But nor are we lunching in some Spanish town. No – we’re in a quaint Kentish village, scarcely an hour from Kings Cross. Why? Because Wye is home to The Wife of Bath, where Mark Sargeant creates stunning sunshine food year-round, whatever the weather.
The restaurant-with-rooms is Mark’s pride and joy, and it’s a venue of which he should be justly proud. Whilst transforming The Wife of Bath late last year, the chef-turned-restaurateur tells me that he and business partner Josh were ‘like an old married couple’ – picking textiles; bickering over artwork; wondering whether the curious locals would actually populate the dining room once they opened the doors.
They needn’t have worried about the latter. The Wife of Bath does a brisk trade – Wye’s residents gathering around the bar for drinks and tapas of a weekend; coming in to feast on stunning Galician steaks on a Monday night; and shortly (providing Mark finds the right equipment) taking tipples from a tableside vermouth trolley – a concept I helpfully suggest should be titled ‘Get Trollied’.
And it’s not just a local place for local people. As word spreads, The Wife of Bath is increasingly becoming a destination restaurant; its five beautifully-designed rooms serving both as an extra reason to visit and an excuse for a lazy lunch to segue into a well-lubricated dinner, because there’s no need to leave.
We’re not staying the night, but as I run my eye over our menu (on this occasion, a team-up with Gin Mare) and realise it’s a five-courser paired with the same number of cocktails, I have an inkling that the temptation to slope off for a catnap might become a prospect that’s very alluring indeed.
But first, food. Or, rather, drink. Gin Mare mixologist Stuart Bale introduces the contents of a round of tomato vine-garnished martini glasses: a surprisingly-triumphant, super-savoury blend of Gin Mare, tomato cordial, mushroom stock, miso paste and malic acid. A pair of tapas eases us in – a heritage tomato salad whose croutons soak up copious quantities of gin-spiked dressing a treat, and tiny clams dressed with crisp Serrano ham, basil and rosemary.
That ham makes another appearance in the next dish – this time as silken slices that are nestled against wedges of sweet, gin-marinated canteloupe; the melon compressed to imbue it with an intriguing, dense, almost jelly-like quality. A dash of salt lends a sprinkle of magic to the tall, cooling combo of cucumber, melon, gin and Cava to which the course is matched.
Next, we make the acquaintance of tiny glass of an elixir whose ingredients Stuart reveals as Gin Mare, yellow chartreuse and Seville orange. It’s a bracing, palate-cleansing concoction; a brisk number with which to precede hunks of roasted hake with asparagus, orange, radish, and the most beautiful butter sauce I’ve eaten in perhaps my entire life. Instead of the typical dry white wine, it makes wildly successful use of Gin Mare. Bread is requested; not a drop is left.
I’d happily sail on over to the next life on a river of that sauce (and I suspect that, were I to indulge in the quantities I’d like to, death by butter would surely come soon), but it’s time for something sweeter. Stuart’s Ramos Fizz-inspired cocktail is like a herb-accented liquid lemon meringue pie, playing its part in a citrus double act alongside a lime-and-Gin-Mare cheesecake whose proportions are daunting but, I find, entirely conquerable.
Having clearly had his fill of clear spirits, Mark cracks open a bottle of sherry cask-aged brandy. A slice of olive oil and salt dressed chocolate tart appears, as do dishes of creme Catalan fudge, tiny churros, and coffee.
It’s not quite evening, but it’s late enough to begin entertaining notions of moving on to tapas, and then one of those aged steaks and all its associated trimmings. Mark lets slip that there’s an empty room upstairs. Summoning all our resolve, we manage to take our leave. But not until 9 o’clock. And not until after a few – too few – tapas.
Make it happen
Where: The Wife of Bath, 4 Upper Bridge Street, Wye, Kent
Find out more: To visit the website, click here