Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Tallow, Southborough

The Twenty Six was a restaurant in Southborough near Tunbridge Wells. I know only two things about it, based on reports from locals - firstly, it served a fairly undemanding all day / brunchy-type menu for not a huge amount of money, and secondly that it was generally impossible to get a table there. It's a constant mystery to me how some places with seemingly not a great deal going for them end up so popular - I mean look at bloody Breakfast Club - and, more tragically, how so many great places fail to find an audience.

Twenty Six is now gone, and in its place is objectively one of the best restaurants in Kent. I feel fairly confident making this announcement because firstly, I've eaten there, and secondly the pedigree of the team is unassailable. Rob and Donna Taylor previously ran the amazing Compasses Inn, Crundale and though I do miss the atmosphere of that ancient pub buried deep in the Kentish countryside, at Tallow the skill and ambition of the food served is raised another few notches. It is, already, inevitably, impossible to get a table there. But being the hopeless nerd I am, I had booked before the electronic ink on the first press release was dry, and so here we were sheltering from the rain on a Saturday lunchtime, about to be treated to a lunch of the very gods (treated as in they served it to us and it was a treat, we still paid).

Firstly, I want all restaurants to ask themselves a question. That question is, "Are you serving warm croissant with chicken liver parfait for your bread course, and if not when are you going to start?". It seems obvious that silky-smooth liver parfait, easily Quality Chop House standard, paired with a crackly, buttery cruffin would always end up being the bread course to end all bread courses, and so why haven't I ever had it before? Maybe we just needed Tallow to show us the way. Anyway, you saw it here first.

Next nibble was crispy pig (head?) with black garlic. Though Tallow have by no means gone Full Fordwich, the appearance of little unannounced extras like this is certainly a step towards the Gastropub Plus category. Very nice they were too, richly flavoured and greaselessly fried, with the black garlic rounding out the flavours nicely.

This was either very, very good pigeon or the Tallow kitchen have stumbled across a way of cooking the bird so impressively that I don't think I've enjoyed it more anywhere. In fact, it's most likely both. Beautifully pink and so tender you could cut it with a spoon (I didn't, though, you'll be pleased to hear), it also came with a delicately crisp, salty skin that you'd struggle to imagine could be improved at all. With it, cute little balls of pickled cucumber, miso mayonnaise, and a thick, rich game jus which of course I wound up scooping up with my fingers. Literally perfect.

This was wagyu beef risotto, not on the menu but a trail dish for the December menu which was going on the week after our lunch. Coated in a liberal amount of truffle, it was both densely flavoured and incredibly light and easy to eat, not an easy task for a risotto let me tell you.

I barely need to tell you how good the hake was - I mean bloody hell, just look at it. Not only was the fish itself perfect (there's that word again) but it came with cute little potato balls which were marvellous fun to eat, as well as a seafood/stout sauce spiked with mussels which provided seasoning and extra tastes of the sea. The best places make this kind of dish look easy - why wouldn't you want a flaky, bright-white flesh alongside a crisp, salty skin? It seems so obvious - but they really, really aren't.

I'll be the first to admit roasted squash isn't really my thing, but I should point out that my friends said it was one of the best things about the entire lunch, so I'd take their word over mine if you are a bigger fan of the evil orange things than me. Truffled mac and cheese really is my kind of thing though, and I demolished as much of this as I could before other greedy forks did.

Use the word 'barbecued' in a dish description and you'd better fulfil that promise. Fortunately this tender slip of ribeye announced its arrival under a delirious cloud of charcoal smoke, and tasted of the very finest grass-fed cow. That was in fact all I tried - this was someone else's main - but I'm pretty sure everything else on that plate was great too.

Of course, not wanting the lunch to end, we moved on to desserts. After being so cruelly denied a tarte tatin at the Loch and the Tyne last month, I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. I can't imagine, either, this wonderful thing, golden and glistening in all its glory, could be any worse than the version in Old Windsor. Probably better, in fact, no offense Adam Handling. Sadly, I didn't get to try any chocolate financier, but look, you can see how this meal is playing out. It's hardly likely to be horrible is it?

I make no apologies for gushing about Tallow. It really is that good, the kind of place you'd want to revisit as much as humanly possible, a magic combination of all the things that make a restaurant experience glow, from glorious food to pleasant, airy surroundings and a front of house you'd happily invite to your wedding. There isn't a thing you could criticise about the place - even the bill, which even though we went a bit mad on dessert wine still came in at £80/head which was a good two hours of brilliant fun and well worth the cost. And for all those reasons, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves another perfect score. 2021 goes out on a high.


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