By Lottie Bulmer, Michael Scott and Debbie Saunders
To make it easier to choose, we’ve prepared our own menu of some of those restaurants and gastro pubs that have featured in the pages of this newspaper – places you might like to visit now that January is over for a pick-me-up meal… enjoy!
Coco Retro, Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1BS
Cuisine: Classic French
Opened in 2017, this restaurant has quickly become a firm favourite with lovers of good food and wine. Owners Maurizio and Ivan Di Santo passion for food stemmed from helping their grandmother to cook in their Calabrian home.
When planning the place, their intention was to offer of traditional, classic Parisian and Northern French cuisine in a comfortable and welcoming environment. They have certainly achieved their aim.
The pair have produced a tempting menu featuring firm favourites, with something to suit every discerning palate, such as escargot, frogs’ legs, hearty and delicious stewed and braised meat dishes, Parmentiere pies, duck, fish, and more interesting than average vegetarian dishes.
Regulars always say that Coco Retro has a happy and positive atmosphere, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
There is a daily lunch special, and parties of between eight and 70 can be catered for in the restaurant. La Cave can take private parties of up to 16, with a separate special menu available.
Soprano, High Street, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1XF
Cuisine: Spanish tapas and cocktails
Price Range: Starters £3.95 Mains £13.95
When you think tapas, you think of Spain. And when you think of Soprano, well it’s probably Italian-American mobsters shooting the breeze in a New Jersey trattoria.
How fitting that Soprano Tapas and Wine Bar, another restaurant owed by Maurizio and Ivan Di Santo, should offer a vibrant fusion of tastes from both those European countries – which is as refreshing as ever after 12 years in the town.
Standout dishes include the board of Serrano ham topped with shavings of manchego cheese and sliced jalapeno peppers. The ham, aged for 18 months, is a sheer delight, appealing far beyond the realm of the taste buds, while the aubergine is a revelation, subtle yet superior.
Soprano is such a Tunbridge Wells success story that Thursday to Saturday nights are for reservations only, and they are booked up to a fortnight in advance. And even after a dozen years, there is no tapas rival in the town. After all, who would dare to take on the Soprano?
Thackeray’s, London Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1EA
Cuisine: Classic cuisine with a contemporary twist
Price Range: Starters £7 Mains £14
Located in the 300-year-old former house of William Makepeace Thackeray, this is known as one of Kent’s most impressive eateries. A 3AA rosette holder, this upmarket restaurant offers classic cuisine with a contemporary twist.
The menus include à la carte, prixe fixe as well as gourmet tasting, meat-free and a limited edition honesty menu. The building’s charming period character, with sloping ceilings and creaking floorboards, has two sizeable dining rooms and a bar downstairs, plus numerous private dining rooms upstairs and an outside terrace.
When visiting, be sure to try the sirloin of Dexter beef, served with maple glazed sweetbread and loaded artichoke skin, Jacob’s Ladder and boulangère potato. Splashing out? A glass of Swiss wine, Gama Nera Grand Cru, complements the beef perfectly.
Galapagos at the Old Vine, Cousley Wood, Nr Wadhurst TN5 6ER
Cuisine: South American cuisine
Price Range: Starters £5 Mains £12.50
South American-inspired restaurant Galapagos can be found a 20-minute drive out of Tunbridge Wells in Cousley Wood, East Sussex. Owner Kate Edom and her team have created a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in this popular local dining secret.
There is an eclectic mix of old-world charm and a bright and airy dining room infused with colourful painted artwork from Ecuadorian artist Alvyar Villamuga on the walls.
The South American theme continues with dishes on the menu exhibiting the finest recipes from Patagonia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Head Chef Andrés’ home country, Ecuador.
Our recommendation? Any fish or beef dish. Twice a week, Andrés travels to London to choose fresh fish and meat from the Billingsgate and Smithfield markets.
The Bull, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells TN2 5LH
Cuisine: Pub cuisine with great twists
Price Range: Starters £5.50 Mains £12 mains
Familiar town favourite The Bull has been recently taken over by new owners Adam Legyel and Zordan Boni.
Unusually for a pub chain, landlord Shepherd Neame has allowed Budapest-trained Zordan free rein with the menu, ensuring that the pub’s charm and individuality has not been lost.
Despite giving the food a shake-up, the interior remains as inviting and quirky as ever. Its open fire, newspaper-covered walls and cosy, candle-lit lounge area gives it a homely feel and invites you to spend hours there.
Exceptionally executed pub favourites are on the menu, including bangers and mash and ham, egg and chips, with a selection of paninis and baguettes on offer during lunchtimes.
In addition to the traditional choices are the more exotic options of Salmon Supreme and a Cajun chicken burger.
Salomons Estate, Broomhill Road, Tunbridge Wells TN3 0TG
Cuisine: British classics
Set amid this stunning and sprawling country estate, Salomons provides traditional British fare with enviable views of its lake.
The Pub & Dining Rooms offer a choice of places to eat, including the bright and spacious dining rooms, the conservatory overlooking the beautiful grounds, or the lounge, which is perfect for a cosy coffee and afternoon tea.
All the usual pub favourites are available on the lunch menu, including burgers and fish and chips, vegetarian options, and a few more exotic dishes for the more adventurous.
In the evening, there’s a wide range of dishes featuring all the great fresh and local ingredients that are available in our part of the world, including an array of fish and meat dishes, and vegetarian and vegan options. But don’t forget to look at the specials, which change regularly.
For Sundays, there really are few places that offer a roast dinner in such lovely surroundings. Whether it is a quick bite, a slap-up feed or a family occasion, Salomons does not disappoint.
Konak, Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2AS
Cuisine: Turkish cuisine
Price Range: Starters £3.75 Mains £9.95
Stylish and contemporary Turkish restaurant Konak is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach. The team, all hailing from Izmir on the Aegean coast, have created an interior which works with almost mathematical technique to organise the Izmir-imported furniture to make clever use of the space.
Despite the high standard of the design and service, it is the food which is the star of the show at Konak.
Stand-out dishes include the vegetarian aubergine dish Saksuka to start with, and the mixed cold meze to follow, a sure-fire way of giving your taste buds a full tour of Turkish gastronomy.
THE Cinnamon Square, Rings Hill, Hildenborough TN11 8LX
Cuisine: Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine
Price Range: Starters £5.95 Mains £11.95
Ideally situated next to Hildenborough’s train station, and owned by husband-and-wife team Habib and Waheda Siddiq, Cinnamon Square blends dishes from all over India and Bangladesh.
The family have been in the restaurant business for over 40 years and treat every customer like valued friends, earning them multiple awards from the Bangladesh Caterers Association.
With its light and pristine ambience, this is unlike many other Indian restaurants, and it invites you to sit and relax for a while to escape the pressures of everyday life.
The chilli fish starter is highly recommended, pan fried in a chilli and onion sauce, but make sure you save room for the Cinnamon Special – a mouth-watering meal of medium hot chicken and lamb cooked in a rich garlic and onion sauce with fresh herbs and peppers.
THE Mexican Kitchen, London Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1DA
Price Range: Starters £4.75 Mains £10.75
Located in between London Road and the High Street, The Mexican Kitchen offers an authentic taste of Central America. Decorated cleverly with green and red accessories and colourful distressed furniture, and maximising the space with the careful placement of mirrors, it transports you far away from Kent into the exoticism of Mexico.
The Mexican Kitchen is ideal if you’re looking for a midweek meal out as, along with other enticing offers, Thursday is fajita night with a buy one, get one half price deal.
The King Prawn fajitas are a favourite of our team, especially when paired with a traditional margarita cocktail.
Hotel du Vin, Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2LY
Cuisine: French, British and local
Price Range: Starters £5.50 Mains £12.50
Hotel du Vin has built a remarkable reputation across the UK, and since its arrival in the town 20 years ago, and with its traditional Gallic Epicurean food and extensive wine list, it has remained a desirable place to wine and dine.
Stepping away from the chain’s menu, Head Chef James Sherwin has pushed for more regional options and dishes use local produce, including meat from Pembury and cheese from Staplehurst, as well as the bar carrying drinks from Tenterden winery Chapel Down.
The Bistro du Vin is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a multitude of dishes.
For carnivores there is an extensive range of traditional French meat dishes, such as a classic cassoulet, moules marinières and a seafood risotto. There is also a rich variety of meat-free options, including a vegetarian risotto and vegan steak.
The Mount Edgcumbe, The Common, Tunbridge Wells TN4 8BX
Cuisine: British-European gastro
Price Range: Starters £5.95 Mains £11.25
Tucked away on The Common in Tunbridge Wells, in a beautiful Grade II-listed pub, the family-run Mount Edgcumbe is one of the area’s most popular places to dine and stay. It was refurbished in 2012 by Robert and Sally Hogben and has a rustic chic feel to its interior, with exposed brick walls and fairy lights.
Its cuisine is self-described as ‘British-European Gastro’, and with the menus changing seasonally there is always something new to try. Expect a rich variety of British pub favourites, such as fish and chips, as well as more European options, including moussaka and lamb koftas.
Zorba Meze Grill, Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2EN
Cuisine: Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine
Price Range: Mezes starters £2.95 Mains £11.95
Zorba has been rated as Kent’s number one Turkish restaurant on Trip Advisor, and it’s easy to see why. The recently extended restaurant is always bustling, and with an open-plan kitchen dinner comes with a show.
Featuring smart and atmospheric décor – low-level lighting, exposed brick walls and hammered metal and mirrored wall hangings – its cosy ambience encourages you to stay and relax.
There is a multitude of dishes on the menu, and to make sure you get the opportunity to sample all of them they offer an enticing loyalty scheme.
For a first visit, it is worth taking advantage of the deal for five different mezes to share, ensuring you can sample as much of the menu as possible.
The Bottle House Inn, Coldharbour Road, Penshurst TN11 8ET
Cuisine: Traditional and seasonal pub cuisine
Price Range: Starters £5.50 Main £11
Since its licensing in 1808, The Bottle House Inn has been a beloved pub for generations of West Kent dwellers. Traditionally Kentish weatherboarded on the outside, and renovated on the inside to countryside chic, it remains as charming and intimate as ever.
Now more of a destination restaurant, with manager of 34 years Paul Hammond remaining behind the bar, and the recent addition of Head Chef Mark Harkins, as with the interior there is the perfect mix of old and new.
Mark’s menu aims to differentiate from the other pubs in the area, and there are regular events which showcase his and his team’s abilities. You can’t go wrong with the Pie of the Day as a winter warmer, and the wonderfully festive turkey and cranberry sausage roll to share.
ONE WARWICK PARk HOTEL, Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TA
Cuisine: Traditional British
Price Range: One course £17.95 Two courses £20.05
Three Courses £24.95
While the restaurant Seventeen is no longer open, One Warwick Park, the boutique hotel near to the town’s iconic The Pantiles, has plenty of dining options whether for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or afternoon tea.
The Terrace provides an ideal intimate location that serves dinner daily from a regularly changing seasonal menu, while The Bar & Snug provides a casual dining space for lighter meals and snacks as well as the renowned One Warwick Park afternoon tea. This includes speciality teas that accompany a selection of handmade finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, as well as beautifully presented cakes and sweet treats created in-house by the hotel’s talented chefs.
For dinner, the hotel makes great use of some of Kent’s best locally sourced ingredients ranging from homely favourites served with some nice twists such as the slow roast pork belly with pak choi and creamy mash, or pan fried seabass with chilli jam.
The Spotted Dog, Smarts hill, Penshurst TN11 8EP
Cuisine: Seasonal traditional country fare
Price Range: Mid-range. Menus change weekly
Run by Nigel and Louise, The Spotted Dog in Penshurst is a 500-year-old typical country pub. With a roaring fire and homely feel, it serves both feelgood food and its community through their ceaseless events organising.
A cosy haven of heat in the winter, and a cool retreat in the summer, it transitions effortlessly through the seasons and is a welcome pit-stop for walkers around Penshurst as the River Eden flows through the pub garden, complementing the amazing view it has of the valley.
Louise herself cooks alongside the kitchen team and serves traditional pub grub, with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.
If you’re struggling to choose the best time to go, the roast beef on a Sunday never fails, washed down with a pint of local ale – Larkins Traditional from Chiddingstone.
The Boat House Bistro, Bewl Water, Lamberhurst TN3 8JH
Cuisine: Traditional British cuisine
Price Range: £21 for two courses £27 for three courses
With nautical theming and panoramic views of Bewl Water reservoir and nature reserve, there are few restaurants that offer a more tranquil and beautiful vista than at The Boat House Bistro.
The food is all fresh and local, including trout line-caught from the reservoir itself that is served up on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
There is a wide range of starters, light bites, mains, and desserts, including traditional classics such as ham, egg and chips, fish and chips, plus roast dinners available at the weekend.
But it is the views that will keep you coming back, whether for lunch, dinner or just a cream tea or glass wine on The Terrace or a delicious meal in The Boat House Bistro.
Rendez-Vous, Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2QP
Cuisine: French cuisine
Price Range: Starters £5.50 Mains £13.95
For the locals, Rendez-Vous is among the most beloved of restaurants, having been serving French cuisine in Camden Road for the last seven years, and as soon as you step inside you can understand why.
The cosy interior provides the perfect intimate setting for a romantic meal or quiet family dinner, and the menu offers some of the best prepared French dishes in town.
With an extensive dinner menu, offers during lunchtime, and a specials board that contains some truly eclectic and exciting dishes, the only problem you will encounter at Rendez-Vous is narrowing down your choice.
Whether you are in the mood for slow-braised ox cheek, roasted pork belly, guinea fowl served in a traditional velouté, classic moules-frites, or just a rib-eye steak, not only will the quality impress you, but so will the reasonable prices.
The Royal Wells Brasserie
Mount Ephraim, Tunbridge Wells TN4 8BE
Cuisine: Contemporary cuisine
Price Range: Starters £5.50 Mains £7.95
The iconic Royal Wells Hotel’s brasserie has remained a luxurious destination for every meal of the day ever since Queen Victoria frequented the establishment.
It was refurbished in 2015 to create a more contemporary look, but the cosy, homely feel remains, together with knowledgeable, professional yet personal service.
Whether you’re visiting for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even afternoon tea, the comprehensive menus cater for every taste.
There is a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, including a Planet Burger to balance the huge offerings of locally-sourced meat options.
The steaks are a favourite and are served with a choice between house potatoes or chips and a thyme roast tomato and mushroom, all of which is perfectly complemented by a glass of the Chilean Merlot.
White Bear, High Street, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1YB
Cuisine: British cuisine
Price Range: Starters £6.50 Mains £14.50
The White Bear has been recently reborn as a quintessentially British family friendly pub, offering a mix of fine dining and pub classics.
As a Young’s pub it has cask ales, craft beer, cocktails and fine wines, which can be enjoyed in a newly designed interior.
A Hoxton-style vibe of bare brick walls, funky florals and fairy lights mixed with vintage-style seating and ornately tiled floors has earned the establishment thousands of likes on social media.
An orangery area, a garden grill kitchen and an outside bar add to its appeal.
NB: Prices given are guidelines and may change.
It is recommended that you check out restaurant websites for the latest information before you visit