Places To Eat In Kent: Tallow, Southborough

At the beginning of autumn, my favourite place to eat, The Compasses Inn in Crundale ceased to be. Well, obviously the pub is still there, and I’m excited to try out their new food offering in the New Year, but Rob and Donna Taylor, the brilliant duo who created my happy place have moved on. Happily for the people of West Kent and Tunbridge Wells (though less happily for me as it is a good hour away!) a couple of weeks ago they took over the beautiful old Twenty Six restaurant in Southborough and opened Tallow: a stunningly beautiful, intimate fine dining restaurant I finally managed to eat at for the first time last week.

Can we just stop for a moment to talk about the dining room? It is small (with just twenty six covers, hence the last restaurant to grace this building’s name), cosy and intimate, stunningly decorated with a warm atmosphere that makes it feel like they’ve been open for years, not just months. Upstairs there is also a private dining room that will be running a full tasting menu, opening sometime in the New Year.

Not a pub anymore, I was super excited to see the wine list Rob and Donna had put together. It is big enough for give variety but small enough not to be overwhelming, with a good mix of local and international wines. I loved how it was divided into sections, such as ‘light and fruity’ to describe reds so you can be confident in choosing something that pairs well with your meal without having to be a wine expert – the organic Italian red we chose to span our mix of fish and beef was delicious – and handily came by the glass for extra top ups!

The delicious bread and assorted accoutrements was always an important part of a trip to The Compasses, and I can happily report it is just as brilliant at Tallow. At first I was heartbroken to hear that I was a day late for my beloved marmite cream, but actually, the whipped wagu dripping that came with our malted sourdough was divine: rich, light, and something we were fighting over the last scrapings of.

Before we moved onto our starters we were also treated to a snack of breaded and fried pulled ham hock, topped with a burnt apple sauce. Crispy, rich, flavourful and delicious, it is just a whisper of how good Tallow’s tasting menus are going to be.

Whilst everything we ate at Tallow was delicious, I think my father hit the jackpot with the best starter from the pack (at any given time at Tallow there is just three starters, three mains and three desserts on the menu) with his pan fried pigeon breast served with soused cucumber and a frankly divine miso mayonnaise. Perfectly cooked with bold flavours this was a really special dish.

My mother loved the cheddar and leek tart topped with a generous amount of English truffle and served with a zingy, rich pickled walnut ketchup. I honestly wish I could have tried more than just the ketchup as it smelt wonderful!

Never one to pass up one of Rob’s fantastic fishy starters I had the seaweed cured trout (so rich) with creme fraiche and fennel salad. It was one of the dishes from Tallow’s opening menu that everyone was talking about, and while I did love it, I think everyone had been ignoring the star of the show which was the little loaf of soda bread that came on the side. Dense but still light, and with a slight sweet flavour it was incredible. I wish I was brave enough to ask for the recipe because I hate soda bread usually, but I could eat a slice of this for breakfast every morning.

We were actually visiting on the last day of that particular menu, but I’ve got a ‘order this’ recommendation for you if you’re visiting soon because I think the little preview of this next starter we were given was the best thing I ate! It may not look like much but the squid bolognese that is hiding under a cheese and seaweed blanket (which was apparently also excellent!) was divine: rich, tender, unctuous and something I could have eaten for ever. It is now on the menu served with a little brioche cheese toastie on the side!

As a general rule, if you don’t know what to order at Tallow, get the beef. As the name might indicate Rob is brilliant at cooking it, so obviously both my Dad and I ordered the Barbecued Rib Eye with Slow Cooked Glazed Short Rib, Crispy Potatoes, Jerusalem Artichoke Puree, a roasted onion and a beautiful English Mustard emulsion. Yes it was as good as it looks, a hearty meat dish with lots of perfectly executed, deliciously paired things to go with it. And that short rib was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, rich enough to be the star of the dish.

However, what I should have ordered is the hake. I love hake but it can be a bit meh if it is not done correctly. Here it was roasted with a wonderfully crispy skin before being served in a frankly etherial stout cream made from the cooking liquor yielded by a generous amount of plump, juicy mussels. Oh what a dish: the sauce was something special, and paired with perfectly cooked fish it was what I’m still thinking about typing this almost a week later.

There was no question that all of us were going to get the chocolate financier served with a milk sorbet and a glossy quenelle of praline anglaise for dessert. Everything was good, it was a real celebration of chocolate, but the light sorbet, taken in spoonfuls with the impossibly rich and indulgent anglaise was the real winner.

It’s obvious I’ve been a massive fan of Rob’s cooking and Donna’s seemless hospitality for a very long time, but Tallow seriously is somewhere special and worth the trip if it is a little further than you’d usually venture for lunch and dinner. If you were a Compasses customer you won’t be disappointed, if anything I think you’ll be excited as it is the same sort of fantastic cooking but with the constraints that sometimes are put on a menu by it being served in a pub – even one of our counties best fine dining gastro pubs – are thrown off. The food is joyous, the atmosphere comfortable, and it is where I wish I could eat all the time – I’ll just have to settle for heading back again next spring, as it is somewhere we happily whiled away hours at, and I don’t like driving back from lunch in the dark!