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Galapagos at The Old Vine

A wonderful slice of South American sunshine in the Kent/Sussex countryside that you just won't find anywhere else. Napkins at the ready!

I’ve driven past The Old Vine on the Kent / Sussex border more times than I can count. So I was the first to press my nose up against the window when the pretty pub got a fresh lease of life under new ownership and launched Galapagos restaurant in 2018.

And what I found was a refreshingly unique offering – authentic Latin American dining in a rural 15th century pub – right in the heart of the High Weald’s stunning Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It couldn’t be more original and Muddy. So no surprises that less than a year in they managed to become Muddy Awards Finalists in the Best Restaurant category (Muddy Awards 2019).

THE LOWDOWN

Head chef, Andrés Villamagua, and Kate Edom are the creative team behind this relatively new restaurant. Friends for a number of years, they came up with this vision when Andrés was running a Mediterranean restaurant with a Latin twist in Greenwich with his brother and Kate was working in banking in Canary Wharf.

Andrés has travelled extensively throughout South America, Europe and across the UK for over 20 years, picking up his hand-crafted cooking techniques that are at the heart of the dishes he and his team serve at Galapagos today. Kate started helping out with the admin and marketing side of the business – before long they realised they formed a culinary dream team.

THE LOCATION

You’ll find this attractive white timber-clad pub in the diddy village of Cousley Wood on the B2100 between Lamberhurst and Wadhurst. Just 10 mins from the bottom of Tunbridge Wells yet you are very much surrounded by the countryside here. Best of all Bewl Water is on the doorstep and only a decent walk away (more on that below).

THE VIBE

The space is well laid out – with a more ‘puby’ area by the bar that then leads through naturally into the slightly more formal (but still very relaxed) restaurant area. And the owners are quick to point out that they’re still a pub and plenty of locals just come in for a drink. ‘It is just as important that the beer is as high a quality as the food,’ says Andrés.


In terms of decor we’re talking country chic here, with exposed beams, wooden tables, neutral paintwork and brick walls. It’s all tastefully done, light and airy. But by far my favourite touch is the selection of vibrant oil paintings dotted around the walls. These are the works of chef Andrés’s father, Alyvar, (he’s a well known artist back home), bringing an authentic and original charm to the pub – and further supporting the family feel.

Outback there’s a pretty little beer garden and further seating at the front of the building. The rear beer garden is walled with a colourful mural, also painted by Alyvar, bringing a fun, bright and exotic feel to the setting.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Food wise, think Latin-American ingredients along with fresh, locally sourced produce – with a flavour that you won’t find elsewhere. The menu features a variety of dishes from South America, especially Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador.

Argentinian beef is a cornerstone of the menu – which comes via suppliers at London Smithfield Meat Market. The exotic fruit and veg on the menu is thanks to Andrés making a weekly trip to Spitalfields Fruit and Vegetable Market, calling in at Billingsgate Fish Market on the way home.

Of his passion to this style of cooking, Andrés, says: ‘Growing up in Loja, Ecuador, I earned my cooking stripes alongside my most treasured culinary icons – my mum and grandmothers. Large family gatherings called for creative feasting, and I witnessed first-hand the magic that takes place when you bring together friends, family, and food. This has stayed with me throughout my own culinary journey.’

Mr Muddy went for the 400gm ribeye steak (medium rare). Fish-lover that I am, I had the Encocado de Pescado – which is apparently the dish that celebrity chef, Rosemary Shrager, choose when she visited (great minds, eh?). It’s slow cooked white fish with coconut, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers and corriader served with rice and plantains typical from the Northern coast of Equador.

Not only did it taste de-eee-licious – really fresh and light – but it looked vibrant too. Like sunshine on a plate.

And for quaffing? South American wines are, of course, on offer but also the more traditional fare, such as Sauvignon or Pinot.

KID-FRIENDLY?

Oh yes. There’s a good Children’s Menu that will appeal to even the fussiest eaters. Everything from Argentinian rump steak with chips or Argentinian chorizo sausage with chips – to Grilled Chicken with chips (my daughter’s choice) or Linguini with tomato sauce (for my son). They were both very happy. Especially when it was time for pudding. Please see Exhibit A and B, below.

OUT & ABOUT

Cousley Wood is a skimming stone’s throw away from Bewl Water, making this a perfect day-tripper destination. If you don’t know it, Bewl Water is the largest stretch of open water in the South East. The 800 acre site is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the heart of the High Weald. Open all year, a visit to this stunning lake is fantastic family fun and great value.

Park the car in The Old Vine car park, do the 40 mins round trip walk to Bewl Water and back – and treat yourself to a well-deserved slap up lunch in Galapagos restaurant on your return. Walking from the pub you arrive at Bewl Water near one of the Water Taxi stop off points. So if you want you can take the Bewl Belle around the reservoir and make a day trip of it.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: A wonderful slice of South American sunshine in the Kent/Sussex countryside that you just won’t find anywhere else. Everyone who wants a well-finessed meal in rural surroundings without any formality. Kids are well catered for yet it’s also smart enough to take more discerning grandparents/in-laws too. A great option for a special family occasion or day trip – with Bewl Water on the doorstep. As we left, the feeling was very much, ‘when shall we come back again?’

Not for: Er, anyone wanting traditional pub fare. You won’t find fish ‘n’ chips or traditional Sunday roast on the menu. If you’re looking for a formal fine dining experience with starched tablecloths, this isn’t it. The restaurant is in a pub, but the relaxed result is of course part of it’s charm.

The damage: Not on the cheap side of gastropub fare, simply because of the quality of the ingredients. Starters are between £5 – £7, Mains from £12.50 – £17.80 and up to £34.50 for fillet steak. Sides are extra. Puds around £6 – £7. Children’s Menu – 1 Course, £5, 2 Courses £7.50 or 3 Courses £10.

Galapagos at The Old Vine, Cousley Wood, East Sussex TN5 6ER, Tel: 01892 782271, galapagos-restaurant.co.uk

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