Food + Drink

Much More Than The ‘Bear’ Necessities, Year-Round Family Dining at:  Bear Lodge, Port Lympne Reserve

Synonymous with animal conservation and incredible safaris, Port Lympne Reserve has become the go-to for unique animal experiences, days out with a difference and stays to remember, and now, perhaps surprisingly for some, destination dining too. By Samantha Ready

Spanning everything from wood-fired pizzas and afternoon teas set to animal mural backdrops of the main house, to wedding breakfast banquets and open fire BBQs, executive chef Lee Edney and his team have created a wondrous affair of dining options, including its latest addition – Bear Lodge Restaurant, which, thanks to some clever delivery, is open to visiting destination diners as well as those lucky to sleep beside the calls of the wild. 

Under the stewardship of head chef Suresh, arrival is quite possibly the smoothest offered by all of the reserve’s myriad of reasons to visit. Enter the dedicated gates, crunch across the driveway and you’ll discover the namesake restaurant, which opened in November, nestled next to Bear Lodge’s glamping experience, which as you may have guessed overlooks the reserve’s spectacled bear habitat in a quiet corner of the estate. 

Open for Friday night authentic curry feasts, Saturday classic brasserie-style dining and, my favourite, a good old Sunday roast to round off the weekend, it was for the latter that we descended in Ready multi-gen mass to nab a table for us, the kids, two nans and a very rare animal, the uncle Mike, accompanied with a birthday-celebrating aunty too!

And it was immediately clear that this was family friendly dining at its best. 

While the nans headed to the Bear Lodge Bar, set on a covered veranda for a Kentish gin and tonic, we took in the views across the reserve down to the Kentish coastline while the kids immediately spied the playground outside and made a dash through the rain to play regardless of the weather. Uncle on the slide, they then spotted resident neighbours Mateo and Rina in the bear enclosure beyond, as well as the adjacent troop of squirrel monkeys who seemed to have the same level of table manners as us fighting over the extra roasties… All perfect for burning off some pre-dinner energy before ravenously taking our seats. 

The dining room, in keeping with much of Port Lympne’s recent additions, ticks the simplistic and modern with a touch of luxe box. Painted black, shiplap-esque cladding adjourns the walls, leading the eye to the fabulous criss-cross of the heavy wooden beamed ceiling hung with wicker lamp shades creating an instantly cosy feel. Bold leaf-print patterned cushions thronged across the huge banquette, which runs the length of the restaurant’s rear wall, while reclaimed school dining room chairs set on top of the bold tile patterned floor offer the informality (and practicality) needed to keep this space family friendly and accessible.

But, of course, a family Sunday lunch is only complete with a sumptuous roast that ticks all the must-have boxes – and Bear Lodge Restaurant did not disappoint!

You’ll find a curated selection of small plates to start, the rosemary focaccia – crisp edges, fluffy aerated centre and rich olive oil and balsamic – is a must, while the tempura squid with spring onion, chilli, and a soy and lime dipping sauce was delicious, and the baked Camembert proved an instant table sharing win, as grilled focaccia appeared from all angles eager to dip into the the oozing cheese topped with tomato and chilli jam. 

Across the table, plates of roast sirloin of beef with towering Yorkshire pudding, roast chicken with sage stuffing (including smaller versions for the littlest eaters) and a pumpkin nut roast to cater for vegans and veggies all laden with roast potatoes began to arrive, accompanied by sharing dishes of seasonal vegetables and cauliflower cheese; everything was devoured, promptly!

Honestly, we didn’t need to have pudding but with a seasonal crumble, this time of year an apple and blackberry topped with oat crumble and vanilla ice cream, a poached pear with spiced red wine syrup, and, much to the smalls’ delight, a chocolate brownie sundae with honeycomb ice cream, dessert offered the perfect sweet end to a great dining experience.

Bear Lodge Restaurant is open Friday 5 – 8pm, Saturday 5 – 8pm and Sunday 12 – 4pm, with prices starting from £7 for a starter, £17 for main courses and £6 for a dessert, as well as curry night sharers from £28.50pp. You do not need reserve day tickets or to be staying overnight to dine, though reservations are highly recommended!

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