Cornering the culinary market

Premier Inn Tunbridge Wells

Bewl Water’s Boat House Bistro has recently introduced a special Market Menu for its diners to enjoy, cherry-picking the best in local and seasonal produce. Eileen Leahy went along to sample it

In this day and age it’s become de rigueur for most eateries – restaurants, gastro pubs, chic cafés, call them what you will – to promote their food and drink offerings as ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’. But how many places can actually boast their own lake and source their fish from it?
Head Chef André Woodward at The Boat House Bistro, a pleasant, smart and contemporary-style restaurant overlooking the majestic Bewl Water reservoir, certainly can.
Since returning there after his stint overseeing
the restaurant at One Warwick Park Hotel in Tunbridge Wells, the seasoned chef is determined to go one better than his competition.
He’s doing so by creatively cooking all the amazing trout that is fished at Bewl, a 15-minute drive down the A21 from the royal town, and also introducing a menu which doesn’t just change seasonally but weekly – and sometimes even more frequently than that if a good catch
of plaice or crop of seasonal vegetables becomes available from his group of trusted suppliers.
“How many places can say that they can serve up what’s been caught on the premises that morning?” he asks, as we chat before sampling a few of the new culinary offerings.
“Our new Market Menu here changes every week,” he continues, “so whatever is good, whatever is seasonal, I’ll put it on the menu.
I want to keep it fresh and interesting.”
The fresh trout, however, which is ‘within a stone’s throw of diners’ will always feature either as a starter or main.
This week, as I discover, it’s a generous silky smoked fillet starter enhanced with a hint of textured sweet honey grain mustard, spinach, sun blush tomatoes and homemade crunchy gaufrette – or lattice – shaped crisps.
“I smoke all the fish myself here at the restaurant, and make the homemade crisps,” reveals André.
His epicurean vision makes total sense, because when you sit at one of The Boat House’s smartly-dressed tables, or better still on its balcony, and stare out at the gorgeous lake and the pretty Wealden countryside which almost resembles a wrap-around scenic painting, you realise that the food served here simply has to do its charming location – and the many suppliers based around here – total justice.
Today, the lake is positively glimmering thanks to the late summer sunshine dappled on it, and diners are happily eating alfresco as well as inside the elegant vaulted restaurant.
The Boat House’s menu may be slightly reduced in size since it opened last year, but André says the new market-inspired one is about quality not quantity: “It’s being inspired by the gastronomic gems available that week – or day. We then transform all those wonderful ingredients into the best
dishes possible.”
What are the most popular dishes with diners, I ask him? “Steaks,” he swiftly responds. “We
source them all
from Southborough Butchers.”
This week, it’s an
8oz chargrilled sirloin served with fluffy gastro chips, herby salad and an optional garlic and parsley butter.
“The trout always flies off the menu, too,” he continues, “and our other fish dishes are always well received. I speak to the fishmonger at the beginning of each week and see what’s good. It could be anything from hake to seabass or skate.”
The latter is what my taste buds are treated to after sampling a plate of the divine and deliciously fresh watermelon and pea purée salad dotted with chunks of pungent aged feta.
Like my starter, the presentation of the skate is impressive but, more importantly, it’s really tasty, moist and shreds easily off the bone. The accompanying tenderstem broccoli is cooked perfectly al dente, and the indulgent crispy fat chips also served are ideal for soaking up the buttery and salty caper and citrus-infused sauce.
One of the friendly waitresses manages to convince me that dessert would be rude to refuse, and a quick glance reveals a good variety of British classics on offer, including sticky toffee pudding and local strawberries.
But it’s the summer pudding with a twist that I can’t resist. And when it arrives glistening with a berry coulis, creamy vanilla sauce and smattering of seasonal berries topped off with crunchy biscuit crumbs, it tastes like summer on a plate.
André is right: It’s better to edit a menu down and concentrate on what is at its
peak and tasting sensational – with the added bonus of knowing that sometimes it has literally been sourced on the doorstep…

The Boat House Bistro’s Market Menu is now open throughout the winter, and is available from 12noon-9pm on Saturdays and 12noon-5pm on Sundays. A two- course menu costs £19, or you can enjoy three for £24. Every Friday there is a Fish and Chips special on offer from 12noon-4pm. Children’s menus are available for £7.95.
For more information, visit

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