Places To Eat In Deal: The Rose
How do you write about a lunch where everything that was put in front of you was delicious, but your dining companion had a really, really bad time? We’d been looking forward to dining at The Rose – a lovely fancy hotel where Nuno Mendes (the chef who heads up the kitchen at The Chiltern Firehouse) does the food with a great terrace and dining room that has been done up as part of Deal’s push towards the gentrification of the seafront (make of it what you will) – for months, our reservation constantly being moved because of Covid and the weather, but once we finally made it for lunch, while I was presented with some stunning dishes, we both left like perhaps we should have gone opposite to the Frog and Scot, somewhere I’ve also wanted to dine for some time.
Okay, so first impressions. Sitting down at a table with a little vase of dead flowers is never a good sign (and it was every table, not just ours) but the house margarita I ordered was stunning. Fresh, bright, smoky and complex, you know I’m a margarita drinker and I ended up having two of these. While we’d booked inside not on the lovely terrace because we had to keep moving the booking, it’s a lovely dining room and I very much could imagine I was back in Los Angeles sitting drinking in there, such was the vibe.
We mixed some of the ‘nibbles’ and the starters together to kick off our meal. Over on my side of the table I had three stunning Whitstable oysters, perfectly prepared with a lovely wild garlic oil, beautifully presented with wild fennel and micro herbs. They were faultless, I wanted more, and they seriously threw shade at the otherwise beautiful oyster I had with pickled rhubarb and creme fraiche at The Goods Shed a few weeks ago.
I was also a fan of my smoked beef tartare, which came with gem lettuce, pickled rhubarb and soft herbs. Okay, so it did not have a traditional beef tartare flavour so if you were looking for that you’d be disappointed, but it was full of interesting flavours, it was light, again beautifully presented and the perfect way to start off the meal.
J, on the other hand had the snack plate of fried chicken with fermented chilli aioli, which was stunning by the way. Light and bright while still being rich and zingy it should be entered into the dip hall of fame, and we jealously guarded it at the table to keep for chip dunking. Seriously, it was amazing. The chicken, however, was not. They’d used good chicken, but it was a bit under-seasoned, and a bit under-fried, to be honest. I had a piece passed over to me to check if it was cooked and while it was – just – I don’t think diners should have to ask that of their chicken. And it could have benefited from the crunch that would have been added by a longer cooking time.
Again, our mains were a tale of two different meals. After some dithering between this and the slow roasted hake, poached mussels and spring vegetable ragout, I was so, so happy I went with our lovely server’s recommendation of the lemon sole served with grilled cucumber and a lemon butter sauce. As well as being beautifully presented the fish was perfectly cooked in the most wonderful sweet savoury glaze, the cucumber was juicy, tender, charred and added a wonderful bit of texture and interest. And oh the sauce, the sauce was etherial, creamy, rich, flavourful, such I did not want to leave any on the plate, but while still not detracting from the delicate flavour of the dish. Honestly, this was one of the best dishes I’ve had in a very long time, and it is going to take some effort to beat.
But, J’s dry-aged feather steak with cavelo nero and a smoked bearnaise sauce was less impressive. The sauce, again, was incredible, managing to be both light and rich with a perfectly balanced flavour that really is the mark of a chef who knows what they’re doing. The cavelo nero was a bit on the burnt side of crisp but that could be overlooked as I know personal preference does come into play there, but when you’re forking out £21 for a piece of steak, you do want it cooked properly. In most cases I usually believe the chef knows best; typically I order a bleu steak but I know this does not work for all cuts, so if I’m asked how I like my steak cooked and I’m not used to cooking that particular steak myself I tell the server whatever the chef thinks is best. Well, J was not asked how he wanted his steak, and it was rather overdone, which was a shame because it was a pretty good piece of meat. I’m struggling to think of examples where medium well is a good thing on such a nice and chunky piece of beef.
Oh yes, I need to tell you about my beautiful dessert. A good lemon tart with a lovely crust, served with a delicate, light, generous and surprising blood orange and fennel granita. Light, bright and refreshing it made the perfect end to my (with emphasis on my, not our) meal. It also demonstrates – yet again – how beautifully everything was presented at The Rose, too.
One more thing I need to mention is the service; don’t get me wrong, everyone was lovely, but if anything I think they were doing their jobs a little too well. We felt like we were rushed through our meal (and at the tail end of lunch service with an emptying dining room they did not need our table back) and to be honest we could have done with being left to try and enjoy our food rather than being asked if we were enjoying it twice a course. I know I stand out taking photos with my massive professional camera at the table and unlike in London where people are more used to it as the table was booked in my name they probably Googled me the moment the pictures started, but I’m telling everyone who works in a restaurant now: it is not going to help the restaurant if a reviewer notices a change in your behaviour once you’ve realised they’re writing a review, and you’re clearly not doing the same for other tables. And I know I’m telling you all this in a review of The Rose but I don’t want to criticise them only for doing this, because this happens a lot and a lot of establishments are guilty with this, and with so many other reviews I know too. And I don’t want to be arrogant here; usually it is my dining companion who notices the change before I do. As I mentioned, I used to live in California. I’m used to a different attitude to customer service in restaurants (where you’re rarely left alone to enjoy your meal without being checked on every five minutes!), so if I think you’re checking on us to see if we’re enjoying our meal too much, you are!
We chatted about the meal while we were on our way to the seafront for some more drinks in the sun, and lunch at The Rose very much felt like there were two chefs in the kitchen, one of them who was on point, and another who simply could not be bothered. The clever, creative complex flavours that arrived in front of me, that stunning piece of lemon sole – I’ll say it again, honestly one of the best fish dishes I can remember eating in a very long time – and the overcooked steak (again swimming in a stunning sauce) honestly felt like they came out of different kitchens.
I’m not sure if I can recommend eating at The Rose or not. I know plenty of people who have had fantastic meals there, and if you get the right dishes you’ll have a lovely time. But I can’t help think there are so many better places to spend £120 in our little corner of Kent. And do you know what? I’d not write off going back. I did consider if it was fair hitting publish on this review when I know – both from the media and from chatting to local chefs and restauranteurs – how difficult things are in the sector at the moment, but, there were details about our meal they could have simply put the effort into, like not leaving dead flowers on every table of the restaurant. There are local restaurants out there right now who are under the same pressures and are still hitting it out the park working around the pressures of the current climate to produce excellent food and a really fantastic dining experience, and people read my reviews to know if they should eat somewhere or not. So, if your friends had a fantastic meal there last week, and you’re reading this review a year in the future in the summer of 2022, don’t let me put you off. This review is a snapshot of yesterday’s meal, and the venue has so much potential.