As one of the oldest listed buildings in Tunbridge Wells, the exterior of Thackeray’s restaurant reminds one of a fairy-tale cottage and, with its original slanted floors, winding hallways and a grand fireplace in the main dining room, the interior does not disappoint either. It feels more akin to entering the home of a friend than walking into a fine-dining establishment, and this most definitely works in its favour.
Upon arrival my guest and I were met with warm smiles that matched the cosy vibes of the restaurant’s aesthetic. Our coats were taken as we were given the choice to be seated for dinner or enjoy a drink at the bar first, never one to turn down a cocktail, we opted for the latter! The bar was a sophisticate’s dream; atmospheric jazz played softly over the speaker system, while dimmed, intimate lighting gave the impression that we were a world away from the other diners. It was an experience that felt uniquely ours, and yet the smiles and laughter of the family across the room told us that they felt exactly the same. Decorated with premium bottles of liquor and martini glasses suspended from above, this cosy bar oozed class, luxury and authenticity. Shown to our own snug little cubby we sat under a wall proudly displaying Rosette Awards (16 to be exact) and were handed leather-bound drinks menus. To say we were spoiled for choice is an understatement.
After some serious deliberation between a few drinks that tickled my sweet-tooth, I opted for the Toffee Apple Martini. Encompassing the perfect blend of sweet with the finest hint of bitter from a freshly squeezed lime, the beverage seemed to encapsulate the unmistakable feelings associated with the autumn season. With every new sip, I could picture dazzling fireworks, smoky bonfires, and leaves crunching underfoot as I inhaled the crisp autumn air.
Feeling content as I savoured the last of my drink and the complimentary olives, my dining partner and I were shown to our table where we leisurely perused the menu, as we pretended that we definitely had not looked it up roughly ten times before hand.
I quickly explained to our server that I have a severe nut allergy, and was greeted by reassurance, and an appearance from the chef who again reassured me to order whatever I liked in the knowledge that he would either replace or completely take out the nut elements in the dish. I very rarely feel so at ease dining in a place I have never been to before, but after I was met with such understanding, I felt happy and comfortable to order. If, like me, you find eating at restaurants more hassle than it’s worth most of the time because of allergies then Thackeray’s is definitely a great option for you.
Passion seems to run in the blood of the staff here; every staff member we had the pleasure of encountering knew the origins of each ingredient in their dishes, could give wonderful, astute recommendations and knew the menu – both food and wine – inside-out. Upon requesting a bottle of red wine, we were recommended a South African Cabernet Sauvignon from the Vergelegen Wine Estate in Stellenbosch to accompany our three courses. If, however, you are looking for a more tailored experience, Thackeray’s offers a wonderfully personalised wine paring service that selects the perfect wine to complement and enhance each exquisite course.
I decided on diver-caught scallops to start followed by old spot pork loin, while my partner opted for the ham hock and guinea fowl pressing followed by the sirloin of beef. As we waited for our starters to be freshly prepared we got to enjoy a bread basket that came packed with a rustic chicory and stout loaf, warm slices of white bread, and peppery breadsticks accompanied by a marmite butter for spreading and a perfectly blended black olive and tomato tapenade which, quite frankly, blew my socks off. We were also treated to some mini breaded macaroni cheese rectangles that I can only describe as divine, and a shot of butternut squash, sage and thyme soup, both of which lingered on the tongue and my brain long after I had gobbled down the last bite.
While enjoying our pre-starter it became clear how homely Thackeray’s truly is. With half drawn blinds behind us, a huge marble fireplace on one wall, and a fun, yet muted wallpaper picturing fruit and monkeys playing, the restaurant feels above all; comfortable and intimate, with a heavy emphasis on privacy. There was no pretentiousness, or rituals for the sake of rituals; staff were happy to laugh, joke and interact with customers, making a night out at this place quite the homely, yet extensively classy experience. It was clear that the point of Thackeray’s is that it is for everyone. There is no exclusivity for the sake of it here; old and young are welcome to come and enjoy a slice of fine dining at reasonable prices.
As I admired the decor our starters arrived looking as wonderfully mouth-watering as they had sounded on the menu. My scallops, which came with baby globe artichoke and crushed violet potato, were seared to perfection with a satisfying, spongy bounce. Tasting beautifully smoky, they perfectly complemented the tangy, slight nuttiness of the artichoke, and the smooth mildness of the potato. The ham hock also went down a treat. As a new item on the menu and a personal favourite of our waiter, we were eager to give this dish a go. It was easy to see how it had made its way onto the menu; the meat was cooked to perfection, and the spiced Parkin cake and damson jam was such a success with my partner that every time he took a bite he would mutter ‘this is amazing’ – quite the compliment.
Next out came our main course, I had ordered the pork which came beautifully presented in five different variations; the pulled pork ravioli and braised and glazed pork belly were my two highlights. The saltiness of the meat went perfectly with the slight tartness of apple, as well as smooth caramelised chicory and tangy English feta. This dish really does bring a myriad of flavours alive in the mouth, all jumping and zinging between each other. It is definitely a dish that leaves you wanting more. With pickled pink radishes and green mint leaves sprinkled throughout, the dish is wonderfully pleasing to the eye as well as the palate (and stomach).
My partner enjoyed the 50-day aged grilled sirloin of Dexter beef, with salt baked celeriac and braised brisket rosti, lovage pesto, fermented garlic and oxtail salad. The beef, which was cooked rare, had a melt-in-the-mouth quality, that made him close his eyes when the meat touched his tongue. The oxtail salad was less of a salad, and more of a soup, but was mouth-watering nonetheless and blended seamlessly with the earthy celeriac and pesto. We also ordered some cauliflower cheese as a side dish on the recommendation of one of our servers. The beautifully rich sauce smothered the perfectly cooked cauliflower and the cheesy goodness did nothing but complement both of our dishes.
A thing that Thackeray’s does extremely well is to let every flavour have its time. It seemed that no matter what was eaten, regardless of combination, every flavour would come in waves, either smacking us across the face with its boldness or slowly creeping in as an aftertaste. Every ingredient had its chance to shine across all of the dishes we were fortunate to try, which was really something magical to experience, and shows the effort, care and thought head chef, Patrick Hill puts into every bite that his guests take at Thackeray’s.
Now, it should be noted that my partner and I were so full by the time dessert rolled around that we debated on whether to share – sacrilege, I know! In the name of science though, we decided to persist. I opted for the cheese board as I am a savoury girl, through and through, while my partner ordered a dessert named, ‘milk and coffee.’ Our waiter, upon hearing I was going to order the cheese board, asked if I would be happy for him to pick the three different, distinct cheeses I would be enjoying. I agreed, of course, and the outcome was nine artisan crackers, a refreshing stem of grapes and three cheeses that lingered on the tongue.
The first was a divine goats’ cheese that, with its creamy and mild, yet tangy, flavour, had me finishing off the entire piece, despite worries that if I ate anymore my partner would have to roll me home. The next was a blue cheese, and it was simply everything a good blue should be – simple, packed with flavour, and beautifully smelly. The last cheese that was chosen for me was an extremely strong cheddar and, I must admit, I was not the biggest fan. The nuttiness of the cheese was a little too much for me and yet my partner thought it was delicious, particularly when paired with the honey truffle chutney I was given to slather my cheese in. So, there you go, Thackeray’s has something for everyone!
My partner’s milk and coffee dessert consisted of Kenya coffee cake, mascarpone mousse, cinnamon ice cream, poached Concorde pear, almond Florentine and bitter chocolate. Is your mouth watering yet? When the dish came out it looked more like a perfectly manicured garden than something to be eaten; not that that stopped us. The bitterness of the coffee cake offered a beautifully paired contrast to the sweetness of the cinnamon ice cream, and poached pear. The dish was spicy, aromatic and warming – the perfect dessert to capture the colder months – and created a wonderful bookend for our meal. He was very impressed that he started with Parkin and ended with coffee cake!
Just a stone’s throw away from Royal Tunbridge Wells Station and the bustling streets of the city centre, Thackeray’s restaurant somehow manages to capture the atmosphere of being off the beaten track; it gives the impression that one has found a hidden gem despite being so conveniently located. Nestled amongst quaint residential houses that have stood for centuries, the eatery immediately establishes a personal connection that only grows stronger as the dining experience progresses, a feeling that the restaurant achieves effortlessly.
In a nutshell
Thackeray’s really is a place to savour. Not intended for those seeking a quick bite, the menu is designed for long nights spent laughing with loved ones over a good bottle of wine and even better food. We spent three hours in the restaurant, and not one minute of that was spent checking watches or angling to get out the door. It was spent engaged in the wonder of conversation, the art of brilliant food, and the relaxed, friendly and welcoming atmosphere that Thackeray’s has so masterfully created for itself. No pretension or exclusivity; just good old-fashioned hospitality in a stunning location with mouth-watering food. There is nothing not to like here.
Address: 85 London Rd, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1EA / 01892 511921