Rendez-Vous has been serving up its trademark French inspired classics – with a side order of more experimental local seasonal offerings – for nearly nine years.
At the helm are Mark Harper (above), who heads up the front of house operation with his French wife Lydie, and John Boreham, who is the restaurant’s classically trained Head Chef. Mark is also known to help out in the kitchen occasionally…
Both men are passionate about what they do and whether you drop in for a quick lunch or linger a bit longer in the evening you’re bound to find yourself in conversation with them at some point.
Whether it’s discussing how the nearby Camden Butcher has perfected its Merguez recipe, or chatting about loyal customers bringing in their allotment gluts, you’ll quickly feel very much at home.
The other thing to note is that during the lockdowns Rendez-Vous swiftly and very successfully turned its restaurant operation into a takeaway service, operating within a two-mile radius, which is something they still offer on certain days of the week.
“Rendez-Vous certainly reflects the classic ambience of a typical ‘bistrot du coin’”
With its wooden tables and chairs, stripped back flooring, polished cutlery and glimmering candles, Rendez-Vous certainly reflects the classic ambience of a typical ‘bistrot du coin’.
It may be compact and bijou but this only adds to its romantic charm and first impressions can be rather deceptive when you step over its threshold because actually it’s spread over three floors and can accommodate up to 50 diners.
On arrival my guest and I are warmly greeted by Mark, who ushers us to our cosy corner table on the ground floor. He talks us through the tantalising specials board or ‘les speciaux’, which changes very regularly.
Given the amount of chatty and content diners already here – on a weekday evening – all the signs are there for an enjoyable time…
“On the specials board – which changes regularly – there are a number of tempting dishes to whet our appetites”
On the specials board there are a number of tempting dishes to whet our appetites. I am sorely tempted by the decadent sounding twice-baked smoked haddock cheese souffle (£7.50), which comes with a rich chunky tomato and garlic sauce. But in the end I decide to go with the Merguez casserole (£7.50) as I’m intrigued to see just how well the aforementioned Camden butcher has replicated the distinct smoky and aromatic taste of the traditional north African sausage, which is widely available across Southern France.
I’m pleased to report the expertly spiced nuggets of Merguez do not disappoint and I quickly polish the dish off, soaking up the piquant sauce with hunks of fresh bread. My guest had wanted to try the fresh ceviche of turbot, anointed with zingy chilli, ginger and lime and served with an avocado salad (£8.50), but at the last minute he reneges on his decision and instead opts for the duck terrine (£7.50).
One mouthful in and he declares he’s made the right choice. It is smooth with a pleasing salty kick, and a dollop of the accompanying home-made sweet jam chutney takes it to another level. Textural satisfaction comes courtesy of the tranches of toasted sourdough served with it.
Although Mark and John say Rendez-Vous is ‘French influenced’, the duo admit they always want to make the best of seasonal produce and ingredients – whether that’s from local specialist suppliers such as The Warren Estate in Crowborough – or just friendly customers with a large allotment!
That’s why, alongside the likes of Steak Frites (£14.50), you’ll also find dishes such as Bayham Estate Venison pâté (£7.50) and pan fried Hastings skate wing (£18).
When we visit, I opt for the monkfish, rhubarb and coconut curry, which is served with saffron rice and poppadoms (£17). When ordering, Mark says it can be tweaked to my personal preferences – dialling up the heat or mellowing it. I’m impressed by this bespoke approach but say I’ll go with the chef’s preferred cooking method.
When the curry arrives it’s nothing short of sensational. The perfect combination of a subtly spiced and slightly sweet sauce enveloping the chunks of meaty monkfish. I give it a perfect palate pleasing 10 out of 10.
My guest has chosen to indulge in the chorizo and herb crusted filet of cod (£19.50), which comes with a delicious crab and mussel sauce, crushed new potatoes and mange tout. He declares it a taste triumph that is further enhanced by a few glasses of rosé from Provence.
Although we would happily have left things there, Mark persuades us that a dining experience chez Rendez-Vous is not complete without dessert.
All are priced at £7.50, and there’s a solid choice of British classics such as treacle tart and warm ginger pudding alongside gallic gourmet offerings like iced nougat, chocolate and cherry brandy mousse and white chocolate brioche bread and butter pudding.
We choose to share the latter, which comes almost quivering on the plate. It’s served warm and is deliciously indulgent enhanced by a vanilla bean ice cream and tangy fruit coulis. Our forks are soon duelling over the final morsel…
For a relatively small restaurant – and team – this brasserie certainly punches way above its weight when it comes to delivering excellent quality food at affordable prices.
It’s no wonder that it has held the coveted top spot on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Tunbridge Wells for so long.
And lots of my French friends living in the area rave about its ‘genuine ambience’ and ‘delicious traditional food’.
So whether you’re hankering after a taste of la belle France, or want to partake in a culinary celebration of some seasonal ingredients, then make sure you make a date with Rendez-Vous.
I guarantee you will not be disappointed…