Matt Tomkinson is cooking from the heart at this country village pub, giving his guests what they want – fine-dining food in a relaxed environment. Katherine Alano pays a visit
"Is it a pub? Is it a restaurant? Even we're not sure!" jokes chef-patron Matthew Tomkinson. Betony by Matt Tomkinson sits within the pub the Kings Head, located in Whiteparish, just eight miles from Salisbury in Wiltshire.
Jokes aside, the food served is not to be laughed at. And it wouldn't be, given Tomkinson's background. After winning the Roux Scholarship in 2005, he moved to the Goose in Britwell Salome, near Oxford, as head chef, and here he picked up his first Michelin star in 2008.
He then went on to hold a star for seven consecutive years at the Terrace restaurant at the Montagu Arms hotel in the New Forest, Hampshire.
This impressive CV caught the eyes of the owners of the Kings Head, Shaun and Trish Wylie, who were introduced to Tomkinson via a consultant friend through LinkedIn.
"I was not looking to move from the Montagu," recalls Tomkinson. "But the idea of a fresh start, to stay in the area and be in pubs was too much of a draw to pass up."
After launching Betony, named after a wild flower well-known in the Salisbury area, in 2019, Tomkinson found that his fine-dining menu was attracting more and more guests.
Acting on customer feedback, in January 2020 they made the decision to combine Betony's food and the Kings Head's pub favourites on one menu for the 50-cover gastropub.
"I knew that I would make this [taking on the pub] work for the food. I had a preconception of what we should do. It had to be guest-led. The pub gives me the scope to cook what I like; it enables me to really cook from the heart."
Betony offers an à la carte menu, as well as a four-, six- or eight-course tasting menu (priced £40, £60 and £80 respectively). Starters include grilled Orkney diver scallops, sweetcorn salsa, coriander and black pudding croquette (£9), and potted mackerel, pickled cucumber, apple jelly and toasted sourdough (£8).
For main courses, pub favourites include battered Shetland haddock, triple-cooked chips, mushy Hodmedod's peas, tartare sauce and chip shop curry (£13), and Parsonage Farm beef burger, glazed Emmental cheese, sliced gherkin, tomato chutney and fries (£14). More refined dishes include honey-roast Creedy Carver duck, confit leg tart, roasted pumpkin, rainbow chard and peppercorn jus (£22), and pithiver of truffled leeks, confit potato and Tunworth cheese with a beetroot and walnut sauce (£18).
Desserts include dark chocolate tart, salted chocolate crumble and passion fruit sorbet (£8) and ‘Choux a la Crème', butterscotch sauce and pear sorbet (£8).
One dish that has surprised the chef in terms of guest reaction is a starter of slow-cooked red lentil dhal, spiced paneer, toasted cashew nuts and tomato salad (£8). "The response to it, what is essentially a mini curry, has been phenomenal," says Tomkinson.
Another big hit that Tomkinson and head chef Rob Boer have been refining over the years is the grilled côte de boeuf. Presented as a sharing dish, it is served with stuffed onions with braised beef, beef fat potatoes and peppercorn sauce. The beef is supplied by farmer Robin Pitkin from Parsonage Farm in Andover.
The chef has added smaller artisan suppliers to bring a true flavour of the New Forest to the Kings Head, such as Ollie Bloxham for butter and Hoxton Bakehouse, based in Southampton, for bread.
Tomkinson admits it's harder to do the pub favourites because of guests' expections: "If you take fish and chips or a roast dinner, two plates will look almost identical – they have the same DNA in a way," he explains. "But if you take all those elements on that dish and make them the best they can be, then those two plates will taste dramatically different. Those roast potatoes that are exceptional won't look that different from the poor ones – but the difference in the experience is massive."
Not being constrained to one style of food, for Tomkinson, means that menu development is less constricted: "We are using our skills in a much broader way, applying the same procurement, control and technical ability to a pie or steak that we would if you had our duck or bream dish. In some respects you could argue that there's more consideration to the menu now.
"I love cooking, and being here gives me the scope to cook without restrictions."
From the menu
Lightly spiced parsnip soup, parsnip bhaji, coconut cream, fresh coriander £7
Chicken liver parfait, crispy wild rice, red onion chutney, toasted brioche £9
Roast loin of pork, caramelised apples, black pudding, creamed potato, cider sauce £22
Grilled wild bream, crushed Jerusalem artichokes, truffled hazelnut pesto, red wine sauce £23
Pie of the day, triple-cooked chips, grilled Hispi cabbage, original Wiltshire mustard £14
Warm treacle tart with crème fraîche £7 Classic apple tarte tatin, vanilla ice-cream and salted caramel sauce (for two) £15
The Kings Head, the Street, Whiteparish, Wiltshire SP5 2SG www.thekingshead.co.uk/dining
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In