Deal CT14 0EF
BY NEAL MARTIN | MAY 19, 2023
mozzarella with blood orange, pistachio and radicchio
white egg asparagus with egg yolk, Serrano ham and parmesan
hake with olives, tomatoes and agretti
chop with artichokes, cime di rapa and anchovies
bun with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce
Champagne Marie Demets Extra Brut Intransigeance
|2019 Domaine Marc Colin
Saint-Aubin En Montceau 1er Cru
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.
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
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.
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
The Updown Farmhouse kitchen
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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