6th April 2023
Twice a month, our food writer Bibi Roy reviews a TN partner to see what members can expect when they visit. This time she heads to beautiful Penshurst to try The Bottle House Inn, who thank members for supporting local with 10% off their food AND drink bill on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“This beautiful 15th Century Free House dating back to 1492, lies in the heart of the Kent countryside”. Licensed to sell beers and ciders since 1808, the Aiken family and manager Paul Hammond now proudly carry the mantle. The menu is seasonal with accomplished Chef Gary Jarvis, formerly of The Lyle, The Curlew, Coworth Park and excuse me, The Ritz at the kitchen’s helm. As I arrive I can see a chef foraging wild garlic outside this beautiful inn, situated in picturesque Penshurst.
Note to self, I should have kept my little run-around car, there’s no bus making it up this road. I walk in and say hello to Gary who asks if I am hungry, which of course I am and I leave the choices with him. There is a large garden terrace at the front and views of beautiful hills and vales. I feel myself sighing with calm as the sun beams through every window, creating a rather romantic setting. Will the Larkins be in shortly I wonder? I love that the bar is copper topped with little semi-circular folding tables attached, so one can eat snacks whilst chatting to their friendly, knowledgeable team. There are cosy nooks and a lovely open fire, local draught beer and a wine list tailor-made for the pub. Pretty bottles surround each window like the fine blown blue ones in their distinctive sign outside. It almost reminds me of The White Horse in Petersfield, fondly known as ‘the pub with no name’, an old family haunt. How glad I am to find such a pretty pub fifteen minutes from my home.
I stupidly realise after ordering a lager shandy, I know forgive me, that they have their own infused spirits and liqueurs sweetly bottled by the bar, doh. I quite like the idea of a blackberry whisky or a dandelion salt vodka. Rhubarb gin, the good kind, not that horrible sickly stuff catches my eye too.
I choose a nice spot allowing me to see the comings and goings. A two page menu including seasonal cocktails, wines of the month, snacks and starters, Bottle House classics like steak and chips, beer battered fish and chips, homemade pies and a burger, moves on to six hearty mains, five sides, five desserts and a children’s menu. They also have lunch specials all under £20. At first locals were not too happy that they had removed the whitebait and sandwiches, but they seem to have come around as the place is now full to the brim, all seeming to be on a first name basis.
Mushroom, wild garlic and salted butters arrive, I already think of this chef as a butter connoisseur and am very happy that he has continued the tradition. They accompany homemade sourdough and focaccia that Gary makes every morning. I immediately get stuck in. Wisely he has reduced the size of the butter spheres that he was known for at The Lyle. I wasn’t complaining, I could have eaten the lot, but then I would not have been able to enjoy the splendid dishes that followed. I have requested the wild garlic soup laced with a black garlic emulsion. It is visually stunning and in season so how can I not partake. Wow I am literally beaming with happiness. I have this gorgeous stickiness on my palate and teeth from the black garlic, complementing the vivid elixir so well I want to bathe in the stuff. Hands rubbing with glee I wonder what’s next.
Elegant slithers of cured Chalk Stream Trout adorned with smoked salmon mousse, the sweetest spheres of pickled cucumber, radish and fresh coriander dance in my mouth. These plates seem so simple, but the beauty is in the balance which Gary always gets right. Next, marinated sirloin of beef, covered in the sweetest caramelised shallots, decadent beef fat fondant potato and marvellously charred hispi cabbage. What a joy. The sunshine is still beaming through the windows as spring tries to show its face, but there is still appeal for this hearty dish, which evokes happy memories of my family enjoying a long repast together, at many a country pub in Hampshire where I grew up. How I miss those gatherings. I think of inviting them here, the atmosphere is so convivial, people laughing all the while.
From the desserts of which there are five including chocolate, sticky toffee, apricot and honey and charred pineapple delicacies l spot a rhubarb tart, beautifully forced with gin and Italian meringue. At first I feel it may be too sweet but I am mistaken, the sharpness of the rhubarb and orange works perfectly.
I sit patting my belly in satisfaction as Gary appears, his team have been cooking for a full house, which I am assured is completely the norm here. Regulars move from table to bar to continue their afternoon and why wouldn’t they, who wants to leave. Gary shows me their private dining room upstairs that can seat up to fourteen people. I gaze at the beautiful view through the window and then shimmy down the Dutch like staircase to the extensive kitchen and out to the garden where I see poly tunnels. Increasingly more pubs and restaurants in Kent are growing their own produce and why not. I am all for garden to fork establishments, where local fresh produce makes the vital difference in one’s experience, in my opinion always for the better.
I review many places for the TN card, but I have to say this has been my favourite to date. What a celebration of produce and talent. The front of house are equally formidable. Thank you Claire and Jo, you were exceptional. The Aiken and Jarvis partnership will be what makes this place and so far it is going swimmingly well. I have never seen Chef smile so much. I feel a great summer coming on. See you soon guys and gals, I’m going to be a regular."
Words by Bibi Roy, review exclusive to the TN card.
Member reward: 10% off your food and drink bill on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Not valid in conjunction with any other offers or our party menu. Find out more here.