Places To Eat In Kent: Water Lane, Hawkhurst

Last week I was invited to the press launch of a frankly magical restaurant here in Kent that I’ve still not shut up about, and that I’ve already got another table booked at next month: meet Water Lane, the Victorian walled garden in Hawkhurst that is being lovingly restored into a fully productive garden producing fruit, veg and cut flowers where you can sit outside at the moment and enjoy the most incredible produce-driven small plates. Seriously, if you want to try one new al-fresco dining experience this summer, Water Lane is where it is at.

Hiding in the shade away from the blinding heat before exploring the gardens we enjoyed a welcome drink from the lunch menu, a lovely and unique gooseberry and apple mint cordial. Honestly, I’d liken Water Lane to Petersham Nurseries but with better food, better prices, and actually most importantly for anyone who has been by car, actually adequate parking! So, I can confirm that there is a delicious drink option available for the designated driver!

As a keen gardener who does not see much of a point in growing anything you can’t either eat or cut to dress the table where you’re going to eat, I can’t wait to see Water Lane as it takes shape under the carful direction of it’s new custodians and a fantastic team of volunteer gardeners. Above on the left is the majestically dilapidated peach frame they plan to restore, thought to be the longest in the country at 40 meters. Baffling to me, even though it is broken there were nectarines fruiting in it. In Kent!

Also above on the right is the cucumber house I wanted to move into, with cucumbers at one end and tomatoes at the other. Such a beautiful frame the greenhouse has water tanks underneath each raised bed to help with moisture and humidity, but at the moment with no irrigation installed it is taking about an hour to water every day!

Away from the greenhouses, a large swathe of the walled garden has been given over to no-dig beds full of vegetables for the kitchen and cut flowers for local florists. They were a bit late this year getting things in the ground but what is already there looks fabulous, but I honestly can’t wait to see everything at it’s full potential next year.

Shall we go for a spot of lunch?

This summer breakfast and lunch is being served under their beautiful pop-up veranda, most of the food being cooked in their fantastic wood oven. There are also plans for more food provision once the season is over, perhaps in one of the greenhouses where there are also plans to host workshops and events.

Everything we ate came from that days menu. To nibble on while we all got settled around the table we had a delicious plate of pickles – I loved the rhubarb and the beetroot was so beautifully flavoured I could not get enough of it – a tomato and goats curd flatbread out of the oven (such a beautiful dough with nice, simple toppings) and a fantastic, strawberry-scented Greek rose that complimented all the food on such an incredibly hot day. Seriously, the weather was so hot it was near to being obsessive, but it was easy to forget sitting there at the table.

Next, a little taste of gazpacho which was everything so many gazpachos are not: light, bright and full of fresh, fruity, natural flavours while having enough texture and body not to be thin and disappointing.

Next up for me came two of the utter stars of our meal by way of our salads. First, was a beautiful plate of beetroot, whipped Rosary Ash goats cheese and raspberries. Now, I’d never considered pairing beetroot with beautiful, mouthwatering English raspberries before but the result was magical, highlighting the fruity sweetness of the beetroot and the acidity of the raspberries it was as delicious as it was beautiful.

It would have been my favourite dish if not for the cucumbers. Those cucumbers. Lemon crystal variety the round fruits were doused in a soft, herby chervil cream before being accented with tiny bursts of East Sussex shrimp sweetness. You had sweetness, freshness, creaminess and a wonderful medley of textures – and that is just from the cucumbers – honestly, this is one of the simplest, cleverest, most exciting dishes I’ve had in ages.

However, that is not to say that our bigger plates that were not also excellent. The lamb meatballs with milk and chard from the garden were rich, tender and succulent, but also here to win over even the most committed meat eaters the charred aubergines with kalamata olives, a fantastic romesco sauce (depressingly even better than mine) and crispy polenta. Hearty, full of bright flavours and very, very satisfying.

However, the main course star for me was the monkfish with nduja, chanterelle mushrooms and peas served with a pungent and rich aioli heavy with garlic. It was rich, textured, full of bold flavours and was a frankly, am I on holiday somewhere deep in the Mediterranean? dish.

If sides are your thing, there are also some great options that are familiar from similar sorts of menus, but have that little extra touch that helps them stand on their own two feet. Punched potatoes – done in the wood oven and served with a vibrant vinaigrette – had the perfect balance of crispy / soft / smoky / acidity, and the garden salad of freshly cut leaves, nasturtium and cucumber had a light, bright dressing and cut through everything else on my plate beautifully.

Believe it or not we did have space for pudding. While the grilled peaches, again done in the wood oven after being poached in wine, served with a bay custard (I’ll never say no to bay infused anything) and biscuit crumbs was excellent, the real star of the show at Water Lane is the soft serve machine, producing stunning soft serve from Northiam Dairy milk, liberally scattered with shavings of Pump Street Chocolate shavings – equal parts grown up and nostalgic, it is the perfect treat for a summers day and something you need to make sure that you save room for.

Honestly, as you can probably tell I can’t shut up about Water Lane, and I’m not only excited to eat there again this summer, but to see how the space grows and evolves over the next few years. Go book a table here, you honestly won’t regret it, and thank you so much to Nick, Ian and Hannah for having me along!