Delighted of Tunbridge Wells

IGEN; 11 Church Row, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1HP. Tel: 01892 530659. Open Tuesday to Saturday noon to 2.30pm and 6 to 10pm and Sunday 7 to 10pm. Average price per person without drinks, pounds 15. Major credit cards accepted

It has been stated with mantra-like regularity over the last few years (not least by restaurateurs with a vested interest in our acceptance of the proposition) that London is now the most exciting city in the world for dining out. I have no wish to refute the suggestion, but I would modify it with the observation that, however much you enjoy eating out in our capital, the experience rarely matches the thrill of first discovering the culinary secrets of the world's other great cities: Paris, Barcelona, New York, Bangkok, Auckland ... and Tunbridge Wells.

I mention Kent's famous spa town, home of that legendary man of letters- to-the-Telegraph who goes by the name of "Disgusted", not because I seriously believe it ranks alongside the others in my list, but because I ate there for the first time last week. The experience reminded me (and I needed reminding) that one of the least exploited benefits of living in London, food-wise, is the possibility of leaving the city after a day's graft, for a relaxing dinner out of town.

The suggestion was made by friends who live in East Sussex, whom we hadn't seen for far too long. After a number of aborted weekend plans we decided to stop the rot with a mid-week dinner, at a location that more or less bisected the distance between us. Given that we wanted to travel by train (specifically to travel back by train), Tunbridge Wells was the obvious place to stick the pin in the map.

So we shared the 6.45 from Charing Cross with a herd of besuited commuters. While they stared holes in their papers, or snoozed fitfully, we looked out of the window. It's hardly surprising that, making the journey for the ump-teenth time, they were not motivated to count the hovering kestrels, or marvel at the blossoming hawthorn. They were, after all, just going home. We, on the other hand, were travelling.

Our destination had an incongruity that ser-ved to heighten expectations, but also admitted the possibility of disappointment: Tunbridge Wells's only Japanese restaurant, Igen, unlisted in any guide I could lay my hands on, but recommended by the friends we were meeting. I forgot to ask what the name means, but turn left outside the station, walk up the hill, and you'll find it just next to the cinema.

The seven or so mottled grey formica-topped tables are fixed to the floor and wall, and the lighting is a little on the harsh side. In short, the premises is minimalist and functional - without any of the cache that those adjectives can command in a cosmopolitan context.

When our friends Sarah and Adam arrived, Sarah was still expressing, as she had done on the phone, anxiety about their choice of venue: "We've only been here once," she reminded us, "and we thought it was great. But you know, it's not London." Not being London was just one nice thing about Igen. Another, related perhaps, was the staff. There were just two, both Japanese - allaying one of my fears about the unlikely location of the enterprise. One waitress did all the serving and one chef did all the cooking. Between them they had more charm and enthusiasm than the combined brigades of several large London restaurants I could name.

We all kicked off with mixed sushi. Instead of the eight or so pieces you usually expect, each portion consisted of only four. Had two of these been the make-weights of the average sushi set (bland boiled prawn and rubbery sweetened omelette) this would have been a disappointment. Happily these were nowhere to be seen. Instead we got fresh salmon fillet, belly of tuna (the best, fatty cut of the fish), salmon roe and pickled mackerel. And the portions were huge: almost too big, I thought, as traditionally each piece of sushi is meant to be eaten as a single mouthful. In this case I was sure it couldn't be done. But Adam proved me wrong, downing his salmon roe piece in a single chomp without so much as a grain of rice hitting the table. We all attempted to follow his heroic example, but not in every case with complete success.

The waitress, who barely stopped giggling the entire evening, cajoled us into sharing two other starters in which I had expressed an interest. Unagi kabayaki is grilled marinated eel fillets, and Igen's was superb; the sticky sweet soy-based glaze not quite smothering the rich oily meat of the eel. Gyu tataki, she told us, was "a Japanese version of steak tartare, only much better," unwittingly issuing a challenge to Marie - steak tartare is her desert-island dish. In this case the steak, presented in chopstick-friendly strips, is not quite raw, but has been flashed on a very hot griddle. The accompanying piquant sauce is wasabi based, and delivers that almost painfully pleasant kick of horseradish hotness up the nasal cavity. Marie loved it, but would not be drawn on the tartare comparison: "steak tartare is French," she said incorrigibly (for so is she), "this is Japanese."

We followed with vegetable tempura. The light crunch of the batter, and the variety of delicious fresh vegetables inside it (sweet potato, yellow peppers, lotus root, spring onion) were somehow restorative of appetite. At least, I don't think it was sheer greed that persuaded us to order another round of sushi. Our continuing dialogue with the manageress had revealed some as yet untried "specials": squid, scallop, and the aforementioned eel fillets, turning up with a similar glaze, this time on top of a fat finger of sushi rice. I was only too happy to be reminded just how good it was.

By the end of the meal, we all felt woozy and contented - and not just from the warm saki and cold Kirin beer. Atmosphere is a word much abused in the restaurant business. In truth it comes not from fancy furnishings, piped music, or even from fellow revellers (we remained the only table of diners throughout the evening). It comes simply from the company of friends, the food on your plate, and the warmth of the people who present it to you. In this case, all were well worth travelling for.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible