Richard Phillips at Chapel Down Smallhythe, near Tenterden, Kent

My most memorable meal of last year was a dazzling lunch at Vatika, Atul Kochhar's restaurant at Wickham Vineyard near Southampton. There was something magical about eating wonderful Indian-influenced food in a high-windowed room surrounded by acres of vines. Rather like being in France, only with a more interesting menu.

I was hoping the magic might be repeated at Chapel Down, the Kentish winemakers whose sparkling wines have won international honours. Like Wickham, Chapel Down recently set up a destination restaurant in partnership with a named chef, in this case Richard Phillips, who already co-owns two restaurants in Kent, Thackerays and Hengist.

Phillips put in time with the Roux brothers and Marco Pierre White before becoming executive chef of the Sanderson and St Martin's Lane hotels (and thus responsible for some of the silliest designer restaurants to hit London). Now he's got his name over the door of a black-timbered Wealden barn in a sleepy corner of Kent.

Some elements of designer silliness have followed Phillips to the countryside. The first-floor dining room and comfortable bar area are studded with curiosities, as though someone had carried out a smash-and-grab raid at a design exhibition. In the bar, wing-backed armchairs have been covered in tweed suiting fabric, with a row of buttons up the arms, giving the illusion that you're sitting on the lap of a kindly uncle. The reception desk, unforgivably, is shaped like a giant corkscrew.

We were left un-greeted in the bar for ages, until I was forced to erupt into the dining room like a cork from a bottle of Champagne – sorry, "sparkling wine". Eventually, with an air of benign tolerance, we were seated in front of a very open kitchen, allowing us to see that on this particular Saturday lunchtime, the restaurant should more properly be called "Richard Phillips Not at Chapel Down".

There's a relaxed, continental feel to the place, which was thronged with a mix of age groups, perhaps attracted by the well-priced set menu, which offers two courses for £12.95. The waiter who distributed the prix-fixe menus looked taken aback when I asked if an à la carte menu was also being served. "Yes. Why, do you want to see it?" he asked, as though such an event was as rare as a solar eclipse.

The two starters we tried from the set menu seemed to belong in different restaurants. A robust smoked mackerel pâté with brown bread and beetroot relish, served on a wooden plank, was pure gastropub, while lobster ravioli in bisque was an altogether cheffier and more delicate dish.

From the à la carte menu, I liked a starter which did interesting things with a classic combination; thin, cured slices of beetroot held a delicate mousse of local goat's cheese, and crumbled walnuts were dotted over a drizzle of truffle-infused emulsion. Only the inclusion of cold, wet quails' eggs, apparently straight out of the fridge, let the dish down.

The schism between the hearty and the tarty continued with the mains; roast rump of Kentish lamb featured some of the best lamb I've had in ages, accessorised with a deconstructed ratatouille. Meanwhile, my friend was doggedly working her way through a hulking slab of beer-battered pollock and enormo-chips, while her husband was facing down a lamb "three-ways" from the set menu. This teamed slices of rump with side orders of grilled liver and heart, the latter so lightly cooked that it was still oozing blood. "I think there's a reason people don't eat heart," he concluded. "It's chewy and slimy."

The under-seasoned slab of layered potato which came with it was just one of several crimes committed against the potato in our name. Those triple-fried chips, tasting more of oil than potato, and the soggy "roasted" Jersey Royals alongside my lamb also implied that someone had a serious grudge against the poor vegetable.

A wildly over-salted piece of smoked cod, which could have been plucked from the Dead Sea rather than, as claimed, Rye Bay, and the underseasoning of most other dishes, spoke of a kitchen that was just phoning it in. And as for the waiters, they weren't even in e-mail contact. We never established who was looking after us, and – unbelievably in a wine restaurant – were offered no wine list. Instead, we made our selection – kicking off with a bottle of Chapel Down Brut (£29.50) – from the suggested wines by the glass on the menu.

A tired treacle tart and local cheeses, curling at the edges, added further ticks to the "could try harder" box. Which is a shame, because Chapel Down itself is run by people who do try really hard, and have built the wine operation up brilliantly. Sadly, on the evidence of our lunch, their restaurant, while having its sparkling moments, is distinctly non-vintage.

Richard Phillips at Chapel Down Smallhythe, near Tenterden, Kent (01580 761616)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 2 stars

Around £25 a head without wine. Set lunch £12.95 for two courses

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 10 per cent optional for parties of 8 or more – and 100 per cent of it goes to the staff. All tips go to the staff"

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary