Lunch by Tom Kerridge at the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs Awards 2019
I’m often asked where I find out about all of the restaurants on my blog. Usually if I’m travelling somewhere and I want to find a good foodie pub, I’ve looked at the Top 50 Gastropubs list to see if there is a pub on the list in the area. I’ve never had less than a perfect meal at any of the pubs on the list, so when Estrella Damm, the main sponsors dropped me an email asking if I wanted to come along to the 2019 awards where the new list was announced, I cleared my diary. Oh, and the invite mentioned Tom Kerridge and his team would be cooking lunch.
I have a special place in my heart for the Great British Gastropub. It’s something about that traditional (mostly country) pub feel, paired with good beer, wine and G&T’s, the relaxed atmosphere, and the warm welcome that comes before you even try what can be world class food that I much prefer them to typical restaurants, especially when I think they’ve become so cookie cutter over the past few years too focused on chasing Instagram likes.
I think the reason the list is so reliable is it is voted for by the food industry eg. writers, chefs, pub guide editors – and all the pubs on last years list had a vote, though they were not allowed to vote for their own pub.
After some welcome drinks, some words of welcome from the organisers and an introduction to the lunch menu we were about to eat from Tom Kerridge, the food started to arrive. The menu could not have made me happier, full of all of my gastropub favourites. To start arrived probably the biggest (in the best possible way) salmon starter I’ve ever been presented with: cured Loch Duart salmon with black apple jelly, smoked mayonnaise and garlic crackers. Also on the plate was a beautiful piece of I think candied lemon peel, and an apple salad. There was a hint of truffle to the fish too I think, and each bite was rich, unctuous and delicious.
Next came Estrella braised feather blade of beef with Hand and Flowers carrot (apparently a slow cooked beef was on the first ever menu at The Hand and Flowers when is first opened, but what everyone was raving about was the carrot, and tasting it you see why – the perfect amount of tenderness and bite, and the most amazing, intense, concentrated sweet carrot flavour), parsley emulsion and red wine sauce, with bowls of Hand and Flowers triple cooked chips up and down the table for everyone to help themselves. The beef was beautiful – though it was the carrot that stole the show – and I wish I’d had more of the chips, perfectly crisp, not at all fatty or greasy, and pillowy in the middle. I know triple cooked chips are everywhere at this point and most of them not very good, but tasting them from one of the places that made them a ‘thing’, you can understand why.
Most people, however, raved about dessert. We were served a milk toffee tart with a hint of English spice and rhubarb sorbet, with a Rhubarb Royale on the side. I’ve never had a tart with such an intense, soft, unctuous toffee filling before, and I honestly don’t know where I’d start trying to make one. The pastry was impossibly thin and crisp, the the subtle spicing suited it beautifully. The star for me, though, was the rhubarb sorbet, which was better than I think most sorbets I’ve ever tried. The texture was impossibly smooth and it captured the colour and flavour of forced rhubarb perfectly; a delicious, three part bite starting with the sharpness, making way for sweetness, with that earthy hit most rhubarb desserts are missing right at the end. If you fancy making the pilgrimage, a couple of people on Instagram have told me it’s a fixture on the Hand and Flowers menu served with a scoop of seasonal sorbet – on the website it’s grapefruit at the moment!
After a bit of light entertainment by way of some fire dancers (!) the list was announced. While I’m now mostly London based and I do love to travel, nothing makes me happier than visiting and supporting some of the fantastic places to eat in my real home, East Kent. I got to be a bit smug with the other journalists as we were comparing which pubs were our locals as the list came out, with my closest ranked gastropub and the place I spend the most time when I’m in Kent – The Compasses Inn leaping up the list as the second highest climber, and The Sportsman (the team pictured above) taking the number one spot, and not for the first time!
You can check out the full Top 50 Gastropubs list here. Flying the flag for East Kent on the list are The Sportsman at Seasalter in the no. 1 spot (you can read my review here), The Compasses Inn at Crundale at no. 21 (my review here) and The Fordwich Arms, new in at no. 42 (my review is coming soon!). In London, I’ve just added The Harwood Arms, Fulham (no. 5), The Red Lion & Sun in Highgate (no. 10), The Marksman, Hackney (no. 12), The Drapers Arms, Islington (no. 15), The Guinea Grill, Mayfair (no. 21), The Anchor & Hope, Waterloo (no. 31), The Canton Arms, Stockwell (no. 34), and Hero of Maida, Maida Vale (no. 49) to my ‘Places To Eat In London’ list, as they all promise to be excellent.