The West House
A little birdie told me that The West House in Biddenden is one of Kent’s – if not the UK’s – best restaurants. With an array of awards and stars under its belt (including one of the lovely Michelin variety), I just had to see what this little birdie was talking about.
Tucked away on Biddenden’s quant high street, The West House may be slightly off the beaten path for many a Kent foodie, but let me assure you, your experience will be worth every driving minute and country lane mile.
Opened by ex rock musician Graham Garrett in 2002, it only took two years before The West House had earned a Michelin star; and now 11 years later, the restaurant is clearly and permanently on the national food map.
Having started his career as a drummer and songwriter, Graham made the decision in his early 30s to change his path. Not just a move up the ladder, or even across for that matter, but to an entirely different creative area: food. And unlike many career changes, Graham’s jump from gigs to gourmet has paid off. How many chefs can say they’ve cooked for Her Majesty, the Queen of England herself?
If you haven’t heard about The West House, you may not even notice it when walking by, but this is just one of the many reasons I love it. The 15th-century cottage exterior and warm interior make you feel, well, just plain comfortable in this Michelin-starred establishment. I’m not one for pretension, so feeling at ease in a fancy-schmancy restaurant is just as important to me as the food.
So what about the food? Ohh, the food. To call the food ‘simple’ would be verging on criminal, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. In this case, simple is good. Very, very good. The menu changes frequently, offering fresh and seasonal ingredients – most of which I can pronounce, which is another very, very good thing.
The course descriptions are under-embellished, giving you just a glimpse into the gastro-adventure ahead. So when you read ‘roast loin of lamb, lamb bacon, courgette, basil’, don’t think for a split second it’s something you could throw together at home. Quite the contrary, the beautifully presented dishes placed in front of you leave you wondering how in the world something so basic could be so good.
It’s always encouraging (albeit slightly frustrating) when a restaurant is booked up weeks in advance – this usually means it’s something special. The West House is one of those restaurants, so if you fancy a Saturday night meal, make sure you plan about a month ahead, as it takes about that long to get a table on the weekend.
Surely I couldn’t wait a whole month, so I chose a much easier-to-book time at The West House: a weekday lunch. We were lucky enough to be greeted by Graham himself, and after a quick chat, we sat down in front of the large bay window to peruse the day’s menu.
As I sipped my chef-recommended Bellini and partook in pleasant conversation with my dining companion, I eyed the lunch menu, consisting of 15 choices – five starters, five mains and five desserts. I decided on the barbecue smoked quail with sweet corn, coleslaw and baked potato gel for my starter. A beautifully presented plate was in front of me quickly, leaving just enough time between ordering and arrival for a bit more gossip with my fellow diner. The quail was divine, with big portions of meat on top of coleslaw and sweetcorn, topped off with crispy duck skin.
My guest’s line-caught mackerel starter was again, perfectly presented and cooked; the flavours of the fish, pickled cherries and feta cheese beautifully matched.
I found it quite difficult to decide on my main meal; everything on the menu appealed to me. In the end, I narrowed my choices down to two: Romney roast loin of lamb with lamb bacon, courgette and basil; or the roast fillet of hake with bean purée, Iberico ham and clam dressing.
In the end, I asked for the lamb. After the gorgeous dish reached my table, I had no regrets.
The trio of meat was tender and succulent, accompanied by courgette, a rich gravy and an indescribably good potato mash. I don’t know what their secret is, but The West House knows how to mash a potato.
My generous tablemate let me indulge in a forkful his meal as well: the spiced beef short rib. It was juicy and flavourful, with a small helping of shallot purée to add to the already decadent dish.
Needless to say I was as far from disappointed as a diner could be, and though I was tempted to order some more of that magical mash for pudding, I spotted a sweet treat on the dessert menu that I just could pass up: chocolate raspberry marshmallow with frozen coconut.
What could possibly be better than chocolate, raspberry and marshmallow? My guest’s milk mousse, nuggets and crisps with honey ice cream and caramelised chocolate – that’s what. Both desserts were incredible, but the milk mousse won first prize.
My dessert was followed by a strong coffee, homemade chocolates and easy conversation – the perfect end to a perfect meal. I now understand what that little birdie was on about – The West House is one Kent restaurant you just have to experience for yourself.
by Donna Martin
The West House
28 High Street