Charlie Bond visits The Swan Wine Kitchen near Tenterden to be wined and dined…
On a sunny Saturday, I can’t think of many things I’d rather be doing than drinking delicious English wines, feasting on beautifully presented dishes and enjoying Kentish views for miles around. So, it’s just as well that today, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
The first restaurant to form part of the I’ll Be Mother group (who now also have The Beacon in Tunbridge Wells and The Twenty Six in Southborough), The Swan Wine Kitchen couldn’t be in a better location – just a few miles outside the of charming town of Tenterden, it shares a spot with the award-winning Chapel Down vineyard and winery, and benefits from beautiful, far-reaching views across the countryside. It’s idyllic, and that’s before you even have the chance to try the food.
It’s Saturday lunchtime and the restaurant is buzzing – most tables are occupied, both inside and out on the terrace, and there’s a real mix of diners, from trendy young couples to large families spanning generations, all enjoying a catch up over fine food and wine.
We’re welcomed warmly and shown to our table by manager Paul. As we settle at our table, I take stock of the décor – quirky light fittings in the shape of bowler hats, stylish shades of grey on the walls and a solid wooden table in the centre of the restaurant adorned with fresh bread evoke the sense of rusticity, mixed with city chic. I note that there are red velvet drapes around the ledge to the open kitchen, commanding all eyes towards the culinary creations being whipped up.
I have to stop watching the chefs hard at work for a second in order to peruse the wine menu. As you would expect from a restaurant located at a vineyard, there’s a huge variety of drinks on offer, some English and some from further afield. Being in the Garden of England, I feel it’s only right to sip something local, so I eventually settle for a glass of the famed, gold award-winning Rosé Brut (£8), which, when it arrives is not only beautiful in colour, but also stunning on the palette too – hints of red fruits combine with a delicate mousse – it’s the perfect tipple for a sunny day.
We’re presented with some fresh bread and butter to quell our hunger while we deliberate over the menu. On Saturdays, The Swan offers a special lunch menu which is excellent value – two courses for £23.50 or three for £25.50, and there are also wine pairing options too.
To start, my guest and I both choose the same dish – the tomato and red pepper gazpacho, with black olives and focaccia croutes, and after much deliberation, for my main I select the turbot, while my guest is tempted by the beef rump.
We don’t have long to wait before our first course arrives, and it’s a sight to behold – in each bowl presented before us, lies a focaccia croton, delicately dotted with olive puree and olive oil. Then, the magic happens when the waiting staff reveal two pots and pour the gazpacho on top. The vibrant red mixes with the black of the olives, creating tantalising swirls. We tuck in, and neither of us says anything for a moment as we revel in the flavours and textures of this dish. It takes all of my strength not to run into the kitchen and demand that I’m given the recipe on the spot (although perhaps I could do a follow-up email)?
Savouring the tangy taste of the gazpacho, I’m barely ready to let anything else pass my lips, but chef Tom Gentry has prepared a surprise for us, and we’re soon presented with a second starter – this time an incredibly decadent foie gras parfait, accompanied by a toasted brioche, and pickled Kent cherries. In the past I’ve found foie gras too rich, but this is perfect – the parfait is light and creamy, and teamed with the sweetness and acidity of the cherries it’s a welcome addition to our mouth-watering menu choices.
By this time my bubbles have run dry, so I order a glass of the Chapel Down Bacchus (£6.50) which is a fruity white wine, reminiscent of a new world sauvignon blanc. It turns out to be a good choice, and pairs perfectly with my main course which arrives shortly after.
The turbot sits atop a bed of chorizo, piperade, coco beans and samphire, and is not only beautifully presented, but tastes exceptional too. The fish is meaty with a delicious crisp top, and the spice of chorizo teamed with the tomatoes and peppers from the piperade work effortlessly together.
My guest’s main course is equally as appetising. The beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender, and combined with the crispness of the potatoes and softness of the alliums, it’s another winner for team Swan. The real highlight of this dish is the smoked ketchup, which turns an already delicious meal into something extraordinary.
Despite the fact that we’re now two starters and a main down each, we don’t hesitate when we’re asked whether we’d like to see the dessert menu. After all, it wouldn’t be a fair review without sampling something sweet now, would it?
My guest instantly knows what he’s having, after spotting the rum baba with Chantilly cream and poached apricots, while I take a little longer to decide (parfait or strawberries, cake or posset)? and eventually settle on the strawberry and tonka bean cheesecake.
Shortly, another two stunning creations appear before us and we waste no time in digging in. My cheesecake, which is ‘deconstructed’ turns out to be a great choice, as it’s not rich at all – the sweet strawberries are topped with an oaty crumble, and the creaminess of the tonka bean brings everything together.
Sadly I don’t even get the chance to sample my guest’s rum baba as he finishes it off without even proffering the fork to me. But, he confirms that it’s another good choice – again, not too sweet or rich, but that the soft moist sponge and kick from the rum are what make it distinctive.
We leave, full of delicious food and praise for this divine establishment, where we’ll certainly be returning before too long. And, maybe next time I’ll take a guest who’s willing to share their cake…
www.swanchapeldown.co.uk | IMAGES BY LEANNE BRACEY
PRICES AT A GLANCE:
Saturday menu from
£23.50 for two courses
Wines from £4.50 for 175ml