Saltwood on the Green
by Lisamarie Lamb
Saltwood is a quaint English village in the beautiful Kentish countryside. It has a village store, a village green, a village hall, a village pub and, perhaps surprisingly, it has a fine dining restaurant at its centre. Or perhaps I should say, at its heart, because as I sat in Saltwood on the Green, enjoying the view from the large window that gave me a chance to people watch the residents of Saltwood near Hythe, I witnessed a number of people enter the restaurant only to be greeted by name.
It was a lovely thing to see and hear – especially when the couple celebrating their wedding anniversary arrived, and the fabulous front of house staff, Gianpaolo and Claudia, wished them a happy one upon arrival. It makes a difference when you can visit a place in which everyone knows your name, and when the food is good, it’s a definite bonus. The surprise is that Saltwood on the Green has only been open since April, and already it’s clearly a much-loved fixture in the village.
After a truly warm welcome, my dining partner and I had a difficult job to do; we needed to choose a drink. Normally a fairly simple task, at Saltwood on the Green the drinks’ menu isn’t just wine, beer, and spirits. It has cocktails too, and they all sound wonderful. I opted for the English Orchard, since we were in the Garden of England. This consisted of gin, mint, lemon, sugar, apple juice, and damsons. It tasted as good as it sounds, with just the right mix of fruit. My partner was designated driver, and Gianpaolo kindly suggested he could choose any of the cocktails minus the alcohol, so he went for a virgin Mojito with ginger syrup. It was sharp, tangy, and rather moreish.
If you prefer a nice glass of wine with your meal, the list is an impressive one. In addition to serving international wines from around the world, the menu champions local producers, such Chapel Down (Tenterden) with its offering of delectable sparkling wines and ciders.
The décor in Saltwood on the Green is calmly classic, incorporating the light green of the branding into a wood-filled interior that has the charm of a traditional continental bistro. The large dark wood display cabinet along one side of the dining room caught the eye, and the old wine bottles that adorned it made a beautiful talking point. The bar (because this isn’t just a restaurant) is decorated with white mouldings, and backlit to show off the tempting array of bottles, syrups, and glasses on the shelves behind it. With soft jazz playing in the background and the buzz of conversation, Saltwood on the Green is a friendly and comfortable place to dine.
We started at the beginning (the perfect place to start) of the menu with what chef and owner, Jeff Kipp (who trained under Gordon Ramsey before going it alone), calls the ‘Nibbles’. These are great to share, and could be eaten instead of a starter – although you would then miss out on some superb food. I chose the soft pretzels with rarebit spread, and my dining partner went for the ficelle sticks and olives. The pretzels were hand-stretched and all the better for it, arriving at the table warm and springy. The rarebit spread had a good dollop of mustard in it, which proved a nice kick and made this German crossover a fiery one. The freshly baked ficelle breadsticks with their coating of herbs complimented the olives in lemon sauce perfectly. All in all, it was a good start to a meal that just kept getting better.
In the way of starters or ‘Little Plates’, I chose the sardines with roasted tomatoes, croutons, and shallots. My partner decided to opt for the confit rabbit with snails, beans, and a saffron vinaigrette. These sounded great on the menu, but when they arrived with a detailed explanation from Gianpaolo about exactly how each dish was made and where the inspiration came from, I have to say I was impressed. It’s interesting to know about the food you are about to eat, and when there are little extras on the dish such as the crispy chicken skin on the rabbit, it’s even better.
The food at Saltwood on the Green is certainly attractive, and my sardine dish came with some pretty little flowers on the top. It looks good, and, thankfully, it tasted good too. The sardines were a pleasure to eat, and the soft texture compared to the crunchy croutons was exceptional. And as for those tomatoes, they had a zingy, sweet flavour that made me want more and more. The rabbit dish was unusual, and for anyone willing to try something different this is perhaps the most ambitious fare on the menu. It’s worth it though; the rabbit was soft and delicate, and the snails were melt-in-the-mouth good.
Mains (‘Big Plates’, although not so big that there isn’t room for dessert) were a delight. I ordered the lamb rump with tapenade, broccoli, salsa verde, and quinoa, and my partner had the beef short rib with carrots, creamed potato, garlic, and a deliciously flavoured jus. The meat in both cases was cooked beautifully. While the beef was moist and juicy, with vegetables cooked just right, the lamb was sweet and tender. The addition of the olive tapenade was one I would never have thought of, but it works so well.
Dessert next, and who can resist a homemade cheesecake? The Dirty, Filthy Cheesecake however, is not your normal light and airy pudding – this is made with Stinking Bishop cheese, and the sweet, nutty, tangy flavour is sensational when mixed with the lemon and orange-flavoured biscuit base. This is what the restaurant is famous for, and to try it is to love it.
If you’re not sure about a real cheesecake, there is plenty more to sample. I had the chocolate and peanut butter pie, which was stunning, but there is also steamed lemon pudding, strawberry pavlova, and a pineapple upside-down cake. The ideal way to end a gorgeous meal!
Saltwood on the Green The Green Saltwood Hythe CT21 4PS 01303 237800 www.saltwoodrestaurant.co.uk