There has to be a good reason for trekking an hour and a half through winding country lanes on a dark, rainy night to find a restaurant in deepest Kent. It’s a long way to come from the Sussex coast, even for the promise of a warm meal, but we’d heard good things about The Mulberry Tree.
Proprietor Karen Williams and her family rebuilt the derelict pub that stood on the site into a stylish foodie destination. Since the restaurant’s reopening in 2007, its modern British and European seasonal menus have twice won it the Taste of Kent Awards, Kent Restaurant of the Year (for 2008 & 2009), and a winning vote from 2010 Good Food Guide readers.
The Mulberry Tree’s open plan layout and flowered-wallpaper décor give a feeling of walking into a friend’s home. It has a family feel too, and the smart-casual clientele and generous table spacing create a relaxed atmosphere.
We start with a roasted butternut squash risotto with hazelnut, and Ellie’s Farm goats’ cheese curd, Parma ham, broad beans, peas and lemon thyme vinaigrette, served with tasty home-baked, warm bread. Head chef Mark Pearson, who trained at The Ritz before joining Karen’s team, creates a daily menu using ingredients from local farms and small producers (they’re all listed on the back of the menu). My risotto is a little al dente, but the smooth, creamy texture of the butternut is well balanced with a fried sage-leaf garnish. My guest’s cheese curd is a perfect consistency and delicious, and the peas are fresh and crunchy. It’s a good beginning.
We select a glass of Pinot Noir Bouchard 2009 and a The Pastor’s Blend Cabernet/ Merlot 2008 to go with the mains, and they are both excellent. “I choose all the wines in conjunction with our wine supplier,” says Karen. “We have a Verre du Vin system that enables us to offer the vast majority of our wines by the glass, which is very popular.” Our mains, get a mixed response. While the belly of Kentish Middle White pork, served with local black pudding, caramelised Cox’s apples, Savoy cabbage and creamed potato is one of Mark’s signature dishes, my friend’s is overly fatty and the creamed potato accompaniment adds to the richness. My friend loves the caramelised apple/ black pudding combination, and the pork itself is melt-in-the-mouth, as is my confit duck leg, which comes with a fine walnut and golden raisin jus. It’s the best duck I’ve tasted in a good while – crispy skin, succulent meat. Our conclusion is that there could be a little more vegetable content to the dishes, and in the sides selection.
However, these are minor quibbles. All the food is prepared to order, and the quality and freshness of locally sourced ingredients is superb. Karen even has a flock of 22 hens in the back garden that provide the eggs. That’s fresh.
The dessert menu is original – a coconut panna cotta with Piña Colada sorbet is tempting – and my guest chooses a warm poached autumn fruits chaser in cider mulled wine with blackberry sorbet. As recommended by the menu, she selects a glass of Stump Jump Sticky Chardonnay to go with it, which has an orangey aroma and finish that complements the warmer mulled fruits.
It’s a great idea to match the desserts with wines on the menu. As Karen says, “I decided to recommend dessert wines with our puds to see if it would encourage people to buy a dessert wine. Having the staff offer them can make some people feel they’re being bullied into buying more wine. This way, it gives them the option while letting them know which is the best accompaniment – many people don’t know which to have. We’ve seen a huge increase in dessert wine and port sales since we did this.”
I opt for three cheeses from a six-cheese choice as a finisher: Sharpham Rustic (cow’s, unpasteurised), a creamy semi-hard variety; a ewe’s unpasteurised cheese called Wigmore (after its creator, Anne Wigmore) that is meltingly smooth, and a good Cornish Blue. They all come on a rustic wooden platter with to-die-for homemade biscuits, quince jelly and more of that excellent walnut bread.
Everything is beautifully presented: slate platters and Japanese-style wide-lipped bowls set Pearson’s food off to perfection. Karen has taken a tip from The Fat Duck and offers the tea selection at the table. Guests choose their blend from stylish canisters, and brew it to the desired strength in delicate glass teapots. The detail is world-class, and there is very little that hasn’t been thought through. Certainly, diners who come regularly from as far away as Broadstairs know that the trip is well worth it.
A 3-course meal with coffee and homemade chocolate treats (drinks separate) comes to around £42 per person. Dessert wines from £4.50. There is a good value 2-course (£14.50) and 3-course (£17.50) set menu available from Tues-Fri (lunch and dinner) and Sat lunch. Sunday lunch: 2 courses £17.50 (children £14.50), 3 courses £21.50. The Mulberry also hosts a calendar of tasting events, hosted evenings and jazz nights.
For more information, please visit: http://www.themulberrytreekent.co.uk/
Written by: Bryony Weaver