As someone who is eternally on the Seafood Diet (I see food and I eat it), a day on a 'From Boat to Plate' cookery course sounded my idea of heaven. So long as it didn't actually involve catching the fish (it didn't), learning how to select, clean and fillet the best local fish in season then cooking it in the company of one of the region's top chefs was just one step removed from the pearly gates themselves.
Think James Martin and Saturday kitchen, then substitute Tunbridge Wells chef Bruce Wilson and a sunny Thursday afternoon by the seaside and you’re close to getting the picture.
The Gallivant, at Camber, had an enviable reputation for fine food in its former life as ‘The Place’ until its fortunes took a nose-dive some four years ago. Now, under new ownership, a new name and a with a youthful, forward-thinking team at the helm, The Gallivant has sailed out of choppy waters and is heading once more into foodies’ diaries as THE place to go for a celebratory dinner, seaside escape from the city, or simply a gourmet break.
For those who want a taste of all it has to offer, the day-long Boat to Plate (or, seasonal, Game to Plate) Cookery Courses are a perfect introduction. Accompanied by chef Bruce, who worked in some of London’s top restaurants before settling as head chef at the Tate Modern for two years, you start the day with a trip to the local fish market where Russell Drew, manager of the Gallivant’s fish supplier Market Fisheries, explains how, why and when certain fish are in season – and how to avoid buying those proverbial red herrings. (A fish begins to bruise with age and, by day three, will show signs of a red head. Avoid at all costs.)
Actually, that’s not strictly true. The day began back at the Gallivant with Bucks Fizz, copious amounts of delicious fresh coffee and the best bacon buttie I’ve tasted in a long time.
Clutching the catch of the day, we head back to the restaurant for more coffee and conversation while we study the day’s programme and course notes.
Then it’s down to the serious stuff. Bruce and James Martin have much in common, it seems – not least their ability to chat easily while creating artistic and tasty dishes which will set your senses alight.
We began with scallops – cooked with leeks and vermouth then returned to their shells, sealed with pastry, cooked for a matter of minutes ….et voila! A starter which can be prepared easily in advance and still be the talking point of any dinner party.
For main courses, we were well and truly indulged - grilled red mullet, with palourde clams, samphire and vegetable vinaigrette, roast sea bass escabache and baked whole plaice with fennel and crab butter.
Using fine julienne carrots, shallots, leek and other locally-grown produce, an outrageous amount of salt and butter (no substitutes, thank you – only the best) Bruce conjured up a selection of dishes with remarkable ease.
By this point, the group of some 16 or so cooking enthusiasts were positively salivating – but no problem, as we were invited to tuck in and devour the resulting dishes!
The murmurs were unanimous…..
Some two hours later, after a short break for drinks, dinner was served. Already amply satisfied from the tasting session, a menu comprising six starters, six main courses and two desserts produced riches beyond belief – and beyond most of our appetites!
Potted Rye bay shrimps, razor clams vinaigrette, fried calamari with lemon mayonnaise and Rye mackerel spilled over the table. And these were just a few of the starters.
Next came another six plates positively groaning under the weight of Rye red mullet, Rye sea bass stuffed with fennel, pea shoots and pernod, crispy plaice goujons and roasted Tamworth belly pork with scallops and Madeira.
THEN we were expected to eat dessert! The vanilla syllabub with dressed Kentish Alsanta strawberries and champagne jelly with white peaches, raspberries and pistachio slipped down a treat, however.
To finish, there were copious amounts of much-needed coffee – sipped on the terrace, as the sun sank slowly in the West……
Cookery courses at The Gallivant cost £125 per person and include all food, drinks and tuition. Book an overnight stay with your partner following the course for an additional £75.
For further information, visit www.thegallivanthotel.com or telephone 01797 225 057
By Jane Shotliff
One chef from Tunbridge Wells
Five species of fresh, locally-caught fish
Vegetables, in season
A small mountain of rock salt
Cholesterol-busting quantities of butter (unsalted)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Head for the coast on the A21, A229 or A259 towards Teterden and Rye.
Upon arriving in Rye, follow the A259 towards Camber. After a mile, turn right into Camber Road (which becomes New Lydd Road) and you will stumble across The Gallivant a mile further on, on the left, opposite the public car park. Take a hearty appetite – then sit back, relax and enjoy.