Restaurant Review: The Three Chimneys, Biddenden Monday, Mar 11 2013 

When looking for a convenient stopover for our Saturday lunchtime return to Dover this weekend, we just knew one thing: we wanted to go to a pub for some traditional food. Obviously it had to be on our route between London and the docks, but we decided to choose something quite close in case we relaxed a little too much. The Three Chimneys in Kent seemed to fit the bill. Between Maidstone and Ashford, it’s set in the heart of the countryside, and also offers the chance to detour through Pluckley, which is allegedly Britain’s most haunted village (for those of you that are so inclined, or just saw it on Top Gear).

This was another of those instances where we felt glad to have reserved, as the pub was bustling with diners by 1pm. However, we were offered a change of table, as we ended up sat next to a party that included two quite small children. While courteous, we rejected this offer – we like children and in any case these particular two were far better behaved than the party of boorish adult diners sat not too far from us. This anecdote may also provide peace of mind for any parents reading this: children are definitely welcome and are well-catered for, with the eldest of the two children being brought a dessert off-menu at the parents’ request.

The setting definitely delivers along the lines of traditional pub with a modern twist: beams, wooden stools, and wine label displays abound, while the adjoining conservatory allows daylight to flood in to help avoid that claustrophobic feeling. Dining is also available in the conservatory, so be sure to request this when you book should this appeal.

But what about the adult diners (namely, us)? While mistakes seem prevalent at this pub (two chocolate ice creams were brought to the kiddie table instead of one, and a diner at another table was brought lamb instead of duck), we did not experience any error or inconvenience and our lovely lunch went without a hitch. Service was friendly and, for us, generally efficient. I generally prefer desserts, so opted out of a starter, while my husband chose chicken and foie gras pâté, which came with salad, toast, and red onion chutney. This was brought with two plates and two sets of cutlery without us needing to ask, so I was able to sample a little bit, and can confirm that the pâté was creamy and light, rather than being too chunky and riddled with jelly. However, ‘light’ should not be taken to mean ‘bland’: instead, neither of us was left feeling bloated and unable to enjoy our main courses. The red onion chutney was also a star, being packed with natural colour and intensity, as well as having a jammy texture that contrasted and complemented the pâté well.

As for the main courses, these consisted of local sausages with cabbage, parsnips and mash, and duck served pink. You can order extra side dishes if necessary, but portions are already generous, so most people shouldn’t need to. While him indoors said that the duck could be pinker, I’d take this with a pinch of salt, as he’s French and would eat meat pretty much straight off the butcher’s counter if possible. All of the meat was tender and well-seasoned, and the mash had not a lump to be seen. The crisp vegetables were finished off with a rich gravy, which it would be criminal to waste. However, thanks to three sausages for me and all that mash and gravy, I was in the end too full for dessert. Looking at the dessert menu, though, it would seem that further traditional fare was available, such as treacle tart and fruit crumble, alongside more innovative stylings, including amaretto parfait. All that means is that a future return trip is necessary to make room for dessert!

We kept our drinks modest, sticking to just lemonade and sparkling water, and finishing off with coffee rather than dessert, which was of high quality and came served with a caramel biscuit each. The bill was good value, too, coming in at around £29 per person. You could easily spend more, however, and we will definitely be returning in order to do so.

Hareplain Road, Biddenden, Kent TN27 8LW

http://www.thethreechimneys.co.uk

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Restaurant Review: The Marquis at Alkham Friday, Aug 5 2011 

“Alkham?” said my father when we told him about our visit. “Never heard of Alkham.”

Which is strange, because a) I spent a lot of time as a child in Dover, Deal and Walmer, where two sets of grandparents lived and had a holiday home respectively, and b) Alkham is literally the next village over from Dover (albeit 10 minutes’ drive and thus in the middle of nowhere).

So the claims of the restaurant website that “The Marquis at Alkham is perfectly situated for exploring Dover Castle and the White Cliffs, and an ideal pit stop if you are using the Dover port or Eurotunnel” may be stretching the truth more than slightly. As they mention, it is fine if you have a car, but it’s certainly hardly within strolling distance of Dover. In fact, I would wager that most of the restaurant’s visitors are residents of Alkham (who take a leisurely walk from their gated gravel driveway where their 4×4 is parked) or that they are taking a taxi in from Dover. I say this not only because of the relatively remote location but also because of the near-total lack of parking – there are no more than 3 spaces (more like 2) in front of the restaurant itself, and if those are taken, you’re stuck with the village hall car park over the road. Not so bad if the road itself were not being used as an F1 track by locals and wasn’t so tricky to cross.

But anyway, once you’re parked and in, all is forgiven. The service, while perhaps not the friendliest that we encountered on our summer trip, was impeccable throughout, and when one of our courses was a little slow to arrive, we received a thorough and polite apology, with the excuse that the chef had not been happy enough with his first attempt to send it out to us. Us preferring the chef to be satisfied with what he was sending out, we carried on quaffing our drinks from the impressive wine list (more of which later) and people-watched.

The restaurant promises to bring “a contemporary sense of decadence”, and on this it absolutely delivers. £22.50 for three courses (table d’hôte menu) is perfectly reasonable, with more indulgent (and expensive) tasting menus available for those who are thus inclined. Amuses-bouches and bread to die for were forthcoming, and the lamb that was ordered was delightfully tender. The array of cheese available from the trolley (at a cheeky £3.50 supplement) was mind-boggling, but it was arguably the dessert that stole the show: a chocolate orange confection with a bitter orange sorbet that combined luxury with palate-cleansing.

There were only a few tiny disappointments – one, that I made the mistake of wanting to keep things local and ordered a glass of local sparkling while waiting for our meal. Not a mistake because it was not delicious, but a mistake because it was expensive: at £9 a glass I probably could have gone to the vineyard and bought a whole bottle for less. The second slight disappointment was some of the clientele, who seemed boorish, loud and generally unappreciative of their surroundings, which can impact on others’ enjoyment of their meals.

Nevertheless, though, these tiny points do not prevent us from wanting to return to this smashing restaurant in its idyllic English countryside location – and, at £89 a night B&B in low season (or, including dinner, a weekday bed, breakfast and dinner deal at £149 per couple), to combine it with a stay in the adjoining hotel as well.

The Marquis.
Alkham Valley Road,
Alkham, Dover, Kent, CT15 7DF

t: 01304 873410

Review: Walmer Fish and Chips Tuesday, Jul 26 2011 

I’m a little bit sorry that I didn’t take a picture of this place, given that there doesn’t seem to be one anywhere on the entire internet. Not that it looks like anything special from the outside, but you may need it to help you recognise it when (not if) you go there.

I say ‘when’ because its fish and chips are truly marvellous – but first I should come clean. This place has a special meaning for me. When I was small, one set of grandparents owned a holiday home in Dover. The other set came to visit and liked the place so much that they bought a house in Deal themselves a few years later. Walmer completes the holy trinity of these towns, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that we often ended up walking along this unassuming yet attractive seafront, fish and chips being directly out of the paper, and just generally good family times being had.

But none of this means that I was automatically bound to still love this establishment’s fish and chips years later – in fact, quite to the contrary. After all, how many of us have tasted a food from yesteryear and found that it just doesn’t quite taste the same, or as good, as it used to? I know I have. So, needless to say, the pressure was on this place.

Firstly, it looks exactly the same as it used to, with its red and gold signage simply saying “Fish and Chips”. Always reassuring. Its tiny counter inside gives way to tables and chairs outside, directly overlooking the seafront.

Be assured too that there’s something to suit all tastes; if you’re not into fish, try one of their pies (not homemade unfortunately; these pies are of the Pukka variety) or (battered or unbattered) sausages. Harking back to my childhood (where I did not eat fish of any variety), I went for an unbattered sausage and medium chips, while my husband plumped for medium cod and chips (although said in retrospect that perhaps reducing one of these in size would have been alright – and he’s a greedy lad – the portions really are huge). The sausage tasted just as I had remembered, and while you can make of that what you will, I was as happy as Larry. The cod was also deemed perfectly cooked, as were the chips, and with unlimited returns for more sauce or salt or vinegar, what’s not to like?

Actually, I can tell you what IS not to like: the fact that this place does not take card payments. Fine 90% of the time; not so fine when you’ve literally just arrived in the UK and this is your first stop and you only have euros on you. The reason why this is a problem is because there is no cash machine anywhere on the Strand, meaning that you have to dash to the only place on the street that does dispense cash – the off-licence, where the minimum spend for cashback is £6 and so you end up buying 3 family bags of Tyrells and a bar of Green & Black’s that you didn’t really need (cough cough).

Nonetheless, a positive experience that made me look back on this aspect of my childhood with a sigh of contentment, and did not make me feel too out of pocket either (it was only about £7 for the two of us). Then, of course, after that you can go and play in the nearby arcades and get rid of a lot of 2ps. Simple pleasures…

Walmer Fish & Chips, 36 The Strand, CT14 7DX

tel: 01304 381712