9th August 2022
Each week our in-house food writer Bibi Roy reviews one of our TN partners to see what members can expect when they visit. This time she turns her attention to The Lyle at 119 Forest Road, Tunbridge Wells.
On the old site of The Spread Eagle lies The Lyle. Opening in 2020 at possibly the worst time for a new business, the building was completely transformed outside and in by its new owners, from a dreary pub to a sophisticated restaurant, stylish bar and alfresco dining area, with plenty of parking. I was there on launch day and remember falling in love with those teal bar stools, (which we were not allowed to sit on due to social distancing), bespoke chef’s pass, beautiful scallop chairs and banquettes, amidst crisp white table cloths, moody lighting and polished wooden floors. At the time they were looking to “bridge the gap between the formality of fine dining and casual”. Fine Casual I call it. Several visits later, I think they have achieved the latter and done it with success. The Lyle pride themselves on not rushing people, allowing them to dine at their own pace and never indicating that it is time to turn that table after two hours. I realise this can be a necessity in some establishments, but it doesn’t
Under the helm of the very capable Chef Gary Jarvis, (trained by my idol, Executive Chef John Williams at The Ritz, then working at Coworth Park and The Curlew), the menus have changed considerably since inception. At first a set menu and alacarte were in place, along with a three course Sunday Roast offering, which myself and my friends would entertain rather frequently in the blistering summer heat of the garden. Yes we could have sat under the sail but we are devout sun-lovers, I know, daft as a brush. Now they are more simplified, the sets are gone but none of the contemporary style or, “deep respect for the classic techniques”, has. Incidentally the lunch menu today is surrounded by a plethora of cocktail recommendations, from Lyle Signature Serves to Hi-Ball and Dessert Cocktails. Typically me, I ask if I can have an Amaretto Sour and they make me a lovely one. Well it is my favourite. There is also a Sparkling Lunch menu where one can have a Sparkling Brut or Sparkling Rose Brut with their meal. Well why not, celebrate away. The dinner menu has many of the same dishes with the addition of Gressingham Duck Breast and it is great to still see a nice steak selection, including Cote de Boeuf, which comes with truffle chips, baby gem salad and sauces of Salsa Verde, Bearnaise and Peppercorn, delightful.
As for produce, there is a wealth of fantastic fare. Albion for dairy, Leppards Butchers for meat, Sankey’s for fish and David Catt & Sons for fruit and vegetables. Their wine list is extensive, with a Niel Joubert Byter Chenin Blanc, South Africa, 2021 setting you back £24, Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Bacchus 2017 £60 and Artisan's Blend Shiraz/Viognier, Deakin Estate, Australia, 2021 £26. There is also Gavi di Gavi La Meirana, Broglia, Italy, 2020 £44 and Altura Malbec, Norton, Argentina, 2019 £46. Champagne ranges from Drappier Brut 1er Cru, £70 to Krug Grand Cuvee, £295. I enjoy a good cocktail and here they come into their own.
Sit at the bar which winds around the whole restaurant or out in the glorious sunny garden and enjoy a Japanese Negroni, or a “Birthday Suit”. It’s all good and the choice is vast. And so to my meal today. I start with homemade farmhouse bread, accompanied by a trio of truffle butter, salted and finally Parmesan pink peppercorn and chive. Gone are the Marmite and beetroot that I so loved, but oh these new ones will do nicely. I am also pleased to see they have altered the portion size as people like me tend to devour the lot. My friend Sarah always remarks that she likes to see teeth marks when she spreads her butter, this makes me chortle profusely.
The Lyle are widening their repertoire in response to customer feedback. Introducing an a la carte lunch menu with smaller taster plates, burgers and family friendly lunch dishes to go hand-in-hand with some of their established signature dishes. The garden now welcomes well behaved dogs and children and customers are welcome to enjoy a new range of cocktails in the garden, with a special offer running every evening 5-7pm without having to dine too.
There are six starters on the lunch a la carte menu. Currently two meat options, two vegetarian and two fish. Yes I pull myself away from the Pork Belly and opt for, Tuna Carpaccio on Gary’s recommendation, with soy, khol rabi, and coriander. The basil oil and wasabi mayonnaise elevate this dish well. The balance of sweet against salty is divine. He hasn’t lost his touch. I am also being treated to their, Smoked Mozzarella with peas, broad bean and salsa verde. No refusal here, I am actually a starter and dessert girl but the Pork Tenderloin beckons. Back to the Smoked Mozzarella though, it is beautifully presented with pretty pink radish atop and sweetness coming from the pickled radish within. The gorgeous smokiness is awesome and the fresh peas and broad beans make this an enjoyable summer starter.
Mains consist of two fish / seafood, including Seafood Linguini or Skate Wing, three meat, The Lyle Burger, Pork Tenderloin, or Poached Chicken and two vegetarian, Curry Roast Cauliflower, or Charred Leek. My Pork Tenderloin with charred leek, Dijon, fondant, shoulder and pea purée are just right. The tenderloin cooking is good, as are the fondant potatoes. Pea puree quenelles decorate the plate for colour with a wonderful shiny jus, but the best thing on the plate is the shoulder croquette. The texture and seasoning I just adore. With a side of crunchy asparagus, I’m happy.
Sides of which there are seven include Charred Asparagus, balsamic and pecorino, Cornish Mids with chive butter, Tenderstem Broccoli with toasted almonds, Green Beans, lemon and chilli, Lyle Spiced Chips, Carrots with honey and cumin and Truffle Chips. I think Gary has deduced I like the food, he is singing on the pass.
Now for dessert and after that profusion of pork, I choose Textures of Lemon. Posset, shortbread and sorbet are crowd pleasers on this hot summer day. The posset is creamy smooth, the shortbread buttery crisp and there are little blobs of lemon zest gel, lemon rind and lemon juice gel with the cutest lemon meringues on top. It’s pretty and refreshing. Lemon sorbet should make your eyes squint and your body shiver with happiness, this one does. It’s also well paired with the new above mentioned dessert cocktail, “Beauty Parlour”. Always end on a high.
I have to say a big thank you to Chef Gary Jarvis for a stellar lunch, your recommendations are right every time and India who answers my questions very professionally, delivers every course with a big smile.
The comedy nights have previously sold out every time they have hosted and so I am hoping this proves a very positive direction for them, along with the festive season to come.
Thank you to the team again for a marvellous lunch, you never disappoint.
All opinions are my own. Review for the TN card.
Member reward : A Lyle Signature Serve Cocktail on the house when ordering a main course.
One per member per visit. Not in conjunction with other offers or promotions. Read more here.