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 Warren at 5a High Street, Tunbridge Wells.
The Warren Restaurant is located at the bottom of town, amidst the independent boutiques, bars and cafes, along from the glamorous Collins and Sons and Mappin and Webb, home of the Crown Jeweller. Wander down from the village area, close to Camden Park, (our millionaire’s row equivalent) and on the way to The Pantiles you will find a little doorway, with a stair lift attached to the wall. The stairs are steep and so many will appreciate this recent addition. Here one will be strolling the red cobbles with fashion conscious mothers after Pilates, searching for ideal lunch spots with friends and husbands who have been out buying their favourite luxury timepiece. Take me with a pinch of salt on the above as I happen to have lived in this part of Tunbridge Wells for over fifteen years and therefore can be relied upon for my synopsis, all be it condensed into one paragraph.
When the site of the beloved Signor Franco’s became available, owners Martin Haynes and Chris Fitt, decided to transform this upstairs space into The Warren. Named after their 650 acre Warren Estate in Crowborough, where they rear cattle, sheep, wild boar and fallow deer, they wanted to be able to bring patrons regularly changing menus, with a farm to table, nose to tail ethos. They serve “British food, occasionally dipping into other cuisines to provide a vehicle for flavours”. Over the years, French and most recently Hungarian styles have graced their repertoire.
There is one thing that you will consistently experience at this quirky restaurant, the warm welcome and exemplary service from Magdalena and Olivier. General Manager Magdalena has the sweetest voice, describing wine pairings and dishes with graceful poise and revealing her extensive knowledge. Olivier, Sommelier, host and now in the kitchen on Monday and Thursday, has the funniest, theatrical sense of humour that never fails to make me laugh. He often sits down at the table as if jovially dining with you and together with Chef Andras Roflics, here for the last three years, they make a wonderful team.
Upon being seated in their beautiful orangery with its stunning arched windows and the perfect view over the town, my dear friend Sue and I are greeted with a glass of English sparkling Busi Jacobsohn Classic Cuvee Brut, 2018. Magdalena tells us the wine is from Eridge, vegan and that we will find it fabulously refreshing on this swelteringly hot day. The Warren always serve an amuse bouche with bread and butter, today’s being gazpacho. As we sip our faces turn from a heated red to a mild pink, Olivier is signing, “And relax”. We certainly are.
Should you so wish, you can have a pre-starter of Colchester oysters, vinaigrette, lemon and a variety of Tabasco sauces. We decide to go straight to our starters, mine being Coconut Tiger Prawns, chilli and sweetcorn tart and a coriander foam. The prawns have a pleasant taste and I really like the tart, the foam not overpowering the other flavours. Sue has the King Oyster Mushrooms, which can be served as a main dish and enjoys the cauliflower and almond purees, the textures of which are excellent. The chilli sauce leaves a nice warmth on the palate. There are currently two vegan starters, the latter and Plant Based Feta Salad, with beetroot, pear, apple, hazelnuts and almonds. Magdalena kindly offers us a glass of the Busi Jacobsohn Rose Extra Brut 2018, equally as good as the classic. With our main courses of Pan Seared Duck Breast and Braised Rump of Lamb, Magdalena recommends a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau Eglise d’Armens 2018. A brilliant pairing.
My lamb is served over a lemony herb couscous, cream and pickled vegetables. Andras presents it in quite a rustic way with a nod to his Hungarian roots. The pickled vegetables cut through the richness of the lamb and the creamy couscous make this a hearty dish. Sue’s pan seared duck breast is stylishly presented, with a contrasting wild rice succotash, bacon, corn, broad beans, pea puree and a divine bitter cherry sauce. The duck is served pink with the fat rendered correctly, nice and crispy. Sue can see I am eyeing it up eagerly and swaps plates half way through, she knows me so well.
Can we fit in dessert? Those of you who read my reviews regularly will know I always leave belly space. I choose the Treacle Tart that Olivier has made with Kolhapur jaggery, which reminds me of the traditional Indian sweets my mum makes. It is delicious and accompanied by their elderflower sorbet. Sue has the Summer Fruit Punch with seasonal berries, elderflower sorbet and J.M. Gobillard et Fils Cuvee Prestige 2015 sparkling wine poured over at the last minute, to produce an exciting finale.
This has been a splendid lunch. We could have sat on the pleasant outdoor terrace that has capacity for twenty, with a choice of cigars should one wish to partake, but the air conditioning in the orangery made the environment so pleasing, we did not need to. We couldn’t resist sitting on the big thrones, pretending to be royalty and I also sat at the piano with Chef Andras doing my best Liberace impression, rubbish of course. He is such a nice man, a chef for ten years in the UK who has worked with the incredible Jose Pizarro as well as Benihana Group and Roast in Borough Market.
I love that The Warren has lots of vegan wines and dishes which they intend to offer more of as much as they can. The restaurant itself is the perfect setting for weddings and parties as they can create a bespoke menu, comfortably seating sixty-five people and the whole place can be hired without a room charge. Their quieter nights are Wednesdays and Thursdays, ideal for business events, indeed I have attended a few here already. When there are so many restaurants that have a clinical, polished, dare I say it beige atmosphere, The Warren
is a unique, fun and pleasing change to many of them. Good enough to appear in the Michelin Guide, its good enough for me.
All opinions are my own. Review exclusive to the TN card.
Member reward: A complimentary glass of English sparkling wine when dining in. Excludes Friday and Saturday evenings, one per member per visit. Read more here.