Tallow, Tunbridge Wells, Kent: ‘It’s my kind of fine dining’ – restaurant review | Food

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HAfter swearing to visit Donna and Rob Taylor’s new place as soon as it opened, I finally made it. The couple left the excellent gastropub The Compasses Inn in Crundale, Kent, at the end of last summer, promising they had bigger plans on the go. And here they are in Tallow: 26 covers and a 10-seat private dining room in Southborough, a leafy town in the civil parish of Tunbridge Wells, yet, I hasten to add, 2.6 miles from the mainline station from the city. Please don’t say that Southborough is really just Tunbridge Wells, or its people will revolt. Well, they will after they’ve finished playing cricket on the commons overlooked by the pretty St. Peter’s Church. Parking on a Saturday lunchtime with cricket in full swing is a bit like playing in a Miss Marple mystery, perhaps even more so when you get to Tallow itself, a tall, narrow building painted a gray dark rather gothic.

Just like at the Compasses, the food at Tallow is unquestionably good. More than that, it’s nice to get in the car and drive away. It’s “How far is Southborough, anyway?” good. Rob Taylor’s cooking seems, at first glance on the menu, reassuringly simple – there’s a steak tartare starter and a chocolate brownie on the pudding list – but his work is much more surprising. Take one of the first offerings, a freshly baked, sticky, fragrant, brightly colored wild garlic bun from Kermit. There was no need for butter, as his insides were moist with some sort of buttery, salty, seaweed-like concoction. Such touches always show a restaurant that goes the extra mile. Along the same lines, a pre-lunch snack of crispy lamb croquette with a neat garnish of mint mayonnaise was both substantial and delicate.

Starter of suet hake with mussels ‘in a heavenly puddle of rather elegant curry sauce’.

Tallow’s kitchen is on the first floor, which must mean heavy calf muscle training for the service staff every shift, going up and down those stairs, but they do it with endless spirit. Donna and her staff have a luminous style that leaves you in no doubt that they really care about this plate of barbecued pork loin with confit belly and celeriac and horseradish mash, or that they personally ate everything on the menu and would be very happy to eat it again right away, time and work commitments permitting.

I can’t blame them, because there’s always time for the carbs in the form of Tallow’s Cashel’s Hot Potato and Bleu Terrine: translucent layers of deep darling potatoes tossed in cheese. Tipperary’s pleasantly tangy blue-veined cheese. (Incidentally, we had Cashel Blue delivered by the kilo during lockdown, until my heart valves begged Charles to stop, but I was still happy to see it back on a menu.) Again, at first View, “potato and cheese terrine” doesn’t sound like much, but this one is so much more than the sum of its parts. It was topped with a hedge of micrograss salad so tall that Donna joked that she was late for work because Rob had given her the chore of cutting everything off their land.

“So much more than the sum of its parts”: Tallow's Potato Cake with Cashel Blue Cheese.
“So much more than the sum of its parts”: Tallow’s Potato Cake with Blue Cashel.

Tallow’s steak tartare is also ridiculously pretty, sprinkled with rich confit egg yolk and a brief suggestion of pickled shallot. My favorite dish was perhaps the hake starter, with plump and perfectly timed fried white fish in a heavenly puddle of elegant curry sauce, with three of the fattest and meatiest mussels drinking in the fragrant broth. This is my kind of fine dining: the highest quality ingredients and an intricate plating, but with the timid undertones of tipsy return from the chip shop.

For main, we shared a roasted sting ray wing with a delicious green mix of fava beans and sea vegetables, and smoked haddock sweets. One day, I will do a thesis on the culinary differences between croquette, candy and kushikatsu breaded panko skewer, but now is not the time. A caramelized garlic and parsley pie with baby leeks and onion puree was beautifully constructed, but such a great flavor collaboration it’s definitely not for allium phobics. I sought refuge in a side of fresh Kent asparagus – a huge bundle of stuff – that negated its unique five-a-day prowess with a thick dijon mayonnaise and a scattering of crunchy onions.

Tallow's Chocolate Brownie:
Tallow’s Chocolate Brownie: “a base of rich chocolate hazelnut mousse in a shimmering pool of salted caramel and miso sauce.”

As at The Compasses, desserts at Tallow linger. Yes, there was a really good homemade light shortbread with vanilla whipped cream cheese and fresh, sweet gariguette strawberries, but the rather lackluster “chocolate hazelnut brownie” was nothing like it: instead it was a plinth of rich chocolate hazelnut hazelnut mousse in a glistening pool of salted caramel and miso sauce – so much sauce, and so shiny, in fact, that I could have styled my hair in reflect. The whole assembly was topped off with a perfect quenelle of coffee ice cream, followed by a drive back to the car. Spring Saturday lunches don’t get much better.

  • Tallow 15a Church Road, Southborough, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, [email protected] (no phone). Open Tuesday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. From around £50 a head à la carte, six-course tasting menu £79; both plus drinks and service.

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