Places To Eat In Kent: The Small Holding, Kilndown
It all started in the car park of The Beacon in Tunbridge Wells. On our way in to lunch we ran into my friend Hannah who does the PR there who was raving about this amazing new client she’d taken on: The Small Holding, a tiny little restaurant in Kilndown, near Cranbrook. She explained that it does what it said on the tin, creating beautiful recipes out of ingredients, where possible, from their small holding at the end of the car park, and if not, as hyper-local as possible. Yes, I know that it is a PR’s job to hype their restaurant, but Hannah has amazing taste (seriously, follow her on Instagram for some serious country living ingredient and chef inspiration), so if she says somewhere is great, go. Kilndown is a bit far out for me, so I shelved the recommendation for about six months until I had another excuse to drive out that far. I tacked lunch onto a visit to Biddenden Vineyard (more on that soon), but now I’ve been I can tell you that The Small Holding is a long drive destination in its own right.
The first thing to love about The Small Holding are all the little details. It is recommended that you book ahead, and when you do your booking name will turned into an adorable floral place holder for your table. There are only two set menus available, a five course 1/2 acre menu, and a ten course full acre menu – and they both arrive at the table in an envelope for you to open.
Oh, by the way, this wine? Chapel Down’s 2017 Kit’s Coty, a single estate, barrel aged Kentish white wine (that, incidentally, Hannah also introduced me to) is, in my mind, one of the best English wines out there and they do it here by the glass. Order this or you’re missing out. Not only is it delicious, but it will totally change the way you thing about English winemaking – it tastes nothing like any English wine you’ve had before.
While we waited for the first course of our 1/2 acre menu to arrive a few other bits and pieces arrived at the table. First, a little bite of trout, dressed up with capers and caviar, served in the most crisp and delicate pastry tartlet. A lovely little rich, but refreshing taste to kick things off. The bread was also excellent, homemade, still slightly warm, ready to be spread with the most delicious homemade salted butter I’ve had in a good while, and an also rather good Marmite number – and I usually hate the stuff!
Our first dish was a celebration of small holding courgettes. A beautifully, delicately spiced courgette bhaji atop a piece of I think lightly pickled (?) courgette, an insanely smooth courgette and coriander puree and a slick of chilli oil. A tiny (in a good way – you’ll not be stuffed at The Small Holding, but I think that is part of the artistry), perfectly composed plate of food designed to entice, rather than stuff.
Something from my little bit of Kent next, with a pair of tempura Whitstable oysters accompanied by yet more chilli, on a bed of intensely savoury shredded kale reminicent of the very best Chinese takeaway crispy seaweed (which really is just curly kale, after all) and served with yet more chilli, and a dab of ketchup. I’m not usually a cooked oyster fan, but these were beautiful. Delicate, light, and full of perfectly balanced flavours. You’ll find I’m using the word ‘balanced’ a lot in this review. It always sums up the best food – and our entire meal – perfectly.
Next, a celebration of one of my all time favourite ingredients when home grown – tomatoes. Served over a daub of homemade ricotta the tomato has been (I hate the word deconstructed) broken down into it’s very best parts. A whole cherry tomato with a whisper of basil, a jug of pure tomato juice poured over at the table and a crisp reminicent of tomato skin. Flavours to think about, rather than just think ‘yes, that tasted good’.
The main event was what really blew me away at The Small Holding and has me raving about it to anyone who will listen. Mutton – from the nearby The Pure Meat Company – cooked until impossibly tender, melting in the mouth and pulling apart simply on the side of your fork. Forget everything you ever thought about a tough, chewy piece of mutton. I’d have been banging on about just this, but it came with another incredibly delicate pastry number, filled with a vibrant pea puree and topped with blanched green beans for a bit of texture. Perfectly executed, rich and fresh. The perfect plate of food and setting the bar very high for the best thing I might eat this season.
Pudding was very, very pretty. A choux bun, finished with a bright red cracklin, letting on that there is something fruity (a bright Victoria plum puree – one of the very best Kent fruits this time of year) inside along with the meadowsweet infused cream. A dab of fennel cream on the side added depth – I really enjoyed this.
We decided to skip tea and coffee, but we were still treated to a few petit fours by way of some delicate, light, moist madeleines, and the other best bite of food we had since arriving, a pair of Discovery apple jellies that burst in your mouth, full of bright apple flavour as if you’d just plucked one from the tree and taken a bite. But better.
Before you leave if it is a nice day take a moment to go look at where almost everything you’ve just eating was grown, and to explore the tiny village a little as it has one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in a long while – and I grew up in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral!
I know this is one of those reviews of mine that might come across a bit gushy, but we were both seriously blown away by lunch at The Small Holding. A real culinary treat, it is an edible adventure from who I think is one of our counties most promising chefs. If you like delicious food that verges on art, that tastes great as well as making you think – really think – about the flavours of the things you are eating, book a table and head on over. Wherever you’re based in Kent (or getting a taxi from the station coming from London) it really is worth the drive.