Alice Bussi and Allister Barsby are taking what they have learned from years spent in the industry to create their own vision in Saltwood in Kent. Neil Gerrard pays a visit
The Kentish village of Saltwood, standing on a hill above the coastal town of Hythe, is probably more famous for the crumbling 12th-century castle that was once home to flamboyant Conservative MP and diarist Alan Clark than for its restaurants.
New arrivals Alice Bussi and Allister Barsby could change that, although they are in no rush to do so. They are no strangers to success. The recipients of a Hotel Catey and an Acorn Award respectively, they have worked in some of the top hospitality establishments in the country. Nonetheless, the young couple's goal is less lofty than awards and accolades: it's all about making a success of their first standalone venture together, Hide and Fox (named after an old Kentish term for the game hide and seek).
Head chef Barsby, originally from nearby Whitstable, left his role as executive head chef of Pembrokeshire hotel the Grove of Narberth to fulfil his dream of opening his own restaurant. Italian-born Bussi, who was working as food and beverage manager across the Seren Collection, also left her role to take on the challenge.
The couple think they have spotted an opportunity in Saltwood to offer high-end cooking combined with relaxed service. "There's definitely a gap in the market for a higher-priced restaurant. There aren't that many around here, aside from Rocksalt in Folkestone," says Barsby. "But there are loads of good pubs and cafés and we felt the area is on the up."
Bussi hopes to coax locals into the new arrival with the relaxed, welcoming style of service she honed at the Seren Collection, complemented by Barsby's food, which has moved away from the traditional French cooking he was delivering under Caines to incorporate new techniques, ingredients and flavour combinations.
"We want it to be really approachable but also wow them with the food and wine and service," says Barsby.
The most popular dishes include the dressed crab curry, mango, cardamom and lime (£12). "It just flies out," says Barsby. "We have an intense, dark crab jelly, which gives it a nice savouriness, a cardamom gastric and loads of fresh lime juice to wake the palate up."
A dish Barsby is most proud of is the veal sweetbreads with charred leeks, mushroom and maple (£12). "The sweetbreads are roasted until they are really crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and I glaze them with maple syrup. I like to balance dishes out with sweet and sour without overpowering them," he says.
A fan of Asian cuisine, the chef uses ingredients like yuzu, soy sauce and miso, largely to enhance a dish's flavour, such as the soy in the beef fillet and oxtail with lettuce, pickles, tarragon and red wine (£29). And he is already finding his feet with the local suppliers, using the Boathouse Fisheries in St Mary's Bay for seafood in dishes like the turbot, roast shallots, peas, maitake, asparagus and smoked bacon (£24).
A popular desserts is the poached cherries, white chocolate tofu, pistachio ice-cream and meringue (£9). Diners apparently aren't put off by the unusual pairing of white chocolate and tofu, while Bussi is proud that the pistachio ice-cream is a hit, having helped Barsby discover the delights of Italian ice-cream on a recent trip to Tuscany for his 30th birthday.
So far, Bussi, who trained as a sommelier, has found that the medium- to higher-priced wines from the 65-bin list provided mainly by Hallgarten & Novum Wines are proving most popular. Having already added sparkling wine from Gusbourne estate to the list, she hopes to boost the representation of English wines further once she has studied the local offering.
With capacity for 28 people, the restaurant is serving around 450 covers a month and is enjoying strong midweek trade. As for the future, it's all about becoming a favourite local haunt.
"We had two different, inspiring careers surrounded by professionals and mentors. We took everything we could from that and now we are delivering what we want to deliver," says Bussi. "We are living the dream."
From the menu
- Egg yolk ravioli, peas, smoked eel, Parmesan £9
- Squab pigeon, celeriac, black pudding, date, walnut £14
- Veal sweetbreads, charred leeks, mushroom, maple £12
- Turbot, roast shallots, peas, maitake, asparagus, smoked bacon £24
- Cod, cauliflower, apple, broad beans, caper, lemon, thyme £22
- Beef fillet and oxtail, lettuce, pickles, tarragon, red wine £29
- Strawberry tonka bean mousse, honeycomb, sable, strawberry sorbet £9
- Snickers peanut parfait, brownie, caramelia namelaka, ice-cream £9
The Green, Saltwood, Kent CT21 4PS www.hideandfox.co.uk
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