HOLY SMOKES

CHARLIE BOND HEADS TO WROTHAM TO EXPERIENCE A REAL TASTE OF AMERICA, MINUS THE JET LAG…

In the past few years, smoky, American-style food has become all the rage. Slow cooked, barbecue flavoured meats reminiscent of the USA’s deep south are in demand, and pulled pork appears to have overtaken pie and mash as a menu staple in most eateries. But, sometimes you find your whole evening heading south (and not in a Texan way) when you discover the food is more ‘frozen box meal’ than ‘slowly barbecued’. Thankfully, you don’t need to fly halfway across the world to experience a genuine American menu though, because there’s now a smokehouse right here in Kent.

The Bull Hotel in Wrotham has branched out from ham egg and chips (although they’re still available – don’t fear), and become the first real smokehouse in the county. Having invested in a wood burning barbecue pit from Texas, their menu is filled with mouth-watering, slow cooked offerings, from the ever-popular pulled pork to steak and even pulled smoked duck for those looking to branch out.

Once seated in the restaurant to the rear of the building, my guest and I set about choosing our meals. This doesn’t prove easy – there’s a lot of choice, and even recommendations from the owner Martin doesn’t ease the situation – once
he’s told us the kimchi has been referred to as ‘the best outside of Korea’ we add it to the ever-growing list of dinner must-haves.

Eventually, my guest chooses the seabream fish finger burger served with black garlic aioli and the infamous carrot kimchi (£12.50) and I opt for the 12 hour slow cooked smoked beef rib (£20) with a side of the kimchi (£3.50). We also order a selection of nibbles, including the bull sausage (£3) which is locally sourced and comes highly recommended.

Although we struggle to make food decisions, thankfully the choice over what to drink is a little easier – our knowledgeable waiter brings over a variety of craft beers to try which pair well with the food we’ve selected. First up is the Crate Brewery American nut brown ale, which is delicious – smooth and rich, followed by the Siren 5-Alarm chilli beer which definitely has a kick. To cool off, we finish with a taste of the Redchurch Bethnal Pale Ale – a light and fruity beer with lots of flavour.

Nibbles and beers demolished, it’s time for the main event – and we’re not disappointed. My beef rib is sweet and smoky and melts in the mouth, and paired with the skin-on fries, carrot kimchi (which is amazing) and a selection of homemade
sauces, I don’t want each mouthful to end. My guest is in agreement – her seabream burger is succulent with lots of different flavours on the palette – all of which she says complement one another.

The Bull boasts an extensive and very comprehensive wine list, and the team select a few for us to try with our food. Rather than house reds and whites, we’re presented with a range of ‘alternatives’, beginning with the Bernabe Navarro – a dry organic rosé with wild yeast fermentation, aged in clay pots. It tastes earthy, fruity and on the nose it’s almost reminiscent of a cider.

To follow, our tastebuds are treated to an orange wine – not flavoured by the fruit, but instead lightly orange in colour, due to the skin contact of the red grapes during the maceration process. It’s fragrant, with flavours of soft fruits and pairs very well with both dishes.

Next come the reds, which are both delicious – one is an organic Andalusian wine made with six indigenous Spanish grapes, which is complex in fl avour and smoky on the nose – and the other is another organic offering, this time a Greek merlot, barrel aged in French oak.

We attempt to eat slowly, savouring every mouthful and seeing how each bite tastes with the different wines, but it’s hard when the dinner is this good, and before we know it, our plates and glasses are empty, and unsurprisingly, we’re full.

Of course, we could leave it there, but we make the mistake of turning over the menu and spotting the desserts. And, once I register the banana and chocolate chip cake with banana ice cream (£6.95), I can’t stop thinking about it. My guest and I agree to share – but in all honesty, once it arrives I find most of it ends up on my fork. It’s not too sweet, and bursting with flavour. Even the chocolate chips are rich rather than sugary, and the banana ice cream is the stuff dreams are made of – I’ll be craving more for months to come.

We might be in a village pub, but we leave feeling like we’ve experienced so much more – the flavours, techniques and knowledge are exceptional, and we’ve had the barbecue experience without the jetlag. In fact, we’re already planning our return visit – after all, I think I owe my guest a second go with the dessert I didn’t share…

The Bull Hotel, Bull Lane, Wrotham  Kent TN15 7RF  www.thebullhotel.com