The Herbalist, Maidstone: A 5* review

As much as I adore  London, I always enjoy spending time away from the capital – and today I was very much looking forward to travelling down to Maidstone, in Kent, to see my friend Lisa. I was able to fit in a visit to the town’s excellent museum, a post about which will follow in due course – but for now, I want to talk about the fantastic gastro pub in which we met for lunch.

The Herbalist is situated in the heart of Maidstone and is a member of Elite Pubs, a small chain of restaurants, pubs and bars in the South East of England. Lisa has visited several and always spoken highly of them, but this was my first experience – and it would prove to be a memorable one.

Over to The Herbalist’s website for some background:

Some pioneering local adventurers left this area for the new world to discover and document the herbs and plants that have made cuisine what it is today; Nicholas Culpepper and Joseph Banks. In honour of these brave young men we dedicate the Herbalist. The stage kitchen is always a buzz of activity in this open plan restaurant. The only place in Kent where you can enjoy real tank beer delivered directly from the brewery.

We had both arrived with healthy appetites and dispensed with our usual debate about whether or not to have a starter: one look at the exciting menu and of course we were going to. The question was: which one? After some deliberation, we opted to share the Fish Platter: Marinated Anchovies, Seared Mackerel Fillet, King Prawns, Soft Shell Crab, Severn & Wye Smoked Salmon, Pineapple, Radish & Coriander Salad, Bloody Mary Aioli & Crusty Bread.

A veritable feast of sustainably sourced fish arrived and we got stuck in, revelling in the generous portions. I loved every single element, including the luscious sauce, but was particularly taken with the anchovies and the winningly plump prawns. We’d made a good choice of wine, as well: a white Rioja whose details I forgot to record, but which was fresh, zingy and stood up well to the different types of fish.

The Herbalist, as well as offering locally-sourced meat and fish, features plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, leading to some umming and ahhing over our choice of main course. In the meantime, we were able to appreciate our surroundings: for a town centre-based pub, The Herbalist is exceptionally light & airy – and very mellow, especially considering it was a Saturday afternoon.

I very nearly chose the Vegan Buddha Bowl (quinoa, avocado, spinach, tofu, radish, cob nuts and beetroot), but had enjoyed our fish starter so much that I couldn’t resist ordering the Rye Bay Cod Fillet with Jerusalem Artichoke, Cavalo Nero and Pomegranate Sauce Vierge. Lisa, meanwhile, chose the Seared King Scallops with Spiced Bramley Apple and Kentish Black Pudding Beignet – and who can blame her?

We were both over the moon with our decisions. Suffice to say that my cod and its gorgeous trimmings melted in the mouth and that Lisa’s scallops disappeared at the speed of light, both of us forsaking conversation to properly enjoy our food.

I wrote in a recent post that I can no longer manage three courses when I go out for dinner (eating less, yet weighing more being one of life’s little mysteries). The thing is, we enjoyed our first two courses so much…and it was such a fantastic menu…and we hadn’t seen each other for ages and had so much to catch up on and, well…

Reader: I did it for you. Selflessly, and purely in the name of research, I ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Honeycomb Ice cream – and, equally selflessly, Lisa ordered a selection of Callestick Farm Dairy Ice Creams, doing her bit for the Cornish economy.

You won’t be surprised to hear that we loved every single mouthful, spoons being run surreptitiously around bowls, in case we’d missed a single morsel.

This was impressively good food in a seriously good venue. A venue, what’s more, that was relaxed and friendly – the lovely staff were welcoming and helpful, but put no pressure on us to make any decisions, allowing us as much time as we wanted to relax between courses.

I cannot recommend The Herbalist highly enough and will undoubtedly return, just as I will make a point of seeking out its sister establishments.

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