Muddy eats: The Kentish Hare
Hop, skip and jump over to this Bidborough pub where the interiors are stylish but food is the real star
Do you keep a rolling wish list of pubs/restaurants that you’ve heard are good yet you’ve not actually got round to visiting? I do. And right at the top of my list sat The Kentish Hare in Bidborough twitching its little nose and washing its extra long ears invitingly. I first planned to visit when they won Newcomer of The Year, in the Morning Advertisers prestigious top50gastropubs, in 2016. So when they reached this year’s Final of the Great British Pub Awards for ‘Food Pub of the Year’ I practically hopped, skipped and jumped along to try them out. (In the end they were pipped to the post by brill Kent-based pub The Compasses Inn – but what an accolade to be in the shortlist nevertheless).
You’ll find the modern, smart looking pub standing proud in the middle of genteel Bidborough, that lies just north of Tunbridge Wells towards Tonbridge. There’s a decent sized car park at the side with full disabled access.
The interior is large, light and contemporary – stylishly designed with the hare theme and quirky furnishings dotted around the place. There’s lots of pockets of different space, which I really like. There’s an armchair and sofa area where some mums are catching up over coffee; a more relaxed bar area, the slightly more formal restaurant area and a beer garden too.
In the restaurant area there’s an open kitchen where you can see the chef and his team hard at work and there’s a fairly the grown-up vibe. That’s not to say it’s not relaxed and jovial – it is, definitely – only that the food is the star, so if you’re eating in the main dining area, I’d be inclined to book for a meal with you other half, or with parents, a special occasion with friends, that kind of thing. We visited for an early Friday lunch and the restaurant was packed and really buzzy by the time we left. Staff were super polite and helpful.
Let me tell you, you’re going to enjoy eating here. The menu selection is spot on – something for everyone on the Main Menu and I could literally have eaten everything on the Set Menu, we had to send the waitress away twice while my lunch friend and I made up our minds. Steaks are something of a speciality here, and cooked on the big green egg grill. You choose your Cut, Sauce and then Starch (chips etc) on the side. I will be back here, with Mr Muddy, to try these out.
First we had the most divine nibbles – Sticky Mini Chorizo and the Homemade Bread Box with rosemary butter, which tasted every bit as good as it sounds. My friend, Suzie, and I ate from the Set Menu (we needed to try 3 courses in the name of research, I tell you!) I had Soup of the Day and Suzie had Mackerel Pate which was sooo tasty. Then it was on the mains Pea & Creme Fraiche Risotto for Suz and Seared Salmon and crushed potatoes for me. I mean, just look at the pictures. Salivating, much?
But in the spirit of saving the best for last, let me introduce you to this Kentish Raspberry Cheesecake. I luuuuuuve a good pudding – think of me as the female Gregg Wallace with a lot more hair and slightly higher heels. And cheesecake is my all-time favourite desert. And even with its slightly deconstructed biscuit base on the top thing going on this was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in a while. The raspberry sorbet alongside it was perfect.
Yes, actually. There weren’t any kids there when we ate because it was Friday lunchtime and all the little mites were enjoying Fish & Chip Friday at their respective schools. As we left there was a group of Mums starting to conregate around one of the arm chair areas and they had children with them. My children are older (8 and 10) and I would definitely take them back here. I mean, just check out the kids’ menu – it’s spot on. Even better all kids under 5 eat free. But be warned it’s quite a grown up dining room so if you’ve got little ones who hare *snort* around the place, you might find it stressful as it’s quite a smart, grown-up dining room – however there is a more relaxed bar space and bar snacks available – and this great beer garden to boot them out into on warmer days.
OUT & ABOUT
If you don’t know Bidborough that well – it’s a small village just off the road linking Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. There’s not a lot happening in the immediate facility but 5 minutes up the road you’ve got Penshurst Place and just beyond that Chiddingstone Castle, and around 20 mins away one of my favourites, Hever Castle. So you’re spoilt for choice. In fact, it’s the perfect day trip for grandparents who are taking the grandkids out for a special occasion or those who refuse to compromise on the dining setting just because they’ve got rug rats in tow. Let the little ones run around Hever’s new adventure playground in the morning then stop off here in Bidborough on your way home for lunch. I know my parents would like this place *drops hint*.
James and Chris Tanner are the celebrity restauranteurs behind The Kentish Hare (they have published several cookbooks which are displayed around the place). It’s hard to believe they actually saved the pub from demolition just two years ago and with a bit of a refurb and rebrand, as well as talented chefs in the kitchen, they’ve achieved much success in such a short time.
There’s a lot on offer here – not just the restauranty bit but also a more relaxed bar area serving a Bar Menu, serving proper warming pub food – fish’n’chips, steak burger, Speldhurst Sausages, perfectly cooked staples. There’s Fish’n’Chip FryDay when you can enjoy freshly cooked beer battered fish and triple cooked chips with a pint or glass of wine for £12.95 (between 6 – 6.45pm) or Steak Night on Tues, Wed and Thurs – £39.95 for 2 people to customise your own steak. The Sunday roasts have a really good rep too – beef, lamb, pork and veggie options all being regulars on the menu. Worth noting that it’s closed on Mondays.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Girlie lunches, family get-togethers, business-lunchers and romantic dates alike. Come here if you like top, tasty food in a modern setting. Proud to be using local suppliers (we like that) and a stylish setting – no wonder it has a Michelin listing.
Not for: If you’ve got really little ones and prefer a relaxed coffee shop setting where they can squeal or run about a bit then this might not the the right place for you. There is a more relaxed bar, sofa seating area and outside space but you may just prefer to save a visit for when you’ve booked a sitter and enjoy a grown-up dining experience to really savour the food.
The damage: I’d be more than happy to pay these prices for food this good. 2-Course on the Set Menu is £18 and 3-Course, £22. Bar Menu is between £10 and £14. The Kids Menu is particularly good value, Mains are all £5.95 and Puds £2.50.
The Kentish Hare, 95 Bidborough Ridge, Bidborough Village, Kent TN3 0XB, Tel: 01892 525709, thekentishhare.com