Updown Farmhouse

Updown Rd


Deal CT14 0EF


The Food:

Salted Catalan almonds

Buffalo mozzarella with blood orange, pistachio and radicchio

Raw white egg asparagus with egg yolk, Serrano ham and parmesan

Grilled hake with olives, tomatoes and agretti

Pork chop with artichokes, cime di rapa and anchovies

Choux bun with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce

The Wines:

2017 Champagne Marie Demets Extra Brut Intransigeance 93
2019 Domaine Marc Colin Saint-Aubin En Montceau 1er Cru   92

Restauranteur, chef and Financial Times’ food writer Rowley Leigh is credited with his role in rejuvenating British gastronomy in the late eighties and nineties. Though Leigh spent time under the Roux brothers at La Gavroche, his cooking eschewed the froufrou and flair of Gallic cuisine. Instead, it focused on less complicated, perhaps less pretentious dishes that highlighted seasonal, high-quality ingredients from his home country. Nowadays, countless chefs pursue similar culinary ideals to varying degrees of success. In my formative years as a wine professional, I frequently dined at Leigh’s flagship restaurant, Le Café Anglais, which spread out over the entire top floor of a building in Queensway. I miss its presence several years after it shut its doors.

During a recent conversation about the dining scene in Kent, Leigh’s name cropped up again, this time not Rowley, but his daughter Ruth. Combining her experience in hospitality with Oli Brown (ex-Duck Duck Goose in London), the pair spent lockdown renovating Updown Farmhouse, and now work as its front of house and chef. As soon as I checked out their website, I was enticed to book a night’s stay. Before long, I was driving to the county of Chaucer, oast houses and cider.

The Updown Farmhouse exterior

The 7.5-acre farm nestles down a secluded lane somewhere between Canterbury and the coastal town of Deal. Turning off the engine, I compulsively let out an audible sigh as the silence consumed the stress of everyday life. I already felt relaxed when I was lugging my suitcase towards the five-bedroomed Grade II-listed 17th-century farmhouse, quintessentially English with its red brick facade and rambling quaintness. The interior is tastefully decorated with striking hues, our bedroom obviously the "green room". Downstairs, there was an orange and blue room lined with newspapers and books. The color scheme lends an aesthetic quirkiness, and it works brilliantly. Peering out of my bedroom window onto the walled garden, I spied the terraced restaurant where I had booked a table for that evening.

Though the dining area is ostensibly classed as outside, that is misleading because it is completely enclosed with portable heaters dotted around so that diners feel snug as a bug in a rug even on the chilliest night. It conjures a homely yet buzzy atmosphere. A small team of chefs worked around an open natural wood baking oven in one of the corners, and their presence amongst the diners enhanced the bustling atmosphere.

The Updown Farmhouse kitchen

I wondered how much Rowley Leigh’s influence would have over the menu at Updown Farmhouse, and I conclude that though perhaps there is a slightly more European slant, it follows his ideals of quality English ingredients served with minimal fuss and maximum taste.

After a small pot of salted Catalan almonds, we shared two starters. The Buffalo mozzarella with blood orange, pistachio and radicchio was delicious. The blood orange lent sharpness to the mozzarella, while the pistachio imparted a subtle sweetness. The raw white egg asparagus with egg yolk, Serrano ham and parmesan arrived differently than expected. I’m accustomed to the white asparagus being served whole, whereas this was perhaps unnecessarily cut into pieces at the expense of texture so that the asparagus got a bit lost in the other ingredients. The only misstep.

Pork chop with artichokes, cime di rapa and anchovies

The two mains were superb. The pork chop was perfectly cooked and tender. Every mouthful was relished. The artichokes, cime di rapa or “turnip tops” (it does sound more appetizing in Italian) lent texture and bite, and the anchovies added a little saltiness. Wonderful. Meanwhile, the grilled hake was moist, tender and matched perfectly with the olives and agretti.

Choux bun with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce

Finally, the choux bun with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce. I shouldn’t have. But I did. It was fabulously decadent without being over the top, the ice cream to die for. Sorry, but it had to be done.

Updown has a short but well-considered wine list, though they were very amenable in terms of corkage. I must mention that we actually began with a pre-prandial cocktail. I opted for a “Last Word”, a mixture of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and fresh lime juice. Considering that the young lady confessed she was a bit of a novice at this cocktail malarky, it was exceptionally well mixed and a real palate cleanser.

For the wines, we began with my “Sparkling Wine of 2022”, introduced by a pal in Beaune last October. The 2017 Extra Brut Intransigeance comes from the small family-run Champagne Marie Demets. Pierre Demets is the third generation winemaker who took over the running of the house in 2014, joined by his wife Mathilde three years later. It’s a tiny house in the middle of nowhere, apparently closer to Dijon than Reims. Their Intransigence is a blend of 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay from two parcels in the Côte des Bar, “La Forêt” in Gyé-sur-Seine and “Fins” in Neu-ville-sur-Seine, vinified in stainless-steel vat for ten months and then 40 months sur lattes, disgorged in December 2021 with a low dosage of 1g/L. Just 2,772 bottles were made. This has a vivid bouquet with red apples, freshly-baked brioche and nectarine, the Pinot Noir more expressive than the Chardonnay. I appreciated its delineation and joie-de-vivre. The palate has real weight and race, a vibrant Champagne with a fine edgy, citrus-led opening before subtle white peach, lime and Clementine notes furnish the finish. It appeared to gain weight as we worked our way through the bottle. Prices for this are incredibly reasonable in the present inflationary climate for Champagne, so it is highly recommended.

The white Burgundy came from one of my favorite producers, Damien Colin. The 2019 Saint-Aubin En Montceau 1er Cru is just singing. Re-reading my barrel score, I feel it has meliorated in the interim. Irresistible orange pith and lemon zest on the nose has certainly opened up. The palate shows delightful balance, still with a faint soupçon of Muscat, displaying more typicité and verve than out of barrel. Yes, it’s probably too young, yet the bottle offers so much pleasure!

Updown Farmhouse is in the opening pages of what will hopefully be a long and prosperous life. There are plans to move the restaurant into the barn for more permanence, though I hope they retain the outside area. Echoing the sentiments of The Guardian restaurant critic Grace Dent, Updown Farmhouse sells you the fantasy of rural England untouched by modernity. One where life is simple, and all you have to do is enjoy the food and the wine and perhaps take a stroll through the fields afterward. Ruth Leigh makes a perfect, amiable front-of-house who clearly makes everything run smoothly.

I cannot think of a more lovely, close getaway than perhaps staying here for a weekend and fitting in lunch at The Sportsman over in Whitstable. All of this is on London’s doorstep.

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