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Restaurant review: Deer Park Cafe

Each month our restaurant reviewer Bibi Roy visits a TN card partner to see what our members experience when they dine.  This January, Bibi heads to The Deer Park Cafe in Eridge, where the team thank members for supporting local with 10% discount on their food bill.

 

"The Deer Park Cafe, now part of the Hattons Group, opened in May 2023. On a very cold crisp day I decide to catch the old faithful 29 bus to Eridge and brave the long walk up Shamfarm Road to this picturesque destination, that Dan and Lisa have made their own. Some twenty-two minutes later I arrive. Note to self, walking boots will halve the perambulation time and the possibility of breaking my other ankle. We are in the beautiful Kent countryside after all, where ice covered verges replace pedestrian friendly pavements and one takes their life in their hands, hoping the vast number of four by fours and tractors will spot this 4ft 10’ townie walking on the tarmac. Get out of the way you silly girl!

I am greeted by my old friend Henry as I catch my breath, the chest meds are working hard this morning. He is so happy that I have surprised them all, immediately capturing the moment in front of their very prominent signage, hugs in abundance. I am pleased to see Chef Harvey on the pass and a full house in this delightful cafe overlooking the scenic green hills. I really have picked the perfect day for my visit. The fire is on, golden retrievers are a plenty and hand-knitted jumpers pepper the room. 

The café is housed in a charming wood-beamed barn. Lisa has worked her magic as she has in all of their properties, using familiar colour palates and furnishings that have created the group’s high quality identity since the opening of Hattons on The Pantiles in 2016. I love her muted, elegant style. The place reflects her grace as always. Even on a wintery day, light floods through the vast windows with the promise of Spring. Outside comes into its own when warmer breezes disperse over the rolling hills, patrons enjoying brunch with family and friends, increasing the cover potential massively. But today it is about cosy blankets on the back of chairs, hot chocolate and sitting by a lovely wood-burning stove. That’s the ticket.

Harvey’s menu reflects the season, all hearty winter soups, stews and curries. Of course the Deer Park Steak Burger, sandwiches and the usual Hattons core range of cakes by Cakesmith are available. Today they have a divine coffee and candied pecan loaf, a very tempting toffee crisp and banoffee cake on offer, to name but a few. Cakesmith supply many coffee shops with an impressive selection and are represented well by the Hattons Group. Their natas are particularly good and you will often find me munching one or two with a rhubarb fizz at the cafe on The Pantiles. It's not just about Cakesmith though, oh no. If you are lucky and have spotted her social posts, Lisa will have a mammoth baking day from time to time, delivering some of her finest homemade sponges in the morning. They are all fabulously light with lashings of fresh fruit and jams, but be quick the 10amers will snap them up before you can say strawberries and cream, so popular are these fancies. I was lucky enough to receive one of her famous Victoria sponges for my birthday one year, a memorable present my whole family still talk about to this day. This morning she has made fresh cheese scones. To my dismay the tray empties almost as quickly as they are placed.

Back to lunch I decide on Scottish smoked haddock fish cakes, dressed leaves and a caper and lemon mayonnaise. I have always liked Harvey’s food. He believes in small batch cooking to avoid wastage. Everything he makes has the lightest touch and is presented with great appeal. The fishcakes are lightly panco’d, the haddock supplied by TN partner Sankey’s Fishmonger ensuring quality produce. There is a two thirds fish to potato ratio here, so no scrimping on the good stuff it makes for an excellent meal. Well seasoned, flaky with a nice charred lemon squeeze and a marvellous squish of the mayonnaise, complimented by a generous light salad. I thoroughly enjoy the dish, as do many others around me. It seems to have caught on. Harvey has been a chef for sixteen years, the last six with Hattons Group, creating many a feast at their popular events and supper clubs that I have attended. Over the years it has been wonderful to watch his relationship with Dan grow into such a trustworthy one.

I deserve a treat after that walk and partake of a banoffee slice, heavy on the buttercream and light on the sponge I munch away with an Earl Grey. Portion size is a very acceptable large here, they would have it no other way. What is it about that union of banana and toffee that makes this Hungry Monk speciality, (that’s actually the pie), so treasured. Last mouthful as I see Max chowing on a huge burger. They serve their excellent offering with aged cheddar, bacon, homemade burger sauce and skin on fries. It’s substantial but he can handle it. I’m told a venison version is on the cards, makes sense as they are right on their back door. I will most definitely be back for that one.

Harvey is pleased to confirm they are able to offer a wider selection here and he has the flexibility to vary the menu every few weeks with daily specials. The weather being particularly frosty, the most popular dishes presently are the coconut and sweet potato curry and chicken and chorizo stew. They do them so well, I can see why people ask for them time and again. Please bring back your famous curried cauliflower soup, I dream of that one, laced in nutmeg. I notice the garden breakfast is being ordered frequently too. Many of their customers have decided to take up vegetarian options at this time of year, not me, I love the bacon too much.

I thoroughly enjoy my first visit to The Deer Park Cafe. With music nights, barbecues, Sunday roasts, supper clubs and private functions planned for the year ahead, Dan and his team continue to go from strength to strength, not forgetting the famous Black Deer Festival on their doorstep to pull in even more punters. As I sip my Birchall ginger and lemongrass tea I notice TN partner Tunbridge Wells Coffee Roastery bags on the shelf. He’s been in Columbia having the time of his life. Ah to be in 32 degree heat. He’s going love that plane ride back, mask up young man!

Thanks for a marvellous luncheon Harvey, Henry and Max. Your hospitality is second to none. Looking forward to the venison, let me know when it’s on."

Words by Bibi Roy, review paid for by the TN card.

 

 

Member reward:  10% discount on food orders at The Deer Park Cafe. Please show your membership card when ordering. For more information click here.

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