A 20-minute drive out of town, Galapagos is attached to the Old Vine in Cousley Wood, Wadhurst. As soon as you step inside the pub’s pretty white weatherboard building, pass through its cosy main bar area and into the authentic South American inspired restaurant, you know the short drive was worth it.
Thanks to the warm welcome from owner Kate Edom you’ll soon feel at ease, especially with one of the many fine ales on offer in your hand, or a glass of one of the many South American wines available. It’s a warm, relaxed and friendly place that mixes old school rustic charm – think ageing oak beams running across the ceiling – with a bright and airy dining room helped by colourful artwork all painted by Ecuadorean Alyvar Villamuga, the father of head chef, Andres.
When I visited with my guest it was busy – few town centre restaurants would have boasted as many diners early on a drizzly Thursday evening, but it seems that Galapagos is a popular local secret.
Under starters orders
Head chef Andres provides not only an array of dishes from his home country of Ecuador on the menu, but draws inspiration from across Patagonia, with dishes from Peru, Argentina and Brazil.
Two starters immediately caught our attention: the Empanada de Carne [£5], a traditional Argentinian baked pastry which was filled with a pleasantly seasoned minced beef in a velvety rich sauce.
The other was Pulpo al Olivo [£9.50], a Peruvian dish made with grilled octopus doused in olive oil that really has to be tasted to be believed. Rather cleverly, the smoky flavours are created without a barbecue or piece of charcoal in sight – it is all down to the chef’s perfect seasoning. Even if you’re a fan of eating octopus, I doubt you will have tasted or seen it presented anywhere as good as this before. It was a truly standout dish for us.
The main event
In terms of main courses you can choose, like my guest did, to go for one of Galapagos’s genuine Argentinian steaks which are just mouth-watering and grilled to perfection. Prices range from £34.50 for a fillet to £15/£28.50 for sirloin or ribeye, and rump for £11.50/£20.50. All are served with fries. Or if you are more adventurous, go for one of the exotic South American dishes which feature a tantalising range of fish and meat. I opted for Seco de Chivo [£14.50], a traditional Ecuadorian dish of stewed lamb with naranjilla [a small citrus fruit] that is served with rice. It tasted very much like a hearty, sweetened curry, crammed full of flavour, which made it the perfect autumnal dinner.
Fish is a popular choice on the menu too, with dishes such as Corvina Marinara [£17.50], a poached fillet of seabass with prawns and squid in a langoustine bisque, and the Encocado de Pescado [£14.50], a slow-cooked white fish with coconut, fresh tomatoes and bell peppers, both looking very tempting as they were carried out to fellow diners.
The most impressive thing about Galapagos, though, is the extra mile they go to. Head chef Andres is clearly a man who is passionate about what he does. He explained how twice a week he gets up at 3am to go to London and buy fresh fish from Billingsgate Market and imported Argentinian beef at Smithfield. It’s fair to say that there are very few restaurateurs outside the M25 who would go to that sort of effort.
All in all it is hard to fault Galapagos. Yes, it is a 20-minute drive from Tunbridge Wells, but with dishes which taste so delicious and are so passionately created, it is certainly worth the trip out.