28th September 2023
Each month, our restaurant reviewer Bibi Roy reviews a TN card partner to find out what members can expect when they visit. This time she visits The Claremont at 18 Grove Hill Road, Tunbridge Wells, who have just begun giving members a complimentary glass of wine with a main or two lighter bites.
Situated on Grove Hill Road opposite Hoopers Department store, is this old school pub which many will remember as The Black Pig. Back then it was a gastro pub with small, cosy rooms and a carpark come yard at the rear. As I enter now it has changed into what I can only describe as a tardis.
Now with multiple owners and several zones fit for different purposes, there have been significant changes over the last three years. At the very front lies the original bar and snug with its large imposing windows. There is a more casual feel with classic styling and modern artwork dotted around the walls. Follow the stairs to the right and there is a cosy library room with board games on the shelves and teal chairs with I’d say enough seating for fifteen. Follow the stairs to the left of the bar and you will find another larger but homey space for dining and lounging. This used to be where I would spend many an evening having intimate dinners with friends, watching the chefs create in the kitchen. I am pleased to observe they have kept the décor here comfortably relaxed with dining for up to twenty-four people available. It can be exclusively booked for occasions with buffets provided.
Head through the hallway to find a newly decorated deck area, complete with chic grey designer furniture and a large wall mural with the establishment’s namesake painted atop. On a day like today when the sun is shining, this seems an ideal place to laze around with friends, whilst enjoying a cool beverage. Not bad for what used to be a gravel carpark. I believe it can seat up to fifty people, therefore I can understand why groups like to visit as it can be hired out too.
Think it ends there? Oh no, right behind the deck is a further tented area. A vast canopy covers wooden benches and yet more chairs and tables. There is even a bar and heaters for the winter. I think they have covered every eventuality, it really is a tardis. I honestly can’t remember the place being so big, congratulations to the owners on fitting all of this in, they really have maximised covers, generating increased customer spend throughout the seasons.
I meet the very pleasant Elliot, who has been here for over three years. He is clearly very competent and loves his job. To my surprise I have actually missed something. Upstairs they are finishing construction of a new games venue, “One Eight Zero”, which will launch in a few weeks. The latter will include bowling lanes and darts, with the possibility of private hire for small groups.
I think I have covered all of the zones, time to focus on the menu. Brought in two weeks ago it consists of sharing platters, a charcuterie and a vegetarian one, light bites like favourites of buffalo chicken bites, whitebait and chorizo in red wine, always popular.
Next, homemade burgers, 70 ounce, served in a seeded brioche bun with skin on fries and slaw. Meat is from Stuart Adare. Chef Mike Wallace tries to source all produce as locally as possible. The Classic, Guacamole Chicken and Wild Jack have gluten free options available.
Let’s start with a couple of light bites. First the crispy Thai chicken bites made in- house that come with homemade satay sauce, spring onions and fresh lime. I mean who wouldn’t want to dive into them. I’m popping these crispy cornflake coated gems like candy, making sure they get a good dunking in that spicy sauce. Underneath there’s a great salad of cucumber, red onion, rocket and jalapeños, smothered in sriracha. My lips are a-plumping with the heat, I love it.
On to braised pulled pork nachos, of course drizzled in sour cream, salsa verde, guacamole, tomatoes and jalapeños. Sometimes pub food can be pretty darn average but they have stepped things up here. By reducing the amount of dishes they can focus on quality of produce and presentation. It does make a difference. The pulled pork is prepared on site by Chef. This generous portion has got that smokey barbecue hit without being sickly. The tortilla chips are good quality, the tomatoes freshly cut, in fact the whole plate is refreshing. Some people like their nachos dirty and almost congealed, I don’t so this is right up my street. I have to say though, I am finding myself dipping the remaining nachos in the satay sauce, could this be a thing?
A belly rest later, I try “The Wallace”, a buttermilk chicken breast, smoked maple bacon, smoked cheddar, piri slaw, jalapeños and maple syrup. I ask to substitute the skin on fries with sweet potato ones. They also do cheesy versions or plain. Either way I’m assured they will be enough for two.
As my food arrives, Jocelyn Brown’s, “Somebody Else’s Guy”, immediately gets my head swaying and then of course it’s followed by Sister Sledge’s, “He’s The Greatest Dancer”, making me stop and sing in between mouthfuls. What, tell me you don’t do that when Nile Rodgers plays that riff! Gets me every time.
The chicken is really tender from the buttermilk soaking, smoky and sweet from the bacon, cheddar and maple. The slaw gives the crunch and vibrant purple colour contrast, whilst the jalapeño leaves a nice heat on the palate. The brioche holds together well, soaking up those naughty sauces.
I thoroughly enjoy my dish, but as usual the portion size has beaten me, well there’s no surprise there. When I compare the above to some of the other offerings in town, I’d say it’s up there with the best. Elliot comes over to see how I am getting on and I relay this message. I’m actually still dunking my fries into the sauces despite my shorts telling me not to. If left with me I would probably still be there in an hour, munching away, particularly as the playlist today is spot on. He does say many people comment on the size of their plates and that they sometimes arrange sliders for buffets, which many returning customers order.
I notice there is no dessert menu. Elliot states they wish to focus on a smaller menu with better quality. I get this and it’s good to know that if people ask they still have options as they wish to keep everyone happy, but generally I agree their offering is just right.
The age range and clientele at The Claremont are quite varied, not just the nineteen to twenty-five young crowd that I had mistakenly assumed. Perhaps that’s because when it was owned as a gastro pub the prices were fairly high. Now families, groups of friends, work colleagues and even wedding parties laze in their sun-drenched garden, able to spend a pretty penny.
As the weather changes The Claremont will no doubt be promoting roast dinners like many establishments. Blankets and heaters will be the norm and they will become a welcome respite for festive shoppers, feet worn, shoulders aching from all of that awkward bag carrying.
If you work in this part of town, this is an ideal venue to bring colleagues for a quick lunch, or after five drinks and with the new games room coming I am sure business teams will be showing up for bonding sessions too. That said they are perfectly situated for commuters jumping off the train and even newlyweds from the registry office up the road who want a more low key celebration. There really is something for everyone at The Claremont so give it a go, they have definitely won my vote and as a TN member you will receive a glass of wine with their compliments, when ordering two light bites, (seriously big bites I’d call them), or a burger, so what are you waiting for?
As I leave, Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” is booming from the speakers, yes I am screaming that line. There’s a big cheer as a bride is throwing a bouquet in the garden and several ladies dive past me endeavouring to catch it without ruining their nails. Never a dull day.
Thanks team Claremont. I’ll be back for the pub quiz and look forward to bowling when “One Eight Zero”, opens. “Such fun”!
Review by Bibi Roy, exclusive to the TN card. All thoughts and words are Bibi's own.
Member reward: Members receive a complimentary glass of wine with when ordering two light bites or a burger at The Claremont. For all the details click here.