Places To Eat In Kent: Hide & Fox, Saltwood
If you’re from Kent, you’ll know that ours is a county of two halves. You’ve got West Kent, the bit around the Weald, around Tunbridge Wells, and you’ve got East Kent, encompassing Canterbury, and most of the coastal bits. Now, while I’ll stand by my previous assertion that The Small Holding is the place to go in Kent for a killer tasting menu, I want to adjust my view just a little to say that The Small Holding is the place to go if you want to enjoy a tasting menu in West Kent, because I’ve found a new (okay it just celebrated its second birthday, but it is 2021 and if a restaurant opened in 2019 I think we can still consider it new at the moment!) East Kent dining establishment that specialises in the most fantastic tasting menus: Hide and Fox in Saltwood, near Hythe.
Tucked away just off the village green their small, stunning, modern dining room serves up five or eight course tasting menus with matching wine flights paired by their excellent co-owner sommelier Alice for lunch and dinner. It’s got the feel of some of the fine dining restaurants I’ve been to in France, and it is also excellent value. You can see what we had to eat below, but honestly, if you want to go and book at table right now instead of bothering to read on, it will be an excellent idea!
Enjoying the fact we were out for our first girls lunch out since we reviewed The Small Holding in September 2019 we celebrated with a glass of Gusbourne’s sparkling rose, bright, fruity and oh so enjoyable. What I like since I moved house is that so many incredible English vineyards like Gusbourne are now hyper local for me!
With our fizz we were brought a few snacks and canapés. Sweet little brown shrimp came on little mounds of smoked roe, lifted with some micro coriander on crisp, light tapioca crackers, and while my mother enjoyed a rich, light parmesan puff I was treated to a wonderful mushroom puree served with goats curd and fresh nasturtiums. This is another thing I loved about Hide and Fox – tasting menus can be restrictive, but if you let them know in advance about dietary requirements (me: cheese made with cows milk) or plain dislikes (my father does not eat fish, for example) they’ll be happy to accommodate you.
After the canapés, still warm from the oven came a little bun of sourdough, airy and pillowy with a browned, sunflower seeded top which was baked in such a way that it provided a contrasting flavour note to the bread below. I’d never had sourdough done like this before, and it was both curious and lovely, especially served with their excellent whipped butter.
Up next came our first course of the five course tasting menu we selected (but you’ll bet we’ll be back for eight when we’ve got something to celebrate next!): raw scallop with apple, yuzu, horseradish and puffed rice. It was such a play on lightness (you’ll notice I say ‘light’ a lot in this review, because that is what our meal was, light, special and enough food without being too little or too overwhelming), freshness, the natural sweetness and creaminess of the scallops, and with a few bold flavours that still did not overwhelm. Something a little special to start things off. When I’m serving scallops raw I usually slice them, but I’m going to try chopping them like a tartar next time as this dish had such a lovely mouthfeel.
As it was our first visit we decided to go with the wine flight to match the tasting menu which was an excellent call. Each wine was wonderfully introduced (can I just say how great the service was too?) and you could tell that a lot of thought had gone into matching the wines with each course. With the scallops we had a German Riesling that was light, fresh and aromatic with a bright mouthfeel that was just enough to stand on its own too feet, but not too much to overpower scallops natural delicate sweetness.
Next, what I think was our favourite dish: a soft egg sitting in a pool of etherial foam that hid tender sliced Jersey Royals, slithers of black truffle (okay you know I’m easy this way, the truffle was enough to sell me here!) and ribbons of lardo, the whole thing finished by a tangle of lightly pickled shallot, chives and delicate chive flowers. It was rich, so rich, but so balanced and light it was nowhere near being too much. And the way the yolk pooled into the foam was magical. Balance is another word I’m using a lot, but it is really the ultimate thing that needs to be achieved to get this sort of fine dining right.
With it came another delicious white wine, this time from Crete (I don’t think I’ve had much Greek wine before, let alone an island-specific vintage) – it was bright, crisp and again had a beautiful aroma that cut through the richness of the egg without overpowering the delicate foam.
Onto the fish course, a lovely, perfectly cooked piece of haddock served with a bright, tender piece of white asparagus (I might be heretical here and say French white asparagus might even be better than fresh Kentish English asparagus) crumbed with bacon and chives. Less exciting than some of the other dishes we enjoyed, but still pretty flawless.
Wine-wise, with the fish we travelled to South Africa for a Chenin Blanc which I very much enjoyed, being something of a Chenin Blanc fan, even though it tends to produce a bolder, deeper white as opposed to the lighter, brighter, grassier numbers that tend to be a bit more popular. Bold, bright and complex (can you see that beautiful colour) this one really held its own, but again, was not too much to be paired with a fish dish.
I was really excited to try the super-local Elham duck I’d spied on Head Chef Allister’s Instagram a few weeks before so I was really happy with a tender, beautifully cooked piece with a pink middle and crispy, savoury skin arrived in a bitter leaf-play on duck a la orange that worked beautifully, though for me the slice of (I think oyster?) mushroom on the side really stole the show: toothsome, meaty, savoury and something I could have eaten an entire plate of.
Onto a very volcanic glass of red wine from Southern Italy with the duck that just tasted of sunshine: at first it was bold and you thought it would end on an aged, oaky note, but at the end it lifts into something bright, fruity and totally suitable to be drinking on a hot summers day. My mother said it reminded her of that part of Italy, but to be honest, all I think of when I think of Sorrento are limoncello drops, little mouthfuls of the bright lemon liquor encased in sugar!
Now as we get to pudding I need to apologise because I was so entranced I forgot to take a photograph of the middle. Honestly, this is going up there in the dessert hall of fame with that lime and black sesame macron that made me cry that one time at The Compasses Inn in Crundale. Chocolate mousse, rich and light in a crisp chocolate shell encasing the most wonderful poached dark cherry compote, topped with pistachio nougatine and ice cream. Simple flavours paired perfectly and presented in the most stunning way. You know I’m not a pudding person, but this is a strong argument for the eight rather than five course tasting menus, because that way you get to enjoy more desserts!
With it a real blast from the past for my mother (I was too small!) with a seven year old French dessert wine from Banyuls in the South near where my grandparents used to live: complex, deep and caramelised, but still with enough fresh fruity notes that it lifted the cherry and cut through the rich chocolate. It reminded me of the lovely, deep, bright walnut liquor from the Dordogne I’m more than a little bit partial too.
I know I can get a bit gushy when I’ve really, really enjoyed a restaurant but I feel so lucky to have Hide and Fox so close by. I’m honestly not just saying this that we’ve already planned to book our next girls lunch there for when the seasons – and therefore the menu – have changed so we can do it all over again.