CULINARY ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY
THE SMALL HOLDING IN KILNDOWN HAS JUST OPENED ITS DOORS, AND BOASTS A GOURMET DINING EXPERIENCE WITH A DIFFERENCE. EILEEN LEAHY PAYS IT A VISIT…
Photography by Craig Matthews
Driving down a leafy country lane on the way to Kilndown, on an unseasonably sunny and warm April evening, I’m struck by just how beautiful and totally unspoiled this quiet corner of Kentish countryside is.
My husband and I are on our way to the village’s recently opened new foodie spot The Small Holding – formally known as The Globe and Rainbow pub –in order to see what it has to offer the keen gourmet. It may have only had its doors open for a few weeks, but the word is that its new occupiers, brothers Will and Matt Devlin from the No Fixed Abode restaurant pop-ups, are doing something rather special here.
When we arrive, the bar’s stocked with all manner of decorative craft beer pumps, and plenty of bottles of interesting-looking artisan alcohol; judging by the amount of people jostling around it, this carefully curated mix of independently-produced tipples is clearly going down well with the locals.
But it’s when we sit down at our cosy table in the dining room area, complete with eye-catching lighting, a wood burner and an exposed kitchen area, and are handed a sealed brown envelope each, that suddenly things feel just that little bit extra-special.
A neatly folded menu is revealed in the envelope, showcasing two tasting options – no sides, no mains, just the ‘Half Acre’ (six courses) and ‘Full Acre’ (nine). Priced at £25 and £45 respectively, each one reads like a gastronomic glossary, citing dishes such as ‘wood-fired miso South Coast cod with burned butter hollandaise’, and ‘confit trout with pickled cucumber and horseradish’.
We’re handed the wine list to peruse, and I opt for a small La Lande Cinsault Rosé (£5.50), while my husband settles on a pint of Musket Flintlock (£4), a smooth, oaky best bitter produced by the microbrewery of the same name in Maidstone.
While deliberating whether we go Half or Full Acre on the tasting menu, we’re presented with a trio of pretty amuse bouche appetisers, including a melt-in-the-mouth, delicately shredded spiral of pork belly, and a palate-tricking pink ‘macaroon’, of which the case is actually beetroot, boasting an aromatic goat’s cheese filling.
The first course that we’re both served is a deliciously light, aerated nettle soup, which tastes the right side of salty and boasts oodles of flavour, courtesy of its garlic and sour cream. Accompanying this verdant velouté is perhaps the most delicious sourdough that I’ve ever tasted. Dense, fresh and perfectly crusty, it’s served with a salt crystal whipped butter, and is simply divine.
After we’ve scraped the small soup bowls clean and dabbed the remaining billowy sourdough in the salty butter, it’s not long before the next course is before us. Now, I don’t know about you, but when it comes to cauliﬂower, I can’t really muster up that much excitement about this rather ﬂaccid vegetable, but The Small Holding’s take on it is pure celebration: It comes chargrilled and puréed, with its ﬂorets curried into fragrant, spicy bhajis, served with a sprinkling of freeze-dried chanterelle mushrooms and an egg yolk.
On the Half Acre menu, next up is a dinky dish of conﬁt trout, partnered with the teeniest diced pickled cucumber and dill, which, despite its size, still packs a punch alongside the homemade horseradish. The Full Acre offers a delicious Rye Bay scallop, whose natural sea-salty taste is complemented by sweet hints of elderﬂower, lovage, and shreds of roasted kale.
The crustacean taster is then closely followed by what can only be described as the ultimate Michelin star-style sandwich: Sussex braised beef and Dopplebock rarebit with gherkin purée, a sweet and salty sensation to which the Musket bitter is the perfect accompaniment.
Despite our taste buds and tummies being happily sated, there are still a couple of traditional ‘main’ mini plates to savour. On the Half Acre, it’s an incredibly tender loin of middle white pork, served with a seasoned raw crushed pea purée and peppery rainbow chard.
Next on the Full Acre menu, it’s the wood-ﬁred miso South Coast cod with burned butter hollandaise and steamed sweet and creamy leeks. Slivers of gently charred Salehurst lamb with wild garlic yoghurt and a celeriac fondant are the ﬁnal and triumphant savoury offering on the Full Acre option, and after a brief rest, it’s time for dessert.
Mine is a seasonal and traditional sharp rhubarb and sweet apple crumble, served with a heavenly vanilla crème anglaise, while the Full Acre menu proposes a palate-cleansing, ultra-light apple mousse with a nutty granola base, before the ﬁnal indulgent dish of rhubarb custard mille feuille pastry arrives.
As we place down our cutlery for the ﬁnal time, we both agree that all of the food that we’ve savoured has clearly been made with passion and culinary prowess. If this is only the ﬁrst month of The Small Holding being open and it’s serving this level of gastronomic fare, then its reputation for excellent, experimental food – and drink – is only set to get bigger over the coming months.