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Dining Out in the Garden of England!

Dine Online hits the Gourmet Trail around Royal Tunbridge Wells

There's nothing new about people visiting Royal Tunbridge Wells to savour its local produce. From the time in the 17th century when the young Lord North first spotted a spring bubbling up out of the ground, visitors have been drawn to the town to take advantage of the allegedly health-giving properties of the famous Chalybeate Spring waters.

It's still possible, in the summer, to 'take the waters' served in the traditional manner by the 'Dipper'. But these days, people are far more likely to visit Royal Tunbridge Wells for the excellence of its restaurants, the character of its pubs and the freshness of the local produce that provides the ingredients for many of them. This is, after all, the Garden of England.

People who want to plan their eating out or buying-in schedule ahead of their visit now have a valuable aid in the form of a Short Breaks Guide published by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. It's available free of charge from the Tourist Information Centre in the famous Pantiles (Tel: 01892 515675). The guide, which is packed with information and advice on activities from antiques shopping to rock climbing, will be an invaluable source of reference for anyone considering a stay in Royal Tunbridge Wells or its encahnting surrounding villages.

RESTAURANTS

The area has a wonderful choice of restaurants, each offering a high class dining experience.

Hotel du Vin Bistro in Crescent Road (01892 526455) is a relative newcomer to the town. Housed in an impressive 18th century sandstone building that once welcomed the young Queen Victoria as a guest, it is the most easterly outpost of the small but highly regarded Hotel du Vin chain.

The restaurant's inspired, modern eclectic cooking, under head chef Chris Moore, has earned rave reviews from all the top restaurant critics who have also praised the extensive wine list. The importance that the Hotel du Vin places on its cellar is underlined by the fact that each of the hotel bedrooms is sponsored by a celebrated wine house. The restaurant runs a programme of special wine and dine events. For information and bookings call Ellen Joyce on 01892 522966 or visit the website at www.hotelduvin.com

Queen Victoria was also a visitor to the Royal Wells Inn in Mount Ephraim (01892 511188) in the early 19th century and her coat of arms still adorns the front of the building. This splendid privately-run hotel retains much of its Victorian grandeur and its rooms have some of the best views in town. There are two restaurants - the Wells Brasserie and the Conservatory. Both offer daily changing menus while the Conservatory also has a full a la carte option.

Also in Mount Ephraim is the Spa Hotel (01892 520331), a grand Victorian pile set in 14 acres of grounds overlooking the town. The elegant Chandelier Restaurant has a traditional air, but chef Edward Heasman gives his classical dishes a modern twist to keep things fresh.

At Thackeray's, a coveted Michelin star has been awarded for 2003 to Richard Phillips and his splendidly young and innovative team. The 17th century building, home to William Makepeace Thackeray in the 19th century, has been given a modern, minimalist look which is complemented by an intelligently creative menu which uses the very best local produce to provide fresh dishes that sparkle with flavour. For reservations telephone 01892 511921.

A great favourite with local residents is Signor Franco in the High Street (01892 549199). The windows in this first floor conservatory restaurant are from Hever Castle. But that's about the most English thing you'll find at this welcoming and highly professional operation that offers a truly authentic Italian experience.

The Tagore has both the passion and commitment to quality that is the hallmark of all good restaurants. The Tagore is in Neville Street (01892 615100). The chef was previously in the kitchens at one of Delhi's most prestigious restaurants and he is able to lift even familiar dishes way above the norm. But his skills really shine through on signature dishes such as raan-e-buzhazi (whole leg of lamb marinated and cooked over embers).

Right on the Green is, as its name suggests, by the village green at Church Road, Southborough (01892 513161). Husband and wife team Peter and Paula Bruschi have created a wonderfully personal and welcoming atmosphere and food that provides witty variations on classical French themes.

In nearby Goudhurst, Hughenden House Restaurant (01580 212845) offers modern French and British cuisine in a charming 16th century oak-beamed setting. Pre-dinner drinks are served around the inglenook fire.

The charming village of Sissinghurst is home to Rankins (01580 713964), a smart, subtly-lit bistro serving modern, eclectic cuisine calling on influences from Europe to Asia.

Neighbouring Cranbrook is where you'll find Restaurant 23 (01580 714666). Despite being located in a 16th century former weaving factory, the food is modern French and English.

PUBS AND WINE BARS

Several great pubs in and around Royal Tunbridge Wells not only offer local beers but also serve up outstanding food.

The Bottle House Inn at Smarts Hill, near Penshurst (01892 870306) was first licensed in the 19th century when cider was produced on the premises. These days it provides a handy stopover for people visiting the famous houses and castles of Kent including Penshurst Place, Hever Castle and Chartwell. The comprehensive Egon Ronay-recommended menu changes daily and all dishes are prepared from locally supplied produce.

Fresh seafood is the house speciality at the Green Cross Inn at Goudhurst (01580 211200) where diners can choose between eating in the bar or in the prettily decorated dining room .

Also at Goudhurst is the Star & Eagle (01580 211512), a fine 14th century timbered and gabled hostelry with outstanding views across the Kentish Weald. Dishes on both the carte menu and daily specials use the very best local and home-grown produce.

In Royal Tunbridge Wells itself, Sankey's Cellar Wine Bar in Mount Ephraim (01892 511422) has become something of a local institution. It's a seafood restaurant, oyster bar, cellar wine bar and pub rolled into one, and the atmosphere is really buzzy. The Brasserie at the Mount Edgcumbe Hotel, The Common (01892 526823) offers international cuisine in alternative settings - an authentic 8th century candlelit cave or the more conventional Club Edgcumbe with views across Royal Tunbridge Wells common.

The Beacon at Rusthall (01892 534288) was once the country home of a former Lord Lieutenant of the City of London and is set in 16 acres of grounds. Fresh local ingredients are used in a menu that could feature such diverse dishes as confit of duck on bubble and squeak, and Thai chicken and cashew nut curry.

The Hare on Langton Green (01892 862419) is in its second incarnation, having been rebuilt in 1901 following a fire. It has a classic village pub atmosphere and a menu that is strong on fish, although one of its best sellers is shoulder of lamb.

For more information on eating out in and around Tunbridge Wells, call the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tourist Information Centre on 01892 515675.

For further information, visit www.visittunbridgewells.com

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010


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