Thursday, 19 April 2012

Of Good Stock…


Of all the things I would usually do before a three-course lunch, following cows around a field is not one of them. Especially when said cows happen to be related to the beef I will be eating after. Yet this is exactly what happened last Wednesday, when I was invited to try the cuisine of Charlie Lakin - Head Chef at The Marquis at Alkham and one of this year’s finalists on the Great British Menu.

But first, back to the cows. As a delightful prelude to lunch, we were taken to Sladden Farm in Alkham Valley, where the rare and extremely tasty Dexter livestock graze upon a grassy hilltop. Rather excitingly (I’m a sucker for a baby animal) we were also given a peak at some freshly born lambs (though the mother sheep wasn’t that keen on us to be honest). Charlie is a regular on the farm, checking the cows and sheep bred exclusively for him, and doing all the butchering and hanging himself. As an extra treat, Charlie carved up half a cow in front of us. Which was oddly fascinating.

A quick ride in the back of a land rover (very country I know), a pleasingly sweet glass of Chapel Down sparking wine with Kentish honey, and a bowl of crunchy rosemary crisps and posh cheese wheels later, we embarked upon one of the best lunches I’ve had in ages.

I was sat next to restaurant manager Ben, who kept me entertained with stories of foraging the local countryside. Then came a starter of velvety braised mutton, deep fried Kentish cheese and scattered spring vegetables – immersed in a deeply meaty broth. This delicate starter could have no higher praise than reminding me of something similar I had at Dinner. It was also served with a delicious cider, again from Chapel Down, which knocked my wine loving socks off. Plates licked, glasses emptied (mine and my non-drinking companion’s) we moved on to the Dexter Beef; a dish skillfully showcasing Kentish produce at its best (it was mighty pretty too). A beautifully made trio of elderflower-spiked crème brulee, delicate sorbet perfumed with earl grey and dainty finger of lavender shortbread vied a little too much for attention, but were so well made it hardly mattered. A playful stack of chocolate and honeycomb (or, as I called it, a ‘rich man’s crunchy’) was the perfect end to a perfect day. 
The Marquis at Alkham
Alkham Valley Road
CT15 7DF

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