Sometimes real treasures are found when you’re not seeking them.
Such as when taking the family for a day out in East Kent and visiting Britain’s smallest town, I happened upon The Fordwich Arms.
Wanting no more than a sandwich and a bowl of chips before heading home we enquired after a menu from the friendly, young barman…
The Fordwich Arms is a pretty pub and has obviously had a recent refurb. Floors have been stripped, things have been polished, seats have been covered in green velvet. This is not, however, the soulless ghost of a pub with which similar treatment can so often result. This is warm, friendly and very pub-like. There are open fires and the decor has achieved that clever and rare blend of smart, relaxed tasteful and homely.
Studying the menu at the bar told me very quickly that we were not getting a bowl of chips. A set lunch, a la Carte and two tasting menus inc wine pairings were offered for my perusal.
I detest gastro-pubs. When I go to a pub I want a drink. If I’m peckish I want some grub. I want it simple and homemade. I don’t want a silly menu and I certainly don’t want some jumped up kiddy cook (referred to as “The Chef”) trying to be clever, making something over thought, under achieving and poorly delivered, masquerading as haute cuisine, just because it’s served on an unusually large plate.
Feeling a little annoyed, I joined the others. Sitting in a green velvet buttoned low booth I sipped on a pint. We opted for the set lunch. At £35 for three courses this, for me would be top end for pub grub.
I went for Duck liver terrine then turbot. She, the scallop tartare followed by venison. The baby had something we had bought with us and joined us at the table in a high chair.
As I was muttering something about pretentious menus and terrine with donuts, two waiters appeared one opening a cigar box and the other displaying a couple of pretty things on possibly a piece of stone? I wasn’t really listening to their introduction but interested in what was nestled between the pine sprigs in the box.
Fish, smoked, morsels. Tasty, wonderful little delights.
What a treat and totally unexpected.
For a final pre-starter. A delicate piece each of chalk stream trout, followed by a warm bread service with a trio of accompaniments, home churned butter, whipped pork fat with marmite and a slow reduced beer and onion compote.
OK. Now you have my attention.
Starters arrive. Works of art.
Her tartare of scallop was served in the fat half of the shell perched on a mound of rock salt. Sauce was added at the table to complete. Simple, fresh, beautiful sweet flesh.
Duck liver was amongst the finest I’ve had. The warm donuts were a perfect accompaniment!!
But we’re in a pub in Kent.
There is a dog under the next table. Men are sitting, drinking at the bar. One of them is wearing site boots and a hi-vis vest!
With our main course the paradox continues.
Part of my turbot fillet comes as advertised with a subtle sherry-finished sauce, flanked by micro vegetable jewels.
The remainder arrives separately, tempura coated and on a bed of beach pebbles! Both cooked to within a whisker of perfection (the fish, not the pebbles). Madams medallions of Fallow venison are flavoursome and extraordinarily tender. Her plate is a visual delight. Although fairly conscious that perhaps I shouldn’t, I drank ale throughout. Very good ale. Next time (and I will be back) I will be prepared and look more carefully at the extensive and attractive wine list.
Puds are as impressive as the first two courses. Mine, a clever twist on an apple crumble, was the conclusion this meal deserved.
I’m not often so taken aback by a restaurant. Perhaps it is because this isn’t one! Or is it?
It’s also a simple yet rare quality for ALL the serving staff of an establishment to have the ability make one feel welcome and special. Even rarer to find them speaking with an educated passion about the dishes they are delivering. Especially when I arrive unannounced, without a booking, on a Wednesday, at the tail end of lunch service with a young child. I am suitably impressed at this level of uncompromising care and professionalism.
The food is technical excellence. More top London hotel than Kentish boozer.
I was hardly surprised then, to find out that the “kiddy in the pub kitchen” is Daniel Smith, formally of the Clove Club and Observers young chef of the year! Daniel runs this gig with wife and pastry chef Natasha and front of house, Guy Palmer-Brown.
This is certainly not a gastro-pub. This is not a pub-restaurant. This is not really even a restaurant. It’s the most unusual and fantastically intriguing concept.
This is real fine dining that just happens to be served in a pub and is certain to put Britain’s smallest town on the culinary map.
GO TO: fordwicharms.co.uk
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