A true taste of culinary excellence

A true taste of culinary excellence

The lowdown

Situated in the oldest and quite possibly the most charming building in Tunbridge Wells, Thackeray’s is considered as one of Kent’s finest restaurants. It was opened in 2001 by Richard Phillips, who trained under the famous Roux brothers and managed along with his team to gain a coveted Michelin Star not once but twice, as well as numerous AA Rosettes.

Although Thackeray’s was stripped of its Michelin Star in 2016 this has not seen the quality of the upmarket restaurant’s classic with a contemporary twist style of cooking – or superbly loyal clientele – dwindle. If anything since Patrick Hill took over as head chef there has been quite the culinary buzz about the place once again.

Ever since Richard opened the doors his aim has always been the same: to shine a spotlight on the wealth of fantastic local ingredients, promote provenance, and please the discerning palates of TW and beyond with an unforgettable gourmet dining experience.

As well as the traditional à la carte and prix fixe lunch menus, there are also gourmet tasting and meat free ones to enjoy here.

The venue

The distinctive white and wonky weatherboard building with its Number Ten style front door and fairytale character is nestled on the pretty green just off London Road in Tunbridge Wells. It was once the home of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, which obviously inspired its name.

As well as two sizeable dining rooms and a bar area downstairs, there are numerous private dining rooms upstairs, all beautifully appointed, where guests can enjoy a more intimate or special gourmet occasion. Outside is a small but appealing terrace which is busy during the summer months. Richard and his team also provide an external fine dining catering business.

First impressions

On entering Thackeray’s it feels immediately welcoming. The lighting is low and ambient and the décor elegant yet understated, presumably not wanting to take too much away from the building’s charming period character which boasts sloping ceilings, panelled walls and creaking floorboards. Thackeray’s Director Gary Beach warmly greets us on arrival before ushering us into a cosy snug bar. It’s a Friday night and there’s a steady flow of customers happily dining in the main restaurant. My husband and I enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail expertly mixed by barman Nelson, who appears to know everything there is to know about spirit matching and mixing – just what’s needed when you fancy a change from a regular G&T. While we peruse the menu, carefully curated by head chef Patrick Hill, we’re impressed by the various flavour combinations proposed. For starters you can feast on poached brill – enhanced with a lobster and carrot cream sauce, spiced red lentils, yoghurt and soused raisins (£14). Or how about a serving of traditional old spot pork loin braised and glazed, which is given an intriguing contemporary twist courtesy of its accompanying pickled radish, mint and English feta cheese (£27). If the food tastes as good as it sounds we’re in for a treat.

Under starters orders

Gary shows us to our table and after being served a delicious amuse bouche and a selection of fresh bread he asks if we’d like to see the wine list. As you’d expect from this calibre of establishment it’s a pretty comprehensive one, which roams from sturdy old-world French and Italian terroir to local English wines and then on to some intriguing new-world terrains like China, Slovenia and Judea.

Head chef Patrick frequently dashes in and out of the kitchen to chat to guests

Gary, who is also a highly qualified sommelier, clearly senses our trepidation at picking out something and so suggests he pairs a wine per course for us. For my indulgent foie gras parfait, which is exquisitely presented and comes served with a rich confection of roasted Concorde pears, Macadamia nuts, pear gel, confit duck leg and truffle popcorn (£15), he suggests a glass of Grunhauser Riesling Mosel 2001. Usually this would cost £42 a bottle but as Gary explains, it is now possible to serve it by the glass, along with a host of other fine wines, courtesy of a clever gadget called a Coravin which enables ‘access’ to wines without actually breaking the seal cork.

For my husband’s starter of confit Loch Duart salmon, which comes with smoky aubergine caviar, nuggets of apricot, enoki mushroom, heritage radish, soy and an earthy mushroom broth, Gary proposes a glass of 2013 Pinot Blanc Bourgogne. Both our wines offer a little pleasant twist on the usual pairing of, say, a Sauternes with the foie gras or a Muscadet with the salmon. Suffice to say they both complement our dishes perfectly.

The main event

As we wait for our principal plats to arrive the restaurant by now is buzzing. Patrick dashes in and out of the kitchen to chat to guests. Some are feasting on his tasting menu (£78), which is a gourmand grazing of all of Thackeray’s trademark dishes. It’s a nice touch to see him engage with diners and wax lyrical about his ambitious approach to cooking.

For my main I’ve opted for the roast John Dory, which is served with golden beetroot, parmesan gnocchi, poached pink onions, soused shallot rings and a superbly velvety soubise sauce (£29). Visually speaking it’s a work of art and tastewise it’s a clever riff on serving white fish. The soft, pillowy John Dory filets are silk-like on the palate and the texture and taste of the plate is further enhanced by slivers of flavoursome onion and sweet and smoky gnocchi gems. My wine partner for this dish is a heavenly glass of Swiss Domaine du Daley Blanc de Noir, which has just the right amount of citrusy kick to complement the John Dory.

My husband has decided on the sirloin of Dexter beef, which has been aged for a lengthy 50 days and comes with a range of intriguing ingredients such as salt-baked celeriac, braised brisket rosti, lovage pesto, fermented garlic and oxtail salad (£33). Gary stays with the same Swiss wine producer to complement the beef but this time it’s a glass of their Gama Nera Grand Cru. Its robust and intense peppery red berry character is a match made in heaven for the beef, which has been pressed into little rectangles of perfection. It’s sweet and unctuous and the indulgent side of roasted creamy, cheesy cauliflower sets the seal on this perfect partnership.

The finishing line

Although we both feel suitably sated after a triumphant main course, we still can’t resist a peek at the puds on offer as so far we’ve been very impressed by Patrick’s clever flavour combinations. My husband’s favourite ice cream is pistachio so he’s taken with the Matfield honey parfait with a sprinkling of roasted pistachios, pistachio sponge, honeycomb, poached black fig and bee pollen (£11). It’s a joy to savour and is light enough so as not to feel totally full to the brim.

However, I can only manage a few bites of the utterly indulgent and divine dark chocolate pavé with peanut butter, baby banana, rum and coconut (£12) I chose. Despite it being heaven on a plate – and the palate – it proves to be just a little too much after my two previous courses. Again Gary has matched our puds with wines that are little bit offbeat – a Chinese dessert wine for my husband and a sweet red Italian sparkler for me.

Tonight has been a really enjoyable evening savouring quality food in the most pleasant surroundings. The attention to detail on all levels – not to mention real passion and knowledge expressed by all team at Thackeray’s – is palpable. It has set this fine establishment apart for nearly two decades, and it’s clear that it will continue to do so for years to come…


Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter