme, my guest opts for the roasted salmon fillet (£13.95), and we order some giant green gordal olives (£2.95) to devour while we wait.
Well, if Tunbridge Wells had an award for the biggest olives in the town, these would win hands down. Fresh, with a delicate acidity, these provide just enough to tease the palette before our mains arrive.
We don’t have to wait long before two beautifully presented dishes are laid before us. Luckily it’s not just the presentation that’s on point – the food is delicious too. My seabass is served on a bed of crispy parsley and spring onion potato rösti, accompanied by a tomato, avocado and caper salsa, and my guest’s salmon is served on a crab, baby potato, dill and gherkin salad, with a salsa and watercress and radish garnish.
It’s hard to find fault with the dishes – my seabass is crisped to perfection and the rösti is incredible, while my guest’s salmon is equally flavoursome, the dill and gherkin garnish giving an extra kick.
We dither over whether to order dessert, but when Lewis says “In my opinion, the best things we do are breakfast and dessert,” we know we have to rise to the challenge and indulge. I choose the warm pecan pie with banana malt ice cream (£5.50) and my guest, wanting something ‘light’ selects the lemon meringue cheesecake in a glass (£5.50). Both are delicious (albeit, not light), and the malt banana ice cream is really different – it almost tastes healthy.
We leave, full and full of praise for Bill’s. For what is now a chain, it hasn’t lost what makes it unique. There’s a good variety of inexpensive options to suit all tastes, and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. I would, however, disagree that breakfast and dessert are the best things on the Bill’s menu – the fish and wine options get my vote…
Bill’s Tunbridge Wells
Five Ways, Lime Hill Road
Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1LJ
01892 548 699