I’ve often sat in my car at Tunbridge Wells station waiting for a family member or friend to arrive off the train and found myself gazing up at the iconic arched windows of The Warren restaurant just opposite.
Sitting proudly above a run of independent shops at the top of the High Street, it’s always had an alluring appeal for me and I’ve often wondered what it must be like to dine there.
Illuminated from within by opulent chandeliers emanating a warm and inviting glow, I’lladmit I’ve also felt quite envious seeing the silhouettes of couples clearly enjoying a wonderful evening of wining and dining. The reason for my slight twinge of jealousy? Well because as a parent of two under-fives, my partner and I rarely have the opportunity for a proper date night together…
But with a special anniversary looming we were determined to go out in style and of course the first place I thought of for the occasion was The Warren.
The night we finally visited was a chilly late winter one, but I’m pleased to say we were very warmly greeted as we reached the top of the stairs and entered into the first floor restaurant’s inviting and wholly unique interior.
If you’ve not been then it truly is a feast for the eyes. Its walls are glazed in metallic gold and there’s an eclectic mix of rustic antique furniture, quirky ornaments and exotic treasures accented all over the space, which is divided into several different sized rooms.
The décor would suggest the restaurant’s owners have been collecting and then curating a life well-travelled – but also reflect the provenance of some of The Warren’s dishes courtesy of the touches of taxidermy dotted around. Bland and boring The Warren is not.
Yet as much as the decor oozes originality and intrigue, the ambience of the restaurant itself is cosy and relaxed.
We started the evening with a glass of the Busi Jacobsohn sparkling wine, which is produced a few miles away at Eridge Vineyard. This was a fine recommendation from The Warren’s General Manager, Magdalena, and deliciously set the tone of our evening: a culinary adventure with its roots in the local region.
The kitchen is headed up by David Friend and his team and most of The Warren’s ingredients are sourced from its own estate in Crowborough Warren, just under eight miles away. The restaurant is even described as ‘an extension of The Crowborough Estate, holding stock of Sussex Cattle, Boer Goats, Fallow deer, and Wild boar amongst others.’
The Warren’s sommelier Olivier has also ensured that the wine menu echoes this focus on locality with a good offering of wines available to try.
UNDER STARTERS ORDERS
After mulling over our options but not being able to narrow things down easily we asked Olivier for some help.
He told us that when he dines out he likes to try lots of starters. He therefore suggested we go for the Foie Gras, Duck Liver Parfait and the Rye Bay Scallops, assuring us they were ‘all very good’. Happily they were three of the dishes on our shortlist so we were sold.
Also available on The Warren’s starter menu are Baked Dorset snails (£9.45) and two vegan options – Cashew Feta Salad (£8.25) and Quinoa & Lentil Croquettes (£7.95).
Ahead of our starters, Olivier presented us with a shot glass containing an amuse bouche: a warm, silky elixir of celeriac, potato and tarragon vinegar served with crusty bread and butter.
We were soon served our beautifully presented starters and both instantly made a move on the perfectly seared Rye Bay Scallops (£14.55). They were artistically plated up with a deliciously tangy tart apple puree, parsley foam and little shards of crispy serrano ham. The balance of salt and sweet beautifully complimented the delicate scallops.
The buttery pan seared golden Foie Gras (£14.95) was accompanied by a delicious rhubarb chutney and a gently spiced parkin, reminiscent of gingerbread.
My favourite choice of our trio of starters however was the Duck Liver Parfait (£9.95). This didn’t surprise my partner in the slightest as I always opt for this if it’s on the menu. But The Warren’s interpretation was truly one of the best I’ve ever had as the combination of rich duck liver presented in the lightest, silky smooth textured parfait looked and tasted gorgeous. And the unique cherry beer compote it came served with cleverly cut through the strong gamey flavour.
THE MAIN EVENT
Although The Warren’s menu is not hugely extensive, the options are so appealing that once again, it took us a while to make a final decision. Here there is something for all tastes and price points, from the selection of five different flavours of Shetland Mussels (£19.90), to Chargrilled Pork Loin Steaks served with Macaroni Cheese, Corn & Black Bean Salad and Chimichurri (£22.95). Then of course there’s the ultimate indulgent food for sharing: a 33oz Cote de Boeuf for two (£79.95).
In the end though we decided to order the Harissa Lamb Shank (£27.95) and the 8oz Ribeye Steak (£29.50) which we both fancied and so agreed to swap dishes at the halfway point!
As our mains arrived we certainly weren’t disappointed: the Ribeye was seared to medium-rare perfection and elevated by the creamy rich blue cheese sauce we had chosen to accompany it. Served with chips made from Kentish potatoes, locally sourced ripe tomatoes and a fresh salad, it was a classic dish expertly executed.
But the showstopper was the Harissa Lamb Shank, which was served theatrically on its end, towering over a bed of date, apricot and pistachio Bulgar wheat, tzatziki, preserved lemon and a zingy pickled salad of carrot and courgette ribbons.
The majestically-presented meat fell off the bone and melted in the mouth. And yes, we really did fight over who would get the last flavoursome morsel!
Although we’d certainly been well fed, we couldn’t resist the dessert menu which boasted a diverse selection of sweet treats.
These included the indulgent sounding Deep Fried Miso Mars Bar (£9.25) and the Half Dozen Egg Box of Homemade Chocolate with Salted Caramel and Elderberry Warren macarons (£7.50).
I went for the Tonka Bean Panna Cotta, Poached Rhubarb, Cinder Toffee and Rhubarb Sorbet (£9.00) which was served in a stylish cocktail glass.
The sorbet was crowned with a gorgeous edible pansy – a clever culinary nod to spring. It was so beautifully presented I almost didn’t want to eat it. But every spoonful was delicious and so I’m glad I did!
Being Italian my partner chose the Affogato ice cream (£9.95) which happened to also be the vegan option. This traditional dessert is served with a shot glass of Frangelico, a chocolate coated cinder toffee and an espresso to pour over the nutty hazelnut ice cream – and it got a huge thumbs up from him.
The Warren Restaurant is very much deserving of its place in the Michelin Guide, which it has retained for the past five years.
I can honestly say the food, ambience and service was first class.
And although The Warren is the ideal place to go for a special occasion it’s not stuffy – or overly expensive either.
There are a number of affordable options on the menu and it’s certainly somewhere I’d suggest for a lunch with friends or an afternoon with family – their Sunday Roast comes highly recommended.
I can’t wait to return as I’m sure no two meals here will ever be the same given The Warren’s approach to using ultra-local and seasonal produce on an ever evolving menu.
A fantastic foodie experience!
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