“You’re there again?”
Three visits within the opening week to a restaurant gets quickly noticed by the sort of pals I have, either with a twang of jealousy on their part, or with a sense that I may be losing the plot: How good can it be? Are you made of money? Do you ever work?
Luckily for me, this eating out malarkey, this visiting of restaurants, does indeed count as work. I also love to get intoxicated by a new opening, and when that new opening happens to have a bus that drops me off right outside, as well as leaving from my front door…consider me suckered.
The Bridge Arms sits in the pretty and petite village of Bridge, originally a coaching inn dating from the 16th century. On a sunny day, it’s bucolic and pretty ravishing. Neatly fitting the potentially ‘difficult second album’ of restaurant openings, the owner’s first venture The Fordwich Arms quickly picked up a Michelin star, now firmly on ‘the trail’ for any self-respecting follower of the best places to eat in the UK. The new opening is also a pub, yes, but this is still serious restaurant cooking, this is still a ‘cheffy’ joint.
The owners are Dan and Natasha Smith, with Dan a former sous chef at The Clove Club and winner of the Observer Young Chef of the Year 2016, alongside top pastry chef Natasha, both of whom bring huge experience from Michelin-starred kitchens. The couple live in the village of Bridge, making this second album more of a homecoming.
Riotous snacks at The Bridge Arms
Each visit begins with riotously good snacks. Exemplary nuggets of buttermilk fried chicken with a wicked garlic mayonnaise, are the sort of opening salvo that may jeopardise an impending meal, if you are seduced into ordering another round (keep the powder dry, there’s plenty more to come), and I intend to dedicate an entire afternoon to these soon fiendish little morsels, ordering nothing else apart from blizzard cold lagers.
Impossibly silky cod’s roe – the poshest taramasalata I ever did taste – comes with beautifully crisp and fragile homemade barley crackers. Another stunning opening shot. Potato flatbreads topped with confit garlic and Kentish rapeseed oil, are perfect foils for chasing round the rest of the roe. One of our table starts making impromptu mini fried chicken sandwiches. See? The danger of snacking excitement.
A winner on the regular Fordwich Arms menu is duck liver parfait served with dinky little warm doughnuts, and there are echoes of the technique here with an indecently rich chicken liver parfait to be smeared onto toasted brioche, a perky accompaniment of rhubarb adding an enlivening, cleansing counterpoint. Smoked chalk stream trout is a joy of buttery textured fish, with warm treacle bread alongside (careful, main courses, ok?), while a lobster dish features a huge fat claw and tail, a flavour-jammed Isle of Wight tomato, and a bisque-y sauce bringing it all together, an eye-widening ‘plate envy’ kind of dish.
Main event dishes are artfully presented, perhaps the biggest reminder of the pedigree of the owners – with Head Chef Aaron McNamara leading the kitchen – and we wade into Stour Valley guinea fowl with crisp skinned breast and neatly grilled king oyster mushroom: a pressed square of the darker, brooding meat nestles alongside a buttery smear of cep sauce. Hake with mussels has a ‘lick-the-plate-clean’ smoked butter sauce; spring vegetable risotto is the prettiest rendition, edible flowers and pickled kohlrabi punctuating perfectly judged rice.
Wine list moves at The Bridge Arms
A shout-out is deserved for the razor-sharp wine list, carefully chosen by Elliott Ashton-Konig, where we are thrilled by the lip-smacking cherry scented Valpolicella ‘Velluto’ from Meroni (multiple times), and the list cleverly tip-toes the line between classic (Thierry Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin) through to the ‘cool new kids on the block’ of Napa Valley albariño from trailblazer Ferdinand – also, any list featuring the pristine Sonoma pinot noir from winemaker Ted Lemon, gets a big thumbs up from me.
I’m also wowed by the steaks coming from the Josper grill (rarely am I impressed by steak, often the dullest of orders), with deeply flavoured rib-eye starring in the Platonic ideal of a pub ‘steak and chips’, deftly cooked and perfectly salted chips, and a supermodel example of silky béarnaise sauce. Joy. Spiced lamb chops have the honk and heft more akin to hogget or mutton, and I later find out these are Blackface lamb, sourced from chef’s favourite Philip Warren’s in Cornwall. Our beady eyes follow a couple of the monster Côte-de-Boeufs coming out into the garden, glistening ruby-red slabs, the massive bone begging to be gnawed and stripped clean. This kitchen cooks meat like a dream.
Kentish honey tart wobbles and wibbles seductively, shortcrust pastry melting away with each mouthful, while their own soft-serve ice-cream with Kentish strawberry and cheesecake, is a playful little riot to finish off.
“Yes, I’m there again. Wanna come along?”
The Bridge Arms
53 High Street