Sunday, 8 March 2009


"Restaurant with rooms: best of breed." Man of Kent

Which? Good Food Guide 2009
Before crossing the threshold of this ‘lovely building’ one can tell this restaurant-with-rooms is a place of serious intent and high standards, for the gardens are beautifully kept. They also contribute some of the kitchen’s fine vegetables – ingredients are the defining element here – and the menu, too, is appealing, with presentation as spot-on as the youthful service.

David Pitchford’s technical skills are impressive; he likes to keep things simple, using careful balance and pretty much faultless composition to make an impact. And make an impact he does. Witness a lunch that began with the simplicity of sautéed soft herring roes on toast and rich chicken liver parfait. Flavours were then built up robustly in main courses, partnering crispy pork belly with black cabbage, honey-roasted turnips and apple purée, and thornback ray with rocket, gherkins and caperberry dressing.

Dinner has brought praise for Mongomery Cheddar soufflé on smoked haddock in a creamed sauce, and pan-fried red mullet with leaf spinach, pan-roasted potatoes and a Seville orange and thyme sauce. Attentive effort pays off in fine desserts, too, such as a dark chocolate tart with its crisp pastry and prune and Armagnac ice cream.

The impressive, extensive wine list is high on quality and generously inclusive outside France, which remains, however, its main port of call. ‘Best Buys’ offer a useful, edited version for those on a budget. House wines are £16.
AA Restaurant
Set in an elegant Georgian manor house, surrounded by 4 acres of tranquil gardens and grounds and its own walled kitchen garden, Read's Restaurant (with rooms) boasts six individually designed bedrooms tastefully furnished in period style, complemented by an elegant drawing room and the grand, spacious restaurant.

Here you will find distinctive cooking of passion and simplicity using home-grown herbs and vegetables in dishes that make fine use of local game and fish fresh from the quayside at nearby Whitstable and Hythe. Modern British cuisine is the order of the day, with dinner a grander affair than lunch. The menu offers an impressive choice of dishes with detailed descriptions and little gems of quotations to accompany them, like the immortal words of Miss Piggy ... 'Never eat more than you can lift'.

With that in mind, you could try the seven-course tasting menu, or order from the appealing carte. Expect the likes of hot mature Montgomery cheddar soufflé set on glazed smoked haddock in cream sauce, or fillet of Scottish beef with sweetheart cabbage, roasted salsify and shallot jus, while white peach soufflé with vanilla ice cream, raspberry coulis and home-made shortbread might feature at dessert. The equally accomplished wine list has an extensive choice (over 250 wines) with many heavyweights and a good selection by the glass, too.
Since the 1980s David and Rona Pitchford have run the best sort of neighbourhood restaurant; a move a few years ago to a covetable Georgian manor house in Faversham only emphasised what they do so well. Cosily domestic yet with hints of the seriousness of the cooking to come (proper napery, delicate tulip-shaped wine glasses, and a wine list stuffed with interesting bottles), a thoughtful menu has a sensibly contained choice of six starters and similar number of main courses, the dishes built around the concept that seasons matter. This is very assured cooking rooted in classic French techniques, but given a personal spin, a lot of thought going into harmonious flavour combinations such as a medallion of thinly sliced foie gras with own-cured thinly sliced duck breast and citrus infused rhubarb, and roast fillet of sea bass on a purée of Jerusalem artichoke with herb gnocchi, girolles and light chorizo velouté.
The Guardian (22-May-2004)
First impressions: We were proudly informed on driving into Faversham that this was the 'market town of kings' and there was certainly a regal air as we approached the listed Georgian building. After regretting not bringing the 4x4 and green wellingtons, we were pleased to discover that Reads has a refreshingly informal feel. With no official check in and a friendly greeting from the owner, it felt like visiting family friends. We were reminded to help ourselves from the fully stocked pantry and to leave our shoes outside the door to be cleaned.

What are the rooms like? With its antique furniture and paintings dating back to the 1800s, our room resembled a glossy spread from House&Garden and, as if to prove the point, copies of the magazine are neatly arranged by the window to flick through over a glass of sherry. In keeping with the intimate setting there are only six rooms; ours, called Chestnut, had a good view of the grounds. The bed test: Despite the furious winds rattling the shutters, it was easy to drift off underneath sumptuous cotton sheets.

Owner and chef David Pitchford has been in the business for over 20 years and sources fresh local produce to complement the herbs and vegetables grown in the garden. Popular dishes include lobster tortellini and roast seabass with herb gnocchi. Rona's home-made chocolates with coffee add a further personal touch. Canterbury and Whitstable are less than 15 minutes away, Leeds Castle and Dover under 45 minutes.
The Telegraph (13-Jun-2003)
Mr DB's recommendation is enigmatic: "This one will cost you a little more than you usually pay," he writes. Even so, it isn't exactly a doddle booking dinner, b & b here for a Saturday night - I get lucky only because someone's cancelled. "All our rooms are large . . . and they're all gorgeous," purrs the receptionist. She's still purring when we arrive at Read's Restaurant with Rooms, a manor house verging on a stately pile on the outskirts of Faversham. Up the wide staircase we go to an exceptionally large room where the lamps are lit, even though it's not yet dark. "Come down early before it gets too busy," she advises, patting my husband's arm.

Actually we've got a room and a half because the door from the landing leads into our very own short hallway, with bathroom to the left and bedroom to the right. Everything's matching: wallpaper, roman blinds and curtains all have small red flowers on cream. There's a genteel little sofa too: "If only this wasn't so hard, the room would be perfect," sighs my husband, though he's the sort who likes loads of squashy cushions. I like the sofa though - the fact it's there - also the decanter of sherry, the Penhaligon toiletries and the copies of Homes & Gardens on the bedside table.

Down in the large drawing-room there's a sense of anticipation. Couples perch on the edges of chairs, discussing the idiosyncratic menu. Sorry Read's - if you've missed one of these works of art with Gerald Scarfe drawing on the cover, I just happened to pop a copy in my bag. I couldn't possibly memorise all the bons mots, not to mention the food . . . For example, "hand-rolled potato gnocchi with new season Owens Court asparagus and wild mushrooms" (my husband's choice) is followed by a quote from G K Chesterton: "Music with dinner is an insult to both the cook and the musician." There's a reverential air in the restaurant, where we're greeted by starched white cloths on the tables, and small cups of intensely flavoured pea and tarragon soup.

Dinner proper (for me) begins with Parma ham with vegetable crostini, reggiano parmesan and rocket salad - a still life with wilted greens stacked up in the middle of very thin slices of ham, accompanied by a quote from Gandhi: "If we chose the right diet what an extraordinary small amount would suffice." Next I have a simple main course of "roasted breast of free-range organic chicken with buttered leeks and wild spring mushrooms in a creamed sauternes wine sauce", accompanied by a lovely Churchillian quote (see end of piece). The chicken is perfection . . . but, alas, just too much for me, though, always prepared to make an idiot of myself, I ask if I can have a doggie bag. My husband mutters something like "Think of the starving masses" but I prefer the waiter's smile as he returns with a neat, silver-foil-wrapped packet. "How kind of you . . . thank you." My husband, meanwhile, is enjoying a portion of "roast fillet of turbot with crushed new potatoes, fresh asparagus, warm vinaigrette of Whitstable cockles" . . . and a quote from Miss Piggy: "Never eat more than you can lift.

Puds are enticingly different. My husband opts for the Gerald Ford - coffee bavarois with pistachio biscotti and a chilled bitter lemon orange cappuccino ("Eating and sleeping are a waste of time"), while I fancy Read's lemon tart with fresh raspberry sauce and a quote from Pepys: "Strange to see how a good dinner reconciles everyone." But I fail again . . . and once again the waiter is proffering silver foil. "Would you like your little parcels put in the fridge until you leave?" he asks. I love it. A smart restaurant, a diner who's putting them to the test - and a waiter with a smile that will take him far. Back upstairs, the bed has been turned down, naturellement. Breakfast . . . and here's that Churchill quote: "My wife and I tried to breakfast together but we had to stop or our marriage would have been wrecked." Needless to say, this repast is all we could wish for. This is a treat and a half of a hotel.
The Independent (6-Jul-2001)
It's not trendy or posh and it doesn't have a famous chef, but what makes Read's special is superb, nostalgia-inducing dishes. It's years since I've been a prodigal daughter, but though I'm now almost grown up and we can all go out together without embarrassing each other, eating out close to the parental home is still a novelty. "What do you want to go to the pub for?" they'd ask as we tried to slip out for ciggies and crisps, "the food's better here." This time an incitement came at the end of one of the regular bulletins from east Kent: "Julia's getting married again; Graham's still looking for a job; no, his father never came out of hospital, the funeral's next week; the farm shop has a fish stall outside, oh, and Read's, that nice restaurant in Faversham we told you about, has moved into the house where your brother's friend – what was his name? – used to live." "Why don't you take us?" added my dad on the extension.

Though the former supermarket it inhabited was unassuming, Read's always rated very high in the food guides for classical French cooking with an English sensibility. After 25 years of being quietly appreciated, David and Rona Pitchford have moved into a more alluring building on the outskirts of Faversham. Brogdale, the national apple collection, is just outside the town, there are fruit farms all around, and rampant greenery overwhelms everything except church towers and the white cowls of oast houses converted from hop drying into homes. This corner of countryside, so close to France but determinedly English, seems at least 20 years behind the times.

Although it has become a restaurant with rooms, with a gravel sweep up to the handsome door of the Georgian house and a lawn with a majestic cedar of Lebanon, Read's has no airs and graces. Front of house staff were all women, and it was relaxed enough for my mum to overlook my plimsolls, although I'd braced myself for her to say, "oh darling, couldn't you have found something less scruffy". Then again, I was paying.

One of the first joys was finding nostalgia-inducing soft herring roe, which mum used to give us for tea, on the lunch menu. On a thick, circular slice of granary toast, with lots of finely chopped parsley, this was simply heaven. Little crab cakes in a creamy-golden chive-speckled sauce with diamonds of tomato flesh, and a plate of Parma ham with dinky crostini were less rare but put together with unusual delicacy.

The fact that Read's has a very good wine list, with edited highlights at the front, and several half bottles, was perhaps slightly wasted on my parents. "Let's have some house wine," commanded my dad, for whom quality is less important than, if not quantity, then guaranteed supply. His basic requirement was initially exceeded by sharing a half bottle of Sancerre with me. My mother doesn't drink, but was also feeling at home. "Is that the house labrador?" she murmured, looking fondly at a black dog in the adjacent sitting room.

After these relatively left-field starters, it was back to the Anglo-French mainstream for a tidily spread deck of pink lamb slices, on ratatouille with a rich, reduced tomato base, green beans and the best bit on the side – a ramekin of dauphinoise potatoes. I could have done with less of the "rosemary jus": a thickened brown stock. The other two mains had similar, though differently flavoured, sauces as their least distinguished feature; it was like accessorising each dish with sturdy brown brogues.

Crisp duck was kept company by butter beans so plump they were pot-bellied, baby onions and mange tout; the vegetables were given an orangey Mediterranean tan by what seemed to be chorizo oil. Salmon came on a huge circular pat of parsleyed mash and, possibly, bits of bacon in the meaty red wine sauce. No good for non meat-eaters, but a generous and well-balanced combination for omnivores. Thanks to the range of half bottles we could have red wine with these. "Don't give any more to her," dad implored the waitress as she approached me with the bottle. Not from any belated attempted to stop me becoming a lush, but to safeguard his own second glass.

Similar dishes on the dinner menu – which makes lunch wonderful value – each come with a quote from, among several others, Brillat-Savarin and AA Milne. "Music with dinner is an insult to both the cook and the musician" according to GK Chesterton, underneath seafood mousse with asparagus and smoked salmon butter sauce. The not-known-for-being-quotable Duke of Edinburgh's "I never see any plain cooking, all I get is fancy stuff," accompanies potted Whitstable crabmeat.

Read's is not plain, nor is it fancy. Sure-fire results are achieved by wonderful local ingredients – fish and seafood from Whitstable, the asparagus and soft fruit – being treated with delicacy and skill by an experienced chef who knows when to stop interfering, and, if anything, holds back on seasoning. Thanks to his even-handedness, dishes show ensemble playing at its best, not the too-common dominance of luxury protein at the expense of vegetables. Puddings resist the temptation to show off. What could be nicer than raspberries – locally-grown – in a brandy snap basket with home made raspberry ripple ice cream? An unsupported crème brulée was firm enough to bear a fragrant peach which blushingly interposed itself between the crème and a gauzy brulée coating. Chocolate tart, which left M&S's standing, came with milk sorbet. It revealed why one of Read's best loved dinner puddings is the "Chocoholics Anonymous" plate.

Service is conducted at a pace that suits those who don't have commitments in the afternoon. We ran out of time before we'd had coffee, poured from a silver pot. But brandy snaps, fudge and Mint Imperials came with a bill, that at £30 a head, meant we didn't need sweetening. It was the ideal place to turn the tables and take my parents. I was the youngest customer by some years; "the clientele's rather ancient," crowed dad looking round the lovelier of the two fully occupied dining rooms at his contemporaries. "You are keeping up your pension contributions, aren't you?" "Yes, dad." "Because you'd be amazed how quickly you find you need one." Not too long then before I become a lunchtime regular at Read's.
A: Macknade Manor, Canterbury Road, Faversham, Kent ME13 8XE
Google Map
F: (01795) 591200
T: (01795) 535344

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