Muddy eats: The Beacon, Rusthall
A couple of weeks ago I recommended to Mr Muddy K that we take his mother to The Beacon for her birthday lunch. She has style (quite the glam granny) but doesn’t like too much fuss so I knew this venue (quality food in a relaxed atmosphere) would suit her well. I also knew that I could then write a review to tell you all about it. I am nothing if not a multi tasker!
You’ll find The Beacon pearched high on a hill in Rusthall, just outside Tunbridge Wells, after turning down the rather quaintly named Tea Garden Lane. Follow the long driveway and just as all the traffic noise fades away and the tranquillity of Happy Valley opens up before you The Beacon appears. There’s a small car park at the front and a much bigger one at the back. Enter from the bigger car park and you’ll get to walk up the pretty steps which, when lit up at night with long strings of bulbs, feels quite magical.
The Beacon was taken on by Pete Cornwell and his I’ll Be Mother group around 18 months ago. The pub, once a private house, was built around the time of the Arts and Crafts movement and local designer, Sophie Stevens, (SGS Design) has done a brilliant job of updating the interior while keeping its original character and features. After this fairly major facelift The Beacon reopened just a year ago.
Now it mixes traditional, old school, country house charm with some wonderful modern touches, like the windows (pictured below) into the kitchen so you can see the chef at work. The space is designed to feel like a home-from-home with bookshelves and fireplaces and a dog-friendly-area near the back door complete with a jar full of doggie treats. The food is sourced locally where possible, like the sausages my son devoured from Orchard Farm, Offham near West Malling.
Some time ago, The Guardian featured The Beacon on a shortlist of pubs with an exceptional view – and I promise to take you outside in a minute.We visited on a dry, but cold, day mid-week in half-term, when the fires were lit and the dining room felt intimate and welcoming. Chris, the front of house, oozes friendliness and a real passion and knowledge of the food, wine and place itself.
This was the first time Mr Muddy K had tried ox cheek and he said it was melt-in-the-mouth succulent, rich on flavour without being heavy. My mother-in-law ate the pork belly and for someone with a small appetite she ate a lot, always a good sign. Less of a carnivore, I went for the sweet-tasting risotto. Great food for Mini Muddies too (like Beacon Burger and Chips or Sausage & Tomato Pasta). And they were beside themselves with excitement at the Ice Cream Bar – vanilla ice cream which you cover with a selection of chocolate Flakes, sprinkles and marshmallows. Oh yeah, you’ve never seen those little hands move so fast, (below).
The menu is impressive, not surprising as it was put together by local celebrity super chef, Scott Goss (who oversees the entire I’ll Be Mother umbrella of eateries). And a new Head Chef, Josh Gordon, has just been appointed to take over the reigns.
Now, true to my word, let me take you for a look outside. Keep up! First you come onto the terrace. When we visited (in Feb) the only people hardy enough to brave the decking area were the Mini Muddies playing a game of tag in between courses. But it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to envisage just how lovely it would be to sit out here sipping a glass of white under the sun’s rays. The Beacon also own the 17 acres, yes you read that right, 17 acres of land stretching out below the pub, (including three lakes) named Happy Valley. Here, take a look over the balcony at the view.
Not surprisingly there’s a bit of a back story around the setting. Hang on let me put on my history hat *clears throat* – in brief – Rusthall, rather than The Pantiles, was once actually the main destination for visitors to Tunbridge Wells (even the original assembly rooms were located close to the junction of Tea Garden Lane and Langton Road – oh yes fact fans check me out!). Back then acres and acres of pleasure gardens (all ornamental pavilions and formal planting schemes) were built here and then added to by a moustachioed military man, Colonel Sladen, who once owned The Beacon as a private residence. The land has been neglected and reclaimed at various times over the years and there are currently well maintained public walkways you can take through the gardens.
Right, back to The Beacon. Downstairs there’s a cellar bar that’s perfect for private functions (I’ve been to a work-related one down there). On the ground floor, near the dining room there are various cosy, characterful rooms that can be hired for private, or small corporate events – like the Billiards Room, which seats around 12 and would be perfect for a special family occasion, like a big birthday.
Being off the beaten track you don’t get too much passing footfall here – no yummy mummies dropping by for a coffee and catch up like so many other gastro pubs near me. The clientele tends to be loyal, locals or those specifically coming for an intimate country lunch or evening meal. Would I come here for a girlie get together? The day we visited the dining room was fairly quiet – and I’m *cough* not saying anything about the volume level of my girlfriends… but I think I’ll leave it until the weather warms up and we can sip cocktails on the terrace while soaking up the sun. Happy hour in Happy Valley here we come!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies, families and friends for an intimate, quality meal. Romantics for evening dining amongst the fairy lights and special occasion get-togethers in the private dining rooms.
Not for: While this is a down-to-earth venue, it’s also quite a traditional, grown up space. Children are very welcome, but if mine were younger, like a tantruming toddler, I think I would have felt self-conscious of the calm being broken.
£££: Good value and a decent range. Set Menu (served lunch Mon – Sat, dinner Tues – Thurs) £18.50 for 3 courses. Dining Menu, starters £5 – £9.50 and mains, £14 – £18. Children’s Meal, £10, for main and pudding.
Tea Garden Lane, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Tel: 01892 524252. the-beacon.co.uk