Places To Eat In Kent: Squerryes Vineyard & Winery
There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to good, Kentish, English Sparkling Wine, and this time there is also a fantastic new restaurant to go with: meet The Dining Room at Squerryes Winery. Their focus is serving up local and seasonal small plates and towering Fruit de Mer platters piled with the finest British seafood to pair with their three English sparkling wines for lunch and dinner in their beautiful new winery restaurant. I think it is particularly worth the trip if you still have yet to be properly introduced to English Sparkling Wine – it’s a luxury experience that I don’t think any other local vineyard – or even local restaurant this far in land – is offering.
While looking at it on a map Squerryes may seem far, it’s actually pretty easy to get to located at the gateway of the Garden of England. I know most of you who read my blog are based in Kent or London – obviously us Kent folks have out cars (just make sure you can persuade someone else to be the designated driver so you can indulge!) but I actually had the strange experience being invited to this press lunch with travel from London, and I can tell you it is just an easy half hour train from London Bridge, then just a quick taxi to the winery.
Now, those of you who have read a fair bit of my English wine writing (for those of you interested, this year I’ve written a bit more about Kentish wine, but still this time, here, and about a couple of Cornish vineyards here) will know I have a bit of a dim view of lots of these new vineyards cropping up, rushing their wine (especially English sparkling) to market before it is quite ready, passing on an inferior product. Not so with Squerryes – while I was sort of right introducing them as ‘new’, they actually had been growing for Chapel Down for some years before putting out their own label vintages – they really know what they’re doing, making fun, but still elegant wines from grapes that grew on nice, mature vines. Originally a French champagne house had wanted to plant up, but, the family estate not being for sale, they decided to put the vines in themselves.
As I mentioned, I was invited for a press lunch a few days before the restaurant opened, hosted by the wonderful (and fellow Kent girl) Rosie Birkett (have you got a copy of her beautiful new cookbook The Joyful Home Cook, yet? It’s full of beautiful photos of Deal, as well as delicious recipes!) So we could get a taste of everything on offer, their small plates were broken down into canapés. If you visit while you’re still in season, go for the estate beetroot served with goats cheese – we were giving them in the form of beautiful little slightly sweet, slightly savoury meringues – the lobster arancini are also excellent – as was the tempura red legged partridge from the estate, served with a mulberry vinegar for dipping from, you’ve guessed it, the estate’s sole mulberry tree.
However, for me, it is the seafood on offer that really makes a visit to Squerryes special, perfectly paired with their English sparkling wines. The 1/2 dozen oysters you can order are whatever is good that day – when we were eating they were some lovely, bright Falmouth Bay natives – and the Fruit de Mer is as real showstopper of a treat for two, featuring dressed crab, an impossibly sweet Cornish native lobster, slightly pickled Jersey rock oysters, Yuzu cured Dorsert salmon, cured South coast mackerel, ans dressed mussels. It changes up slightly, again, to highlight whatever is good, but it is all super fresh, and prepared with little touches of flavour – like the samphire dressed mussels and pickled oysters – that really compliment the shellfish.
Another excellent shout to order is the majestic, and rather simply prepared whole roasted fish served with buttered potatoes and greens. A little celebration on a plate, we had an impossibly delicate sea bass and a hardy looking gurnard with tender, melting flesh.. Something a little different for the Kent dining scene.
Shall we talk about the wine? At the moment, Squerryes produce three vintages (you can order them in the restaurant as a flight, which I highly recommend!) There is a 2016 sparkling rose is soft, fruity and fun. It made a great welcome drink while we were learning about the family and their latest venture, but also lent itself beautifully complimenting all of our sweets at dessert. On the more classic side, we had their signature serve, their 2014 Brut with our canapés. It has crispness and character, and would go perfectly with all that seafood, or by itself as an aperitif. One of the smoother English sparkling wines I’ve had recently. However, with our meal – it was a celebration to celebrate their opening, after all – we had a couple of bottles of their 2011 Reserve, a beautiful and complex wine, only for special occasions!
A touch of cheese and dessert, to finish. Talking to the chef, it was clear that as well as focusing on the freshest seafood and produce from the estate, the kitchen was big on discovering and supporting great local producers. All the cheeses were from a stones throw away, and paired with a homemade accompaniment. The Flower Marie was from Lewes, the Kentish Blue from Staplehurst and the North Downs Winterdale Shaw from Sevenoaks – obviously I fell upon the one cheese I could eat, which was a triumph alongside pears they’d candied in some homemade elderflower cordial. A nice little end to the savoury portion of the meal before my wonderfully light, but still sweet creme caramel arrived, beautifully served with crisps of puffed rice and a homemade rowan berry curd.
I think The Dining Room at Squerryes winery is an excellent new addition to the Kent food scene. The food is fresh, delicious and offers something a little different that is not replicated elsewhere in the county, and it is great to get a bit closer to the production of their beautiful wines and learn a bit more about them in such a comfortable setting.