The Garden Room at Port Lympne insideKENT Review
Set amidst the rolling parkland and standing aside the historic mansion that demands to be centre of this magnificent estate is The Garden Room – Port Lympne’s opulent restaurant which allows diners to bask in all the glory of their surroundings.
By Olivia Riccini
A grand conservatory echoing the exotic style of both the mansion and the reserve itself, The Garden Room is a further extension of the illusion that guests are not in the home counties, but instead, a luxury resort in a distant foreign land. Further strengthening this impression are both the golf buggies that wait obligingly under the shade of lofty green trees to ferry guests to and fro, and the far-off cries of wild cats and screeching monkeys that resound over the hillsides.
Covered with a glass ceiling complete with oversized chandeliers glowing with timeless elegance that reflect off the ceiling and into the Art-Nouveau-style mirrors that hang among walls of leafy and floral foliage, the captivating decor of The Garden Room is the first ingredient that promises an evening of opulence. First impressions assure guests that here, they will be able to unwind amidst the clinking of glasses and against the backdrop of a fading sunset turning to a starry sky above suggesting an ambience derived straight from continental rivieras, or perhaps the coastal capes of Africa.
With a generously stocked bar alluding to welcome cocktails, our party of four tapped across the Moroccan-tiled floor to our table at the other side of this spacious and airy venue – a quiet corner partly made up of the bench-come-sofa seating that runs its way around the edge of the space. Despite The Garden Room’s ability to embody a formal elegance fit for special occasion dinners and ‘dos’, I see how the venue also lends itself to embracing the more laissez-faire side of its persona, one that perhaps comes out with the bistro-style lunch menu during the day and is hinted at through the comfy tapestry cushions that sit perfectly ‘chopped’ waiting for diners to recline and relax into them.
Feeling as though we were on our holidays abroad before we were even handed the extensive drinks menu, we opted for a selection of botanical cocktails including a cherry Martini and pornstar Martini. Beautifully presented and refreshingly chilled, they are the ideal beginning to what promises to be a delectable meal. After chattering contentedly in what proves to be a perfectly spaced venue that manages to strike that difficult balance between joviality and so much noise that you struggle to hear your companions speak, we pore over what’s clearly a meticulously crafted menu. Cleverly reflecting the venue’s ‘garden’ element, the menu has a clear focus on English garden-grown herbs, vegetables and fruits, alongside locally reared and sourced, meats and fish.
One of Kent’s most coveted seafood treasures is of course the Whitstable rock oyster, a ‘garden bite’ that immediately captures my attention. Three of these delectable little morsels arrive at our table in shallot vinegar, alongside a plate of beautifully light and fluffy homemade focaccia bread, which is warm, topped with crystal salt flakes and sitting next to two little bowls of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Also next the focaccia is a generous portion of seaweed butter, which I promise fellow butter and salt lovers, is a divinely creamy yet perfectly salty treat to spread and melt into that soft sweet focaccia bread.
Next comes our starters, which, if you are foodies like us, are best chosen in order to sample the variety of the menu and thus shared among the table. A milky-white creamy burrata splurges over a delicate bed of heritage beetroot, lamb’s lettuce and pomegranate molasses when I plunge my knife into its soft centre, immediately setting the tone for the remarkable freshness of the coming dishes. Yellowfin tuna sashimi provides a further touch of Asian flavour to an evening that has already proven to be a glorious melting-pot of cultural influences. The tuna has a gorgeous texture that is not only satisfying to sink the teeth into, but also has a delicate flavour. The Applewood cheese croquettes are crisp golden balls that encase the creamy melting goodness of the flavourful cheese inside and sit neatly on a bed of Niçoise salad, honey and mustard dressing. At this point, I am very thankful that my company at dinner are the sharing types, as sampling the different starters at The Garden Room is a real must, especially for food lovers that appreciate the use of local and artisan produce.
Having been introduced to our meal with such a smack of flavour, we cautiously move onto the mains wondering if they will be able to carry the baton of high-standards that their two predecessors so eloquently presented us with. My companions choices included a trio of Orchard Farm pork with savoy cabbage, morcilla croquette, creamed potato and cider sauce; roasted cod fillet with chorizo, saffron and mushroom risotto with chimichurri dressing; and what proves to be a real showstopper when placed on the table – grilled king prawns – jaw-droppingly large and succulent, they arrived upon a grilled vegetable panzanella salad and covered in garlic and lemon butter. I opted for the twice-baked Ashmore cheese souffle accompanied by leek fondue and tenderstem broccoli. The broccoli was beautifully fresh and cooked to perfection – tender with that necessary crunch that induces a sweet, distinctive flavour. The souffle itself was wonderfully light and airy alongside the strong established flavours of the leek and creamy cheese fondue. It is a course that has left me comfortably full, feeling content and with enough room to sample some dessert.
After yet again pouring over the menu with indecisiveness, I finally settled for vanilla crème brulée, a favourite of mine that has yet to disappoint. Other choices from the table include milk chocolate and caramel delice with passion fruit and hazelnut; raspberry and pistachio choux bun with raspberry sauce; and a seasonal, fresh fruit salad with poached fruits, seasonal berries and lemon sorbet. As always, I order a flat white to go alongside my crème brulée – a good coffee is of course a true testament to a good meal. The coffee does not disappoint and is the ultimate addition to the rich and indulgent crème brulée that’s topped with traditional melted brown sugar and cracks with a satisfying ‘snap’ when I tap my spoon into it. The pudding also consists of an accompanying lemon and raisin cookie – freshly baked with a beautifully crumbly, cookie consistency. A satisfyingly sweet end to a spectacular meal in stunning surroundings.