A year to remember

Sew Grove Hill

We take a stroll down Tunbridge Wells High Street and revisit The Hide Out, in London Road. Owner and head chef Jamie Tsui takes a break from the kitchen to reveal how the restaurant has fared in its first year…

It’s been about a year since The Hide Out opened – how has that first 12 months been?
The first year has been really good. I’m looking forward to going into Christmas and getting that next festive season under our belts. It’s been totally unpredictable, with no two days the same.

In what ways?
Just about every way – from the type of clientele we attract to the volume of people coming in and out of the door. It’s been really interesting.

When you opened The Hide Out, your intention was to draw on your extensive foreign travel to inspire the menu. Have you stuck to that ethos?
The food is definitely similar to what we envisaged when we started, but it’s actually more adventurous now. Our menus have been really well received and I’ve produced some dishes that I wouldn’t have dared to do when we first opened, because even the unusual foods have been so popular.

What sort of dishes are you referring to?
One was a Brazilian dish comprising steamed rice, fresh banana and stewed black turtle beans. That was a real hit.

When we last caught up with you in the summer, you were longing to put a particularly unusual dish on the menu – did you ever manage it?
I really wanted to serve the Ecuadorian ceviche, which is soupier than the drier Peruvian style that people are used to and features raw fish. I did put it on the menu and it went down really well.

Have there been any other surprises, in terms of customers’ tastes?
We’ve discovered that the biggest sellers are always meat-based. The fish dishes never go down as well as the meat, which was a massive surprise. Even in the summer, diners were still hammering the heavy cuts of fresh meat. So that’s something unexpected that has come out of the last year, but apart from that everything else has gone according to plan.

And you’re open to suggestions?
Speaking to customers about our food and drink has a huge impact on us. We often have people asking for particular things. A while ago, some vegans came in – luckily, the vegetarian dish was suitable for vegans anyway but the dessert, a rhubarb and stem ginger dish, wasn’t. It was Saturday night and we were in the middle of a busy service, but we still managed to change the dish so they could enjoy it. It was very satisfying to be able to provide what was needed.

We understand that you have a formidable cocktail menu…
Absolutely, and we’ve just extended it again, so customers can choose from a whole page of tipples. They were particularly popular during the summer and at parties, but the cocktails are my partner Fiona’s department really.

In a previous life you sailed the world, working as a private chef on luxury yachts. That must have put you in some challenging situations?
It certainly did! It really kept me on my toes because I never knew where we were going to be. I had no idea what foods I would be able to order, or how many guests would be coming on board on any given day. Also, my boss would sometimes throw the most ridiculous demands at me. Once, they chucked a large live tuna into the galley and said they wanted me to serve up sushi in an hour! That certainly prepared me for the rollercoaster ride that is owning my own restaurant.

Running your own place in a Kent town must be quite different to life on the ocean wave. Is there anything that you miss?
I do miss the lovely sunny weather and being able to just jump into a warm sea. But I love it here. When I was away I missed the seasons and the changing of the weather. I didn’t miss the rain, of course! But being in Tunbridge Wells is great.

Your Christmas menu looks interesting – along with turkey and all the trimmings, there is tiger prawn and chilli linguine, and confit pork belly. How did you choose the festive dishes?
I looked at last year’s Christmas menu to see what sold well and also thought about the dishes that had been popular during the year. We’ll still get massive orders for the traditional turkey, but we were quite surprised at how many people ordered different things last year, so that’s the approach we took when choosing this year’s menu.

And what will you be enjoying for dinner on Christmas Day?
I have no idea – it depends on what my mother cooks! We’re not open on Christmas Day and it’ll be the first Christmas in years I haven’t had to cook, so it’ll be interesting to see what my mum comes up with.

Any plans for next year?
In 2016 we really want to re-do the garden, because that’s one part of the restaurant we haven’t yet put a lot of time into. There are a few other ideas we’ll keep secret for now.

How will you be seeing in the new year?
We’re not sure yet, but we will be doing something interesting to ring in 2016, so customers should watch this space for more details over the coming weeks.

26 London Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1DA, 01892 315297

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