The Whiting and Hammond brand has gone from strength to strength in recent years – with warm, welcoming restaurants which serve first rate food, appearing to pop up all over the place. Today the company owns a total of seven businesses across the region and it seems their success knows no bounds. I popped in to The Chaser Inn to see where it all began.
My guest and are greeted by a friendly waitress who happily leads us to our table in the striking church room. Around us there are impressive vaulted ceilings, wooden wall panelling and scrubbed wooden tables – no white table clothes and napkin rings here.
Instantly there is a homely feel to the place which has plenty of character, with a lively stream of chatter trickling into the room from the bar, yet also an expectant hush so we can converse with ease. There’s a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and in no time at all we are sitting comfortably and chatting away over a bottle of Domaine de Montine 2010 Cotes Du Rhone Caprices, which came highly recommended.
Its spicy, smoky aromas are so hypnotic that 20 minutes have gone by before it occurs to us we should order. For starters I choose the sun blush tomato, spinach and goats cheese tart (£5.95) which is served with a deliciously simple crisp rocket and watercress salad, drizzled with tangy balsamic. My guest has gone for the antipasti (£8.95) – a colourful array of cured meats, black olive and tomato tapenade with tzatziki, mushroom a la grecque and parmesan which is served on a chic black slate and accompanied by toasted ciabatta.
Both of us suffer from inevitable food envy, so we switch the plates half way to allow each other a taste. To ensure this doesn’t happen again we both order the braised shoulder of lamb (£16.95) for the main event.
It arrives piled high on warm, gleaming white plates and showcases a mouth-watering Dijon mustard and herb crust. Nestled next to the meat mountain are carefully sliced dauphinoise potatoes, which rest in thick red wine, rosemary and redcurrant sauce. Fresh, seasonal vegetables are also served up, including my favourite red cabbage. The lamp is cooked to perfection, pink and tender in the middle and falls effortlessly off the bone, with an explosion of flavour at the crust.
When the waitress reappears she is bewildered by our progress, explaining that many people struggle to finish and end up taking the lamb home with them. We proudly hand her our empty plates and smile contentedly as we savour the memory of this great dfish.
What I have failed to reveal until this moment is that my guest and I are the ultimate sweet toothed patrons. We have been known, on occasion, to enter a restaurant and only order dessert. So, when the waitress asks us doubtfully if we might have room for pudding after our two hearty courses, we both reach simultaneously for the sweets menu.
A landlord once told me the secret to a good dessert menu is to always have a chocolate option for the ladies. I am pleased to report the chocolate brownie (£5.95), which comes bathed in a shallow pool of decadent white chocolate, more than meets the brief and is my companion’s choice. My own is a generous slice of fresh banoffee pie (£5.95), artfully decorated with splattered chocolate sauce and crunchy honeycomb pieces. There’s a rare moment of quiet as we both relish our first bites, before agreeing that both are pudding-perfect and devouring what’s left.
And so we leave feeling full and happy. The charm of The Chaser lies in its rustic setting and homely, yet fresh and exciting, food choices which are cooked to the highest standard all wrapped up in a flowing, flawless service. It’s no wonder the Whiting and Hammond guys have started a feeding frenzy
Prices at a glance
Starters from £4.50
Mains from 10.95
Desserts from £5.50
Wine by the glass from £3.80
Wine by the bottle from £14.95
The Chaser Inn, Stumble Hill, Shipbourne, Tonbridge TN11 9PE