A royal dining affair
6th December 2018
Once frequented by Queen Victoria, The Royal Wells has long been a prominent destination in Tunbridge Wells. And, with an ambitious refurbishment project completed in 2015 and a recent change in management, it’s got a lot to offer to the local foodie scene, as Charlie Bond discovers…
It’s a chilly winter eve when I pay a visit to The Royal Wells’ Brasserie restaurant, and the cosy, yet contemporary, setting is instantly welcoming. Candles flicker in the windows, soft lighting highlights the muted tones of the furniture and the space in the orangery, though large, feels homely.
We’re shown to our table by manager Steve Collins, who took over back in July, after previous positions at other Shepherd Neame establishments in the county. As he presents us with our menus, he explains that since starting he’s revamped the menu, including introducing the daily grill option which has so far proved popular.
We set about perusing said menu, and discover there’s plenty to choose from; there’s an impressive mix of seafood and meat dishes for main courses, including some delicious sounding burgers.
But first – starters and drinks. We each order a glass of the Chilean Merlot (£4.90) and then select some starters to share, opting for the red pepper houmous (£3.95) from the ‘for the table’ list, and the sticky lime and chilli prawns (£7.95).
There’s not long to wait before we’re presented with our choices; the wine, warming and peppery, and the starters are both absolutely delicious. The houmous is served with homemade tortilla chips which are perfectly crunchy and spicy, while the prawns are huge and juicy, presented in a divine sticky sauce. A garlic and herb bread served with the prawns makes an excellent addition to the dish, the flavours pairing well with the zesty lime and fresh coriander in the sauce.
So far, better than good – in fact, I can’t stop thinking about the houmous and tortilla chips even days later and wonder how can I get my hands on the recipe!
Selecting our first courses was easy, but the mains are proving more difficult, and my guest and I each to and fro multiple times. Do we want fish? Burgers? Salad? But, in the end, on our waiter’s recommendation I settle on today’s steak offering – a fillet served with chips, a thyme roast tomato and mushroom (price varies), while my guest selects the pork loin chop (£10.95), which comes served with a lemon and thyme butter, caramelised shallot and fennel sauce and crunchy parmentier potatoes.
When they arrive, we’re certainly not disappointed. Both are stylishly presented with a generous amount of food, and we eagerly tuck in.
My steak, which I’ve ordered medium rare (the menu sports a handy guide explaining the different levels of steak rareness for those in doubt), is delicious. It’s perfectly chargrilled, juicy and full of flavour, and teamed with the crisp and fluffy chips, I have no regrets in trusting the waiter’s proposal.
My guest’s pork is equally tender, and the accompanying sauces give it an interesting flavour profile, while its pickled tomato chutney topping brings a light freshness to the dish. The potatoes are crisp, salty and light inside – and she enthuses about them so much I have to pinch one to see for myself (they’re pretty good).
Eventually, the generous portions get the better of us and we have to admit defeat, but after ordering coffees to finish, we then decide we could probably try a dessert, and call on our waiter again to make a suggestion. On his recommendation we choose the apple and blackberry crumble (£5.50), and it turns out to be the ideal sweet finish for an autumnal meal. The custard is light, yet creamy, the topping crunchy and the filling is the perfect mix of tartness mingled with a sugary sweetness. One portion proves enough for us both so we share it, savouring every mouthful until we’re definitely full – and the plate decidedly less so.
During our time in the restaurant there are several other tables of diners, all happily chatting and enjoying the relaxed ambience. This feels like the kind of place you can’t outstay your welcome. Long after our plates have been cleared, we’re still seated, making the most of the brasserie’s cosy setting.
In a town with such a strong foodie scene it can be hard to get on the map, but I’m certain that won’t be a problem for The Royal Wells thanks to its gorgeous ambience, excellent service, a strong menu – and that houmous. I for one will be suggesting it as a place to head for a royally good experience…