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The West House in Biddenden - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 90.
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"Chefs are the new rock stars" PR people and agents are telling us, and it is true that many famous chefs have become celebrities. I don't really know whether they found the spotlight or whether the spotlight found them, but most couldn't possibly be mistaken for a true rock star. Marco Pierre White would be the obvious exception of course and when you look at the Instagram feed of food's latest superstar Nusret Gökçe (#saltbae, with his 8.8m followers not quite Kardashian material yet, but I have seen worse), you could actually imagine him holding a guitar instead of a piece of beef.

The really original thing to do however, would be for a rock star to become a chef. Much more inspired than the other way around. And there happens to be a live example of such a career choice. Graham Garrett, chef/patron of The West House in Biddenden, was an actual rock star in his twenties, as drummer of 80s English glam rock bands Dumb Blondes, Panache and Ya Ya. At the age of 31, he hung up his drumsticks and started a second career as a chef, working in London alongside established chefs such as Richard Corrigan and Nico Ladenis.

(courtesy of The West House)

In 2002 Graham and his wife Jackie opened The West House in Biddenden, which is located in a very pretty old weaver's cottage. Two years later, in the 2004 guide, The West House was awarded a Michelin star, an accolade it has kept every year since. The story of Graham Garett's two successful careers is told in his autobiographical cookbook "Sex, Drugs & Sausage Rolls", published in 2015. 

The West House is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. You can choose between an a la carte menu (3 courses £45), a 6-course tasting menu for £60 (£50 for the vegetarian option), and at lunchtime there's also a set lunch menu available (3 courses £25). I had lunch with my husband at The West House in June 2017 and we both ordered 3 courses from the a la carte menu and one extra course from the tasting menu. *I was recognised and the restaurant chose to serve the extra course (duck taco) as a complimentary dish.

With our aperitifs we were served two wonderful cheese croquetas topped with cider gel. 

My starter was a delightful dish of of skillfully prepared baby artichokes, accompanied by some finely chopped vegetables such as carrot and kohlrabi, fresh broad beans, pea cress, a flavoursome barigoule-style artichoke bouillon, and finished with some nitro foie gras. Great use of foie gras, which complemented the nutty sweetness of the artichoke wonderfully, at the same time giving a luxurious touch to this elegant dish full of sunshine.

This was followed by the extra course, a crisp blue corn masa taco topped with sweet onion marmalade, soft braised duck, little blobs of duck liver parfait, and finished with some grated, cured and iced, foie gras. A gorgeous taco with rich and indulgent flavours, the cold foie gras providing just the right touch of refinement.

My main course was beautifully cooked seabass served with tender strips of cuttlefish, pieces of compressed watermelon, sweet confit cherry tomatoes, pak choi, a seasoning of coriander and a pungent hot and sour broth/sauce. A terrific dish that was bursting with summer flavours and there's really nothing like cutting through a well-cooked piece of seabass, with its meaty and moist flesh and deliciously crisp skin. The sweet and sour accompaniments worked wonderfully, with lovely fresh notes coming from the sappy watermelon and the hot and sour broth balanced the dish out perfectly.

Next up was refreshing pre-dessert of mango salsa, buttermilk sorbet, meringue shards and shortbread crumbs. 

Dessert proper was a perfectly made little shortbread tart with a strawberry jam and elderflower curd filling, carefully covered with sliced strawberries, and topped with a delicious, intensely flavoured strawberry sorbet and sugary strawberry tuiles. An entirely pleasing dessert with lovely, sweet and slightly tart, early summer strawberries, marrying well with the floral and elegantly sweet elderflower curd. 

The West House is the kind of place where, at first glance on the menu, you think: if this is done well, we're in for a real treat. And it was! The menu is centred around seasonal ingredients, which are prepared with knowledge and skill, and this results in assured dishes with delectable flavours. What makes an experience at The West House extra attractive though, is the confident mix of classical and eclectic flavour combinations, the latter perfectly embodied in the artichoke barigoule, updated with foie gras, and the duck taco. Service was very attentive and prices are reasonable. I'll be back .... for the full tasting menu.


Posted 21-08-2017


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