While usually when I'm writing about restaurants outside of London and Los Angeles I usually stick to my Canterbury sandbox (and there are so many exciting new openings, from Kyoto to Happy Samurai (which I still don't believe I have not been to, and with The Naughty Egg coming soon), but sometimes there is something worth making the drive for. The Wife of Bath in Wye (near Ashford) is the latest venture from Mark Sargent, our friendly local Michelin starred chef (also found at Plum + Spilt Milk in London's King's Cross, Rocksalt on Folkestone Harbour and my favourite local food pub, The Duke William in Ickham), and it serves up some pretty wonderful Spanish style dishes: something wonderfully different for a Kentish fine dining restaurant.
After a morning stomping around the garden and measuring up furniture for my parents new house we needed a drink, so settled in at the bar for their house gin and tonics; they serve up my all time favourite combination of Gin Mare and 1724 tonic, beautifully and aromatically garnished with fresh basil, thyme and grapefruit. Seriously, if you've never tried this Spanish, lemony, slightly savoury gin, with this clean, mild an refreshing tonic, do. And the garnishes and proper G&T glass just add to this being one of the best examples I've had.
We started with breadsticks, beautifully plump Spanish olives, glasses of Spanish wine (a wonderfully rich, almost sherry-like Rioja for those of use having fish, and a rich, oaky number for the meat eaters - both wonderfully complex, and not the sort of thing you'd expect to order by the glass), and some tapas style amuse bouche. Left to right, light and flavourful salt cod croquettes, some of the best pan con tomate (thin Spanish bread rubbed with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil) I've ever had, some of the lightest, creamiest ham croquettes I've had since I went on a tapas crawl around Logroño City in La Rioja a couple of years ago, and the piece de resistance: Gin Mare cured salmon toasts with just that perfect amount of pickled cucumber. One of the best little bites I've had in ages, and actually my stand out from the whole restaurant.
Onto the starters. My Mum went for the (big and beautiful) butter lettuce salad with a generous amount of Oritz anchovy (the Rolls Royce of anchovies, rich, plump, juicy, and full of flavour) and crunchy garlic croutons. It was all beautifully and perfectly dressed with a simple garlic dressing, and reminds us that sometimes restaurants can make even simple salads better than the rest of us can.
Daddy and I ordered one of The Wife of Bath's signature dishes: rabbit poached in savoy cabbage, with toasted almonds and Romesco (a red pepper and almond sauce from Catalonia). It was perfect, as well as pretty. The rabbit was moist and tender, and it paired with the bright, punchy sauce and crisp almonds perfectly.
Daddy's main dish of slow cooked pork collar with smoked paprika, cockles and sweetcorn was the prettiest thing we were served. Just look at it! The pork was sweet and impossibly tender, the cockles plump, and the flavour was both very unique, and very Spanish. All of the ingredients we enjoyed were local and celebrating the very best of England, but the Spanish twist (along with the flawless service) really set it apart for something different locally - some of the newer 'English' restaurants are starting to get a bit boring.
Our fish dish was absolutely divine. We had the biggest, plumpest piece of Monkfish I'd ever had, on a bed of tomato saffron paella rice, dotted with aioli and micro herbs. It is not often I come across a dish that makes my mouth water with every bite, but if you're a fish eater, this is what you need to order so that you're not seriously missing out. The pot roast chicken with chorizo and cider off the menu also looked tempting.
For dessert, those of us who were not driving switched to fizz. They do have a rather good English sparkling wine by the glass (Ridgeview), but to keep in with the Spanish theme we went for a very good by the glass Spanish fizz. It wasn't a Cava, and it reminded me more of a champagne style French sparkling wine. If you fancy a glass with dessert, it is the Brut of the two Spanish by the glass options.
Daddy and I had the caramel cream. Well, that is what it said on the menu, it was actually a perfect, classically executed, upside down Creme Catalan, the perfect end to the meal if you're after something lighter after all of that delicious food. However, if you're after something a little bit more indulgent, the bitter chocolate tart with Sevillano olive oil and local Folkestone sea salt (Rocksalt make their own for use across their sister restaurants) is also rather wonderful, rich and decedent.
We're not tea and coffee people, but they still brought us a plate of their wonderful petit fours with our bill: lovely little crumbly cubes of clove fudge, and wonderfully light, tiny cinnamon doughnut holes. It was the perfect end to a perfect meal. The Wife of Bath is an absolute gem: if you're at all local, book a table and get in the car for a weekend treat (the village of Wye is beautiful, as is the surrounding countryside), or alternatively, Wye station is not too bad on the train and you can walk to the restaurant from the station.