Try a taste of the unique and unusual at this experimental eaterie

vittel front

CASTING an initial eye over the menu at the rather intriguingly named Vittle and Swig on Camden Road in Tunbridge Wells, it’s fair to say its dishes, which include Miso roasted squash, carpaccio venison lollipops and crispy lamb’s tongue, are not the typical culinary fare you’ll find on offer elsewhere.

The restaurant’s décor is equally unique, with its impressive hammered metal cocktail bar taking centre stage in a space where plenty of aesthetic attention to detail has been paid. Black button-back leather banquettes, zinc topped tables, glimmering mercurial candles, and lots of interesting contemporary artwork hung on the walls all help to create a pleasingly chic and relaxed atmosphere.

‘If the food tastes as good as this place looks, then my husband and I are in for a treat,’ I think to myself when we pay it a visit one Saturday evening in late January.

Occupying the two-storey premises that were previously owned by the popular Camden Quarter eaterie before its owners, Turners Fine Foods, went into administration last year, the quirkily branded Vittle and Swig definitely seems to be making a name for itself given the amount of people who tell me before booking they’ve really enjoyed feasting from the restaurant’s rather unusual menu.

vittel frontThe recently opened establishment is now owned and run by former Camden Quarter employees Gerry Stevens, who heads up the front of house operation, and her partner Alex Blaber, the chef responsible for the eclectic range of cuisine.

After Gerry seats us at our window booth table – one of the prime spots thanks to its cosy, intimate ambience – my husband, Steve, and I are offered the drinks menu to ponder. You’ll be pleased to hear this also reflects Vittle and Swig’s distinct take on things, as it boasts a list of niche ales and lesser-known wine producers alongside a selection of unusual cocktails, which include the beguilingly named Corpse Reviver (£8) – a concoction of brandy, Calvados, salt, Martini and sugar syrup.

Gerry guides us through the extensive list by quizzing us on our palates, and even our current mood, in order to help us make a decision. After much deliberation we go for Mongozo Coconut Beer (£4.10).

Although I’m not so keen on it, Steve enjoys this refreshing Belgian beer’s exotic overtones and suggests that drinking it ice cold on a sunny day would probably change my mind… maybe.

‘I’m fascinated to see how an avocado, wasabi,

pancetta and Granny Smith apple

combination will work together’
I opt to start my eating experience with the salmon rillettes (£8) – primarily because I’m fascinated to see how an avocado, wasabi, pancetta and Granny Smith apple combination will work together, and to also taste the blue taco that accompanies the dish. Gerry tells us that the blue flour they use to make them is specially imported from South America, and although it ‘costs a fortune’ it’s their preferred choice.

When I taste my starter it’s beautifully fresh and zingy, with just the right amount of heat coming through from the wasabi – a type of Japanese horseradish – and a good crunchy texture courtesy of the expensive taco and salty pancetta.

Steve gets his tastebuds tingling thanks to the crab mayonnaise he’s ordered (£8.50), which again comes with a culinary twist; in this case sour chilli, aioli garlic mayonnaise, puffed rice and lime. As unconventional as it may sound, the puffed rice works surprisingly well with the creamy crab and the presentation is Michelin-star worthy.

It would appear that the importance of getting the aesthetics right – whether it’s in the décor or delivery of the food – is always a considered factor at the Vittle and Swig.

Ah yes, now on to that slightly odd name.

“Where did it come from?” I ask Gerry. “I liked the way the two words, which both relate to food and drink respectively, sounded together, and if you Google it our restaurant always comes up first,” she replies with a smile.

Another thing that comes over crystal clear after savouring our starters is that although there may be lots of ingredients in the mix, the way they work with each other, highlighting their individual merits, means that lots of thought has gone into the creation of these imaginative dishes. Alex and his kitchen team are certainly a talented bunch, and thankfully aren’t charging the earth for their gastronomic gems.

As we await our main courses, the vibe continues to be easy and convivial, with most of the tables full and boasting groups of contented diners – not bad for a newly launched venture, especially given the fact it’s still that notoriously bleak post-Christmas time for business.

There’s also a steady stream of people drifting upstairs to the venue’s private entertaining area, which can be hired out for dinners, drinks or to sample a late-night cocktail. It now also hosts a monthly comedy night which is proving very popular.

To accompany my hearty-sounding braised beef shin main course (£17), I choose a glass of red Carmenére (£6), which is both spicy and aromatic, while Steve decides upon a fruity South African Chenin Blanc (£5.05) to complement his trio of cod, mussels and chorizo (£16.50).

When the beef arrives it’s positively melt in the mouth thanks to its tenderised meat, which has clearly been slow-cooked to perfection. The addition of braised baby onions and a rich wine sauce make it a perfect winter warmer which is further enhanced by crisp florets of al dente broccoli, giving the whole thing crunch and decent texture.

Steve’s fish offering also boasts herby olives and a fragrant lemon gnocchi in a barely there sauce which has been beautifully caramelised and reduced in order to let the fresh mussels and chorizo bites be the stars.

Once again, the foodie focus is on weaving in plenty of flavours, whether they’re a natural partnership like beef and sweet onions or something a little more different like fiery chorizo chunks and a citrus gnocchi.

By the time our plates are scraped clean, the thought of managing a dessert seems almost impossible, but after a brief break we’re convinced by Gerry to try one – or perhaps two. Thinking it’s the lightest, and therefore healthiest choice, I plump for the rhubarb and custard option (£7) which, once again, is beautifully presented in a sort of deconstructed version of the classic pud with shards of sweet and sharp rhubarb, quenelles of custard, medallions of spiced ginger and tiny bites of soft, crunchy meringues.

The chocolate fondant we also greedily order has a surprise accompaniment of peanut butter and jam ice cream (£7.50), which is as satisfyingly indulgent and tasty as it sounds.

A combination of feeling very pleasantly full and the appealing nocturnal allure of Vittle and Swig as it heads towards midnight makes it hard for us to leave, but do so we must, back into the driving rain.

For a brief spell we’ve been transported to a restaurant that offers its customers not only a relaxed dining and stylish experience but a highly enjoyable epicurean one at that – with a menu that’s as unique and memorable as its name.

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