Apicius, restaurant review: 'Enough panache to tempt me to move to Kent'

 

Cranbrook in Kent is the kind of place my generation is about to move to. It is almost within an hour's reach of London by rail and road, you can get more than a one-bedroom shoe box for half a million pounds, there are decent cricket pitches, it has an excellent co-ed grammar boarding school which sends kids to Oxbridge and, above all, there is a wonderful restaurant called Apicius, in which you can drown your sorrows with other parents after you've dropped off little Winston and Marla for the new school term.

Marcus Gavius Apicius was one of the original gourmands, a Roman Ramsay in the time of Tiberius so notorious for his gastronomy that Seneca called him the man who "proclaimed the science of the cookshop". He liked flamingo tongue and had his thoughts collected in various works that have been described, by food enthusiasts keen on antiquity, as precursors to Nigella, Yotam, Delia and all the rest.

In the kitchen here is another worthy successor: Tim Johnson, who used to be personal chef to John Paul Getty Jr. His wife Faith, a charming lady of South African provenance, is one of only two front-of-house staff, and explains that they opened this place nine years ago with the money they got when Getty died. Did you marry him for his cooking, I ask. "I married him for his passport," she says. What a bonus the cooking turned out to be.

The menu is pleasingly short, with five starters, mains, and desserts. But despite its brevity, there is no shortage of glamour. We are here with my aunt Mary, unquestionably the most glamorous person I know, so the menu and our party seem a natural fit.

For her starter, Mary has the vegetarian option, despite not being vegetarian. Just as well, as in my book, leek and potato velouté and toasted brioche crouton is not really veggie when it's served with poached duck egg. It is magnificent, though; the hot, velvety velouté an ideal receptacle for a perfectly poached egg.

I have very good lamb sweetbreads with a punchy celeriac purée, parsley salad and pungent garlic crisps; and Charlie has the wild sea bass ceviche with fennel, pickled ginger, pomegranate salad and soy sauce. It feels a curious oriental excursion from a European menu, the ginger could do with more pickling, the pomegranate is too sparse, and in general the whole plate wants a touch more acidity and oomph.

Aside from that, however, the food is generally outstanding, and probably worthy of an addition to the one Michelin star that Johnson received years ago.

Of the mains, I have a scallop-and-bacon brochette with truffle linguini that is hard to fault. Charlie's main of slow-roast shoulder of Kentish pork with creamed potato, braised fennel, prunes and confit shallots is excellent, the pig very tender, and the prunes a willing messenger between it and the buttery potato. Mary has a muscular and moist roast monkfish tail with braised puy lentils, pancetta, artichoke purée and red-wine jus, and it is just impossible to fault, tasting of sea and spring with each moreish mouthful.

For the desserts, we have a chocolate ganache with tarragon ice-cream, a bunch of sorbets, and a reblochon cheesecake. I've started to notice this around and about, an ultra-cheesy cheesecake, and it must be said it won't be to everyone's taste. There is a sharp, tangy kick to the reblochon, which is a total outlier if you're expecting sweetness. But its texture is its salvation: smooth rather than chalky, it rewards time on our palates in a way the other desserts don't.

For no particular reason, we also have a plate of very good cheeses, some dessert wine, and another glass from a generally excellent wine list. I think it is partly because of the feeling of immense comfort that this small dining-room generates. And also because it just oozes class.

Johnson worked for years under the great Nico Ladenis, and also such giants of the trade as Gary Rhodes, Roger Vergé and Andy McLeish. The technical competence and creative flair of his dishes are testimony to those rewarding apprenticeships, and at £32 for three courses over lunch, Apicius must be one of my favourite recent discoveries outside of the capital. And probably enough to warrant me and all my mates moving to Cranbrook.

8.5/10

Apicius, 23 Stone Street, Cranbrook, Kent, tel: 01580 714 666. £100 for two, with wine

Four more things I've been eating this week

Ginger snaps

Biscuit of the week is this 65-calorie-a-go crunchy companion from M&S. Could do with more flavour, but lovely texture for tea.

Geeta's mango chutney

After you've tasted my mum's stuff, most bottled chutneys are terrible. This one is actually more than half-decent.

Celeriac soup

I'm having a soup moment, to help me lose weight. (Can't you tell?). Celeriac with a dash of chilli can be glorious.

Prawn mayo on oatmeal

Sometimes, soup just won't do. I'm into prawn mayo right now, again from M&S, and had four of these last week.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn