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Review: The Swan Wine Kitchen

If you are after a restaurant that is rustic in decor yet cool in style, set within lush Kent countryside with top-notch food AND a world-famous winery within seconds from the door, then you are very demanding. But equally stop your search as we may just have the answer for you…

LOCATION 

Found in rural Small Hythe, just outside Tenterden, The Swan Wine Kitchen is located within the grounds of Chapel Down winery which is arguably one of England’s best known wine makers and is recognised for its quality across the world. There is plenty of parking (hurrah) and we fully recommend a trip to Tenterden pre/post your meal as it is fast shedding its Granny tea-room style reputation and is worth a good mooch around its growing range of indie businesses.  

THE LOWDOWN 

Swan Wine Kitchen is owned by the I’ll Be Mother group, and once you have experienced one of their places, trust us, you’ll want to know about the others too. Put The Beacon, in Tunbridge Wells, on your radar for fine dining set in magical woodland or The Kingdom in Penshurst for bike rides, yoga sessions, outdoor pursuits and their café for some very good nosh afterwards.  

Anywaaaaaaaay back to The Swan and when your editor suggests a catch-up lunch there, you do everything you can do to get there, including extending the kids clubs en-route to lunch, so you can really make the most of the experience.  

On a previous occasion, I combined the dining experience with a wine tasting and guided tour of the surrounding vineyard with some girl mates, but this session was purely food-related – with a trip to the Chapel Down shop on the way out to scoop up some of their Chapel Down Bacchus gin.    

THE VIBE 

This is a truly stunning and unique setting – and as the late September sun was pouring down on our visit, it felt like a holiday of sorts as we enjoyed a glass of Chapel Down Brut on the terrace, overlooking the vineyard, whilst choosing our dishes. On a Friday lunchtime, the place was packed which was such a refreshing sight after the past 18 months. Gaggles of girls enjoying a food and wine fuelled lunch as well as cosy couples there for a special occasion.  

We’re told that it is busier in the daytime and less so at night so factor that into your planning if you have a preference for more of a buzzy atmosphere or would rather it less packed. It’s an informal setting but it’s worth putting on a dress for (if you fancy) even if pairing with a good pair of trainers.  

The open-plan kitchen sits within a rustic and modern space and is above the shop so it’s tricky for buggies (but I would suggest leaving any littlies behind if you can for this kind of visit) as well as dogs although they can be walked around the vineyard – if on a lead. The stylish lounge has plenty of eye-catching nick-nacks to admire (we loved the champagne cork chairs) and the rooftop terrace with views over the vines is unbeatable.  

SCOFF AND QUAFF 

Let’s kick start with the wine because the wine list naturally features award-winning wines from Chapel Down vineyard – whether that’s reds, rosés and whites, still or sparkling – and you’ll find that most members of staff are able to talk you through the pairings of each wine with your food, if required, so they have an enthusiastic and knowledgeable team on-side.  

The food menu changes regularly, according to local produce, and despite having a choice of only four starters and four mains, there was much debate about what to go for, but we plumped for Roasted Cauliflower, Medjool Dates and Pine Nuts with Chapel Down Gin Cured Salmon, Lemon Gel, Frisse, Horseradish Snow as very pretty starters with plenty of depth and flavour matched with Kits Coty Bacchus 2018 and Bacchus 2020.  

Our bread had also been given the Chapel Down treatment as it had been made with Curious Brewery IPA (their in-house beer) and the malty flavours really came through in the bread along with sesame and onion that had been added along the way.  

Our mains included Garlic & Wild Mushroom Gnocchi (paired with Kits Coty Chardonnay 2018) with fresh truffle grated in front of you for the extra gourmet treatment and Pan fried Bass with Dauphine Potato, Samphire, Lobster Sauce & Vierge (paired with Chapel Down Chardonnay 2020) with Summer Greens with a Lemon Herb Oil on the side. Can I just say YUM as a bonafide response to the food?  

We shared a Chocolate Mousse with Macerated Berries, Raspberry Puree and Honeycomb for pudding to up the calorie count but none of the above could have been executed at home and it was all well-worth it. We were on a holiday – of sorts – anyhow… 

ANYTHING ELSE? 

Just off the main serving area the restaurant has a great private room – called the Chef’s Table – where the chef can carry your dishes right through with tasting notes, the sommelier or the winemakers can come in and run private tastings, and there’s a big screen streaming what’s going on in the kitchen. 

Chef’s Table

You should also consider the Swan Wine Kitchen for weddings. It is licensed for ceremonies in the Herb Garden so you can say your vows surrounded by scented roses and fresh herbs. And we love the tradition of the bride performing the Sabrage technique, at the start of the reception, where the bottle is opened by sliding along the body a sword to break the entire neck away to unleash the fizz. Talk about showboating… 

To peep into the more technical aspects of the process, however, from harvesting to bottling, you’ll need to take a guided tour (around 1hr 45min), which takes you into the winery itself and offers informal tutored tastings at the end. You’ll need to book tours – and a table in The Swan restaurant – in advance, rather than just rocking up. 

This is the kind of place you can visit for a short-time or stay all day. If you’re simply after a pleasant stroll, pick up a map at the shop, which details several trails that criss-cross the 68-acre estate. And the shop is a must, selling all the Chapel Down favourites, from the sparkling Three Graces to the fruity Bacchus Reserve white. Staff will lead you through a free mini-tasting if you can’t decide. 

THE MUDDY VERDICT   

GOOD FOR: Special occasions, grown up gatherings and private hire. In fact, we are already looking at booking a return date for a girls’ dinner in the forthcoming months.  

NOT FOR: Kids – this would be wasted on the younger lot. Sunday lunches do have more of a family feel but we still think you would enjoy it more if just focused on your own happiness factor.  

THE DAMAGE   

Considering the calibre of the food and stunning setting, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the prices with a two-course meal at £27.50 and three-courses for £30. Bottles of wine start from £30.  

The Swan, The Chapel Down Winery, 7NG, Tenterden TN30 7NF, Tel: (01580) 761616, hello@swanchapeldown.co.uk, swanchapeldown.co.uk 

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