The Kentish Hare, Bidborough
Boasting esteemed kitchen experience and a knack for creating welcoming spaces to skillfully, yet simply, deliver the best of local produce, the Tanner brothers’ Kentish bolthole is one not to be missed. By Samantha Ready.
With a CV that includes stints at Le Gavroche, New York and France under the Roux brothers before returning to the England to open the 3 AA Rosette winning Kitley Hotel in Devon for Chris Tanner, and stints at the Rouxs’ Lake Placid Lodge in New York and at the helm of the 2 Michelin-starred Lettonie in Bath for brother James, the duo’s Bidborough-based gastropub opening in 2014, has, quite rightly, firmly established itself in the history of Kentish dining greats.
In the time it had taken me to finally secure a coveted table, the duo, and their super dedicated team, have not only secured 2 AA Rosettes but have also climbed the Gastropub of the Year leaderboard, catapulting from Best Newcomer in 2016 to a heady and well deserved No. 12 in the country-wide rankings this year.
Finally crossing the threshold of the light and bright, country-core pub it was hard to believe that the premises was more wreak than treasure when the brothers saved it from developers nearly a decade ago. Often cited as their labour of love, the duo have managed to maintain a good balance between pub and restaurant with an almost 50:50 split between the front light wood, cosy, fireside bar and the rear light and thriving dining room, which opens out to a beautiful garden. Perfect for al fresco dining in the summer months, the soft throws emblazoned with the signature hare, which notably presides from logo to art works, cushions to hedge cutting, make the brave welcome during chillier days too. Inside, the clever layout leads to natural nooks and with it differentiated dining options, which of course adds to its appeal to the array of diners; families, ladies that lunch, romantic date nights, celebratory friends, who clamber to secure a table.
Taking a mid-week table for lunch there were too instant impressions; the thriving hubbub of a relaxed yet refined dining room offered the atmosphere many a restaurant strives and fails to achieve on busy weekend evenings; and a menu masterclass in well-sourced, quality produce crafted with expertise.
Torn between a sundrenched yet-not-quite-summertime-temperature outside table and an indoor intimate corner, the latter won out. Simply set with spring daffodil buds, crisp white linen napkin, delicate glassware and offering pleasant views not only to the gardens beyond but to the efficient pass at the rear of the space, iK sales manager Jen and I were soon surrounding by heaving hunks of fresh sourdough, salted butter and plump juicy olives to keep us occupied as we perused the contemporary yet classic lunch menu.
Offering two courses for £28 or three for £32, we were both lured by the confit Cotswold white chicken terrine to start, rewarded with the most delicate and perfectly formed circle of tender chicken morsels flavoured with leek and truffle, with a subtle yet welcome hit of wholegrain mustard and topped with watercress; it was the perfect vision of spring.
Keen to venture in different directions for our mains, Jen opted for the Middlewhite pork belly, served with the richness and depth of tarka dhal, turnip and spinach. While my own pick, the Suffolk lamb shoulder, was a divine incarnation of braised lamb with confit garlic, served with a super smooth, super creamy mash, pea reduction, steamed cavolo nero and a pour-at-the-tableside, utterly moorish, lamb jus.
Puddings continue the traditional with aplomb dining journey here. Causing us the most indecision, we toyed between the sticky toffee pudding and Madagasgan vanilla cheesecake before eventually opting for the 70% Saint Domingue chocolate delice; a silky, bitter ganance of dreams offset with salted caramel ice cream which was subsequently declared by Jen as “the best chocolate dessert I have ever eaten”. My own pick crème brûlee offered another dessert winner. The perfectly torched and crisp shell giving way to smooth, sweet, vanilla bean infused goodness, the white chocolate cookie accompaniment worthy of its own acclaim.
With a steadfast commitment to the brothers’ “trusted trio” of fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, combined with a genuinely warm yet ultra efficient service and a dining space oozing with personality and charm, we were leaping with as delight as a Kentish hare in springtime dining here, as we are sure will you.
The Kentish Hare is open Wednesday to Sunday offering food throughout the pub. Lunch is available from 12pm-2.30pm Wednesday to Saturday and 12pm-4pm on Sundays. Dinner is available Wednesday to Saturday from 5.45pm-9.30pm.
The Kentish Hare
95 Bidborough Ridge
Royal Tunbridge Wells