Places To Eat In Kent: Quince, Westgate-on-Sea
When great people plan to open a new restaurant, it is always cause for excitement and celebration. You just know you’re going to have a lovely meal and a fantastic time before you’ve even stepped in the door. Last year here in Kent we were all rushing to get a table at Tallow, the brilliant Southborough restaurant from Rob and Donna Taylor who used to run The Compasses Inn in Crundale, which was under their stewardship my favourite place to eat. Ever.
Today, I’ve got another fantastic, brand new opening with as great a pedigree you need to rush to make sure you secure a table at: meet Quince, the brand new modern restaurant that runs the gauntlet of fine and casual dining tucked away in the colonnade opposite the station in Westgate-on-Sea from The Goods Shed alums Rafa Lopez (who had headed up the kitchen there I think since it opened) and Ben Hughes.
It’s a modern, clean dining room with beautiful inlaid wooden floors that I think lends itself equally to hot summer days and intimate winter dinners. Once we were seated, obviously we grabbed something to drink and a few snacks.
On as a special at the moment is their Limoncello Spritz; cool, refreshing and exceptionally well balanced, served with a twist of basil and a few droplets of basil oil. It was simple refined, using good limoncello and representative of the food at Quince: I could have also enjoyed it by the jugful out on a sunny terrace somewhere in Italy.
The warm sourdough with smoked butter is also good, coming from the excellent Staple Stores just around the corner. We were treated to a few chefs snacks; crackers of whipped goats cheese with elderflower topped by a gooseberry slither and dill which were very good (though I think there was too much cracker, which somewhat overshadowed the delicate flavours) and I had a pair of their Maldon rock oysters that everyone in local food who has already been to Quince has been talking about, and for a reason. Topped with just a touch of pickled rhubarb and a splash of dill oil the garnishes elevated the fresh oysters without overshadowing them – a mistake with so may oyster garnishes – and added a pleasant zip to each one. Get these, and don’t make the mistake of getting just one.
My starter may look unassuming on the plate, but it had hidden depths, lovely, light and refreshing for such a warm day. Beetroot batons, green apple, more of that lovely dill oil and copious amounts of fresh herbs surrounded a coddled, breadcrumbed duck egg, which melted into a rich, clingy dressing for the herbaceous salad. I’ll keep saying it because it really seems to be a theme at Quince: good ingredients prepared simply, but very well, in a way that seems unassuming, but is still something you may not have necessarily thought of.
A very good thing done simply but well came in the form of what I think is the star of the starters on their opening menu: hyper-local Sevenscore asparagus served with a rich, thick hollandaise and with a generous, aromatic shaving of black truffle. The asparagus had just the right amount of char and bite, and the whole thing was something to luxuriate in. I loved my salad, but if you’re an asparagus lover, grab this while it’s still here!
I was also treated to a bite of the pork, wild garlic and spinach terrine, served with sourdough toast and fermented wild garlic enough to know it was tender, meaty, and very, very tasty. And, as far as what else we drank past those spritz is concerned, we grabbed a bottle of rose from the Languedoc from their small yet well formed wine list (with a good selection of English, world and Spanish in a nod to Rafa) with lovely hints of strawberries, enough freshness to make it hoighly drinkable, but which was also bold enough to stand up to the food. I recognised plenty of bottles from the selection, and from my brief browse I honestly don’t think you can go wrong there.
The real highlight of our lunch at Quince, for me, was my Longland Farm duck (which I probably met on my last visit there) served with charred lettuce, lentils and a PX sauce. The flavours struck the perfect balance between deep and rich, and light and vibrant with the bitterness from the lettuce contrasting well with the creaminess of the lentils. But it was that duck breast that stole the show; I know Longland’s brilliant slowly field reared bird did most of the work, but it was cooked to perfection with a tender pink middle, beautiful golden, caramelised skin and a good layer for flavourful, melting fat that had me savouring every mouthful. I wish I could enjoy it all over again.
The other two mains on the table were very much enjoyed, a fact represented I think by the fact I was only treated to tastes. The Bishopsbourne lamb served with a chunky, vibrant romesco sauce, anchovy and charred spring onions looked beautiful when it arrived, and it was worth getting I think just for the lamb bacon pieces that garnished the plate: crispy, melting, fatty, umami pieces of joy. The hake too was beautifully cooked on a bed of spinach with a bold, tomato heavy crab bisque which if it had been me I would have polished from the bottom of the bowl with a spoon.
Skipping over the cheese course (not really a thing in our family, but it made me smile to see it was served with Quince jelly) we shared a couple of the two desserts. The strawberries with raw cream and elderflower and some hidden meringue in the bottom was a lovely, light take on a classic Eton mess, again very good ingredients served very simply, and very well, though the elderflower flavour was lost beneath all the cream.
The Valhrona chocolate parfait was also excellent simplicity, with a super light texture, rich flavours, tasty fresh raspberries on the side and both drama and a hit of brightness from the generous sprinkling of freeze dried raspberries it was finished with. Both desserts would be an excellent shout.
As we finished off the glasses of excellent Cava we’d ordered with dessert we reflect on a lovely, simple, but still sophisticate lunch with echoes of the kitchen both chefs came out of, but with something a bit more new, a bit more exciting added into the mix. You can book a table here, and I promise you won’t regret it.