Chef Tom Genty combines food and wine from the fields of Kent at this burgeoning bistro restaurant, says Neil Gerrard
Tom Genty is, by his own admission, a bit of an obsessive when it comes to food.
When he isn't fulfilling his role as head chef at the 80-cover Swan Wine Kitchen at the Chapel Down vineyard in Tenterden, Kent, he is probably to be found poring over Instagram or Twitter, gorging on photos of chefs' creations from around the world, or watching Great British Menu or Chef's Table: France on Netflix.
"I don't do much else other than look at food and it drives my wife mad. We grow lots of vegetables at home and I end up bringing them in here because I am here all the time. It's food 24 hours a day for me," he says.
That level of commitment is obviously paying off. The restaurant, part of the I'll Be Mother group, which also operates Scott Goss's the Twenty Six Test Kitchen in Southborough and the Beacon in Tunbridge Wells, both in Kent, has retained two AA rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand in the 2017 editions of the respective guides.
Lunch is the bulk of the trade at the Swan Wine Kitchen, particularly from tour groups who visit the vineyard for wine tastings, or customers who come as part of a packaged experience day. That means that Genty and his brigade of three chefs are often to be found doing lunches for anywhere between 50 and 100 diners, with weekends the busiest time.
Evenings are comparatively quiet, with Saturday dinner hitting 40-60 covers. The 5-5-5 menu, which focuses on modern European dishes, offers considerable value given the quality of cooking on show, with two courses priced at £20.50 and three at £22.50.
Genty has been at the restaurant almost a year, having trained at Westminster Kingsway before working at the Arts Club in London, the Swan at West Malling in Kent, Berry Brothers & Rudd in London, and the Mulberry Tree in Maidstone in Kent. When The Caterer visits at the tail end of September, he has just switched to a new menu and, although it is a little early to pick the popular dishes, he says the poussin, sweetcorn, oyster mushroom, garlic and sourdough crumb is selling particularly well.
Interestingly, sorbets make a reasonably regular appearance, either in the pork, foie gras and raisin ballotine with Granny Smith sorbet, or the delicious carrot cake and cream cheese mousse with carrot sorbet and walnuts.
Then there's the milk sorbet that accompanies the burnt honey panna cotta, foam and figs.
The reason is apparently part due to the fact that I'll Be Mother has recently afforded the kitchen a new Pacojet, which Genty and his chefs have been putting through its paces.
In general, the dishes rely on just a few quality ingredients and many of them are sourced locally, such as the meat from a butcher in nearby Rye in East Sussex, and fish from a fishmonger in Cranbrook. By virtue of its location close to the Kent coast, the Swan also has access to an importer of French ingredients based in Ashford, which supplies wild mushrooms, butter and vanilla.
Wine doesn't play as big a role in the Swan's offer as you might expect, considering it is located in one of England's best-known vineyards, but there are plans. The restaurant recently introduced wine flights using some of Chapel Down's wines, priced at two courses with 125ml wine pairings for £33 and three courses with 125ml wine pairings at £40.
It's something that Genty, who undertook his Wine & Spirit Education Trust levels one and two at Berry Brothers & Rudd, is keen to expand on. "One of the things we want to do is to make ourselves more of a wine and food-matching venue.
Where else in Kent or the South East can you have lunch at an award-winning venue and drink award-winning wine? We aim to work better with Chapel Down on this. Some of the vineyard's old offices will be turned into an amazing tasting room with a big glass wall so you can see out to the vineyard, which will be great," he says.
In the meantime, the aim is to strive for more accolades. To achieve that, Genty is hoping to recruit more chefs. "We have an amazing team, especially when you consider the volume they are doing," he says. "I'd like to expand the kitchen team and then we should be looking at a third rosette or Michelin.
"In busy periods, I need a constant supply of chefs, and having four over a seven-day rota leaves it quite tight. We have used agency chefs over the summer, but we need full-time chefs who we can teach so we can get that consistency and progress."
From the menu
• Pork, foie gras and raisin ballotine, Granny Smith sorbet
• Grilled sardine, greenhouse tomatoes, courgette purée, pine nuts
• Poussin, sweetcorn, oyster mushroom, garlic, sourdough crumb
• Beef rump, truffle gnocchi, onion purée, Cavolo Nero
• Rosehip Williams pears, sorbet, pear purée, cinnamon bread
• Burnt honey panna cotta, milk sorbet, foam, figs
Two courses, £20.50; three courses, £22.50
Swan Wine Kitchen, Chapel Down Winery, Small Hythe Road, Tenterden, Kent TN30 7NG
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