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Bowley’s At the Plough: ‘A Rising Michelin Star’

Discover the perfect balance of prime Kentish produce, imaginative menus, pure talent and professional passion at Bowleys at The Plough – By Olivia Riccini

About two miles northwest of West Malling, tucked just below the North Downs, is the quintessentially Kentish village of Trottiscliffe. A fitting name that could have been conjured up for a BBC drama, Trottiscliffe not only delivers on the idyllic village front with its village green and pretty houses, but is also the setting to an incredible story of community. Sitting opposite one of Kent’s character defining oast houses is – from the outside – what seems a traditionally quaint village pub, adorned with window boxes full of flowers and picturesque green weatherboarding. Step through the door and find yourself in a porch that acts as a portal to the venue’s harmonious but split personality. You will be confronted with two more doors. One leading to a cosy, homely bar with soft leather sofas and cushioned seats around sturdy tables; this is the traditional part of the venue’s character, one in which to relax with a drink and engage in lighthearted conversation with friends. Through the other door, however, you’re transported into what has made The Plough the rising Michelin star that it is today. 

Masterpiece of dynamic father-and-son team, wine merchant and connoisseur, David Yates, and his Michelin-trained head chef son, Alex, Bowleys at The Plough has been rightfully stirring up a sensation in Kent’s culinary world and beyond. Despite only just completing its first full year without any interruptions from lockdowns, Bowleys at The Plough has already been heralded by the Michelin Guide. Described by the prestigious publication as: “offering a concise menu of carefully crafted, classic dishes”, Bowleys is everything one could wish for when searching for a restaurant combining the perfect balance of Kentish produce, imaginative menus, pure talent and professional passion. “Everything bursts with flavour and even the butter is homemade,” praises Michelin, and lucky for me, the homemade butter was one of the first dishes I sampled.

“This is wild garlic hummus,” David Yates tells us as we settle in for lunch. “One of the waiters picks it up on his way to work and we use it with the chickpeas that are actually a byproduct from us needing the chickpea water.” The wild garlic hummus turns out to be some of the best I have ever tasted; the very first example of Alex’s use of the freshest Kentish produce which seeps striking flavour into every dish. The seasonal menu is a vibrant array of springtime goodness combined to create unique and elegant dishes, each a glittering example of Alex’s original creativity and flair. Starting off with the smoked halibut ceviche with brown crab and pickled cucumber, the stunning aesthetic standard of the meal was immediately set. As with every dish, Alex presents his creations with the precision of an artist, adding another layer of sensation to an experience at Bowleys. The taste matched the visual beauty of the dish, the fish cooked to perfection and emitting gorgeous flavour and texture alongside the complementing sauce.

Alex’s food is incomparable to anything else. The authenticity of his passion and skill was blindingly apparent in every course, each acting as a window into his creative mind which scintillated ideas about the kitchen before coming to physical form on the plates in front of us. Opting for an Easter favourite as my main, roasted guinea fowl, English asparagus, violet artichoke and baby leek was placed before me; another work of art in food form. Tender meat and crunchy fresh vegetables combined with a sample of rich gravy performed as flavour sensations on the tongue. A dish that was another beautiful example of how food at Bowleys at The Plough does not overwhelm but instead meets a point of perfection, demonstrating flavour and taste at its optimum peak. Finishing lunch with a final dish of exquisiteness and simplistic beauty in the form of a cardamon delice with pistachio, mango and passion fruit sorbet, I was once again hit with an impact of intense flavour that delighted the palate. The creaminess of white chocolate that delicately encased the cardamon demonstrated a yin-and-yang partnership of tastes, with the pistachio sorbet a rich and heavenly addition to the dessert. 

        

Aside from the beauty of Alex’s creations, the inventiveness of his menu and the sublime taste of every dish, one thought is spinning in my mind: Alex Yates is only 23 years old, but has executed the meal with the magnificence of a seasoned professional who has decades of experience under his chef’s belt. We sit down in the cosy bar with a strong flat white, and Alex, who radiates energy and charisma before he even speaks. “I didn’t think it would ever happen,” he says when I ask him about the story of how Bowleys at The Plough came about. Distressed at the thought of losing their village pub, 125 shareholders, made up of villagers and those wanting to join Trottiscliffe’s plight to save The Plough, formed a trust that purchased the building, which was under threat of constructors turning it into two houses. “Everyone wants to save a pub at the end of the day,” laughs Alex, who also tells the refurb was like DIY SOS with one man even turning up to hand over £50,000 in cash in return for shares. 

With the efforts of at least 125 supporters behind him, it would appear that Alex’s motivation and tangible passion has been spurred on all the more, with no cracks of being remotely overwhelmed revealing themselves at all. Growing up in Dartford and training at top London restaurants, Alex says he has been running around kitchens (professionally) since he was 15, but revelled in the industry long before that via his wine merchant father, David. “We don’t encroach on each other’s expertise,” he explains. “I do the food and dad does the wine. We have another expert for beer and that’s what makes it really work here.”

“I have learned that produce is key and skill is second,” answers Alex when I ask him about the bountiful produce of Kent. “When I was in London, I visited food markets every day; I only spoke to the middleman. Now, I know and choose all of my producers.” Alex tells me not only does he love to check out other restaurants on his days off but also loves to forage and discover other ways to utilise produce. “It’s the produce that inspires me. I think, how can I use this? How can I bring out the flavours appropriately? It’s all about not adding too many elements and embracing what is already there.” Local produce and the spirit of community are clearly two forming factors of The Plough, a point proven again when  Alex tells me about a plum soufflé he created for the menu when a customer brought him some plums from his garden.

I end my chat with Alex by asking him about his plans for the future of Bowleys at The Plough, as well as what his own personal goals might be. “What I want and what my family wants is a Michelin star,” he answers. “But what I really want is two Michelin stars – that’s the future; that’s long term.” Alex laughs and I nod; I’m not surprised by this bold aspiration because Alex clearly has everything it takes to achieve it. I will watch on in admiration as Bowleys at The Plough continues to rise up to that star-studded Kentish crown.

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