18th July 2023
Each month, our food writer Bibi Roy reviews one of our TN food and drink partners. This time she visits Soprano Tapas & Wine Bar on the High Street in Tunbridge Wells, where owner Ivan thanks members for supporting local with 15% off food with lunch from Monday to Friday.
"Soprano is found on the old High Street in Tunbridge Wells. Stroll down past the station and you will find yourself immersed in café culture, posh bathroom stores, high end jewellers and estate agents. On the way to the fashionable Pantiles, this established tapas restaurant (named after The Sopranos tv series), and its owners are treasured by the local community. They have weathered the hard times of Covid and become very successful. Offering a cosmopolitan, modern feel, the restaurant does not take itself too seriously. Go during the week and there will be co-workers and tourists mingling over a set lunch and perhaps a trendy cocktail, and at the weekend, live music plays whilst colleagues, business owners, couples and families fill every seat, enjoying the buzzing atmosphere.
When I first arrived in Tunbridge Wells, this is the place I visited with my mum. We came here for her 80th birthday and she loved the fact that the format wasn’t stuffy. She is a picker and likes to try a bit of everything and so Soprano is ideal for her squirrel-like munching habits. Whenever I ask her where she would like to eat, she always asks to come here.
Today I am visiting for lunch. There are two set menus available. The first consists of a selection of wraps served with fries or salad, ideal for people who have little time but want something different to the usual sandwich. Alternatively you can have a two course which has a choice of three starters and three mains, including a paella, meat skewers or a proper vegetarian option. I have the afternoon to myself and therefore decide to look at their alacarte. This menu has somewhat reduced in size to others they have had in the past. Like many hospitality businesses effected, soaring product costs and lack of chefs has meant a vast change in offering. The old favourites are still there though I am happy to say.
On one side are their drinks. Soprano is well known for its vibrant cocktails, but they also have a great choice of beers, wines, cocktails and mocktails. As someone who rarely drinks these days, they make every effort to ensure my experience is as pleasant as that of people who do. I am having a strawberry and elderflower bellini. It is so colourful and topped with an abundance of berries, they never scrimp on garnish, it makes all the difference.
From the Aperitivos section I choose Table Serrano Y Queso, excellent 24 month acorn fed Serrano ham and chunks of Manchego cheese with jalapeño peppers, served on a large Dali style chopping board atop crispy flat bread. It’s a great start. I accompany this with Pan Con Tomato which has just the right balance of tomato, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, but my teeth struggle with the toasted bread, I don’t know how people crunch through the stuff. It’s divine nevertheless and I devour most of it bar two slabs.
A little break and then from the Pescado I see Arroz Nero, paella rice in cuttlefish ink, plated with vibrant aioli and the cutest scallops. Their fish and seafood are from Sankey's Fishmongers. The rice is Socarrat style rather than an abundance of liquid with great texture. The scallops are plump and juicy and I like that they haven’t chopped off the roe. This is a wonderful dish with the aioli giving nice acidity.
From the Vegetariano section I have Queso Fritto, portobello mushroom stuffed with aromatic goats cheese and mojo verde. It’s a lighter dish and great accompaniment to the other plates. From Carne, I choose Barriga De Credo, pork belly marinated in pineapple, lime and mixed with aromatic herbs cooked in the oven and grilled to finish, served with honey mustard sauce. I have to admit, I order this every time I come here. Next to their chunky lamb cutlets served in minted mashed potatoes, this is my favourite item. Meat is sourced from Fuller’s so you know it’s going to be good.
Hilariously, and I said this last time I came, what I receive for dessert is not quite what I am expecting. I’ve tasted soufflés all over the world and this one neither has the texture or airiness of one. Their Suflé De Pistachio is more like a very light sponge, the consistency of one you would find in an almond slice. It has a soft liquid centre and is topped with a pistachio / white chocolate drizzle. In fact they should call it a lava cake as this is what it resembles. Of course I can’t eat much but whilst it is not what is described, it is certainly delicious and I urge you try this one, just ignore the description!
If my body would let me I of course would have ordered the churros that Matt lovingly enjoys patting powdered sugar all over and come drizzled with chocolate, or the crema catalana, a traditional Spanish dessert similar to creme brulee, that is made with vanilla custard, lemon zest and a crisp caramel crust. It is marvellous and a huge portion. These days my drastically reduced sugar and carb intake mean desserts are for special occasions, but I honestly believe one should always have a little of what you love and my love has always been pudding.
Soprano for myself and my family will always be a place we continue to return to. Fun is what you will find here and the service is memorable. Ivan you are always so welcoming whenever I am here and Matt, whom I have known for many, many years makes everything look effortless as he glides around the whole restaurant, with an air of confidence I admire. My mum loves him too.
Thank you for a marvellous lunch Team Soprano. I highly recommend dining here if you are visiting Tunbridge Wells, and with so much variety one is sure to find lots of different dishes to try that make coming back so appealing."
Words by Bibi Roy, paid review exclusive to the TN card.
Member reward: Soprano thanks members for supporting local with 15% discount on food at lunchtimes from Monday to Friday. Find more details here.