Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: modern food at an old-fashioned pub and hidden red gems

An old-fashioned Kent boozer serving up stunningly modern food? Tom is in heaven…

There’s much to love about The Bridge Arms, a place that mixes old-fashioned boozer with resolutely modern restaurant. So while the pub is all ancient beams, parquet floors and framed photos of days long past, the dining room – high-ceilinged and flooded with light – is daubed in discreet Dijon yellow. Staff are young, bright and brimming with delight, while the menu is every bit as thrilling as a new Jack Reacher.

Lobster with Isle of Wight tomatoes is ‘immaculately cooked’

All this doesn’t come as a complete surprise. It’s the second opening from Daniel and Natasha Smith, the team behind The Fordwich Arms a few miles down the road. While my friend Zeren gets stuck into a wine list filled with decently priced lovelies, I dive deep into the menu that’s the very essence of midsummer England. There are grilled potato flatbreads with blobs of fresh ricotta, clean and lactic, plus soft, gentle confit garlic with a scattering of mint and flowers. Lobster, immaculately cooked, comes with a subtly curried shellfish sauce, surrounded by curls of courgettes and carefully dressed Isle of Wight tomatoes.

Then, more tomatoes, this time hugging a cool, creamy ball of burrata, mixed with tart peach, shaved and cubed, and a few fronds of dill. There’s a wonderful acidity to the dish, the sort of understated precision that wears its art lightly. Just like crab tart, where the flakiest of pastry struggles to contain a brownmeat hollandaise with exactly the right amount of grunt. A spoonful of caviar adds depth, cubes of apple and cucumber lithe bite. A scallop is almost Japanese in its purity; a little lemon and garlic, and lots of butter, yet never rich or heavy. As with everything, there’s an innate culinary intelligence, and elegant technique too.

And that’s just the starters. We share a Josper-cooked, monolithic monkfish tail, a piece of fish so pearlescent, luscious and succulently beautiful that the table turns temporarily silent. Dipped into Bearnaise sauce, it’s every bit as mightily meaty as the rack of Blackface lamb, and a lozenge of slow-cooked breast, that we move on to next. Both bleat with ovine vigour.

Oh, then a roast leg of suckling pig, with gleaming crisp skin and tenderly seductive flesh, that we order, well, just because it’s there, and we adore this place, and it’s past three on a hot summer’s afternoon. And quite frankly, it would be rather rude not to.

About £45 a head. The Bridge Arms, 53 High Street, Bridge, Canterbury; bridgearms.co.uk

DRINKS: Olly’s hidden red gems

Sometimes hidden gems are actually hiding in plain sight. For example, I’d never heard ‘My Little Town’ sung by Simon and Garfunkel until this year. Wine’s the same – Criolla is a grape in Argentina that’s widely planted and yet little known, capable of producing light reds to make your summer sing, Shiraz in Chile isn’t as famous as it should be and New Zealand Pinot Noir is some of the best in the world…

WINE OF THE WEEK: FLINT VINEYARD PINOT NOIR PRECOCE 2020 (12%), £23.99,
flintvineyard.com. The best English red I’ve tasted this year. Light, ethereal and magical.

BUENAS VIDES ARGENTINIAN CRIOLLA (13.5%), £5.99, Aldi. A light red that is lovely
when lightly chilled – and gives top value, too.

FINEST VALLE DEL LIMARI SHIRAZ 2019 (14%), £8, Tesco. Blackcurrant pastilles! Gorgeous, silky, fruity and rich. Move over, Malbec.

ESPRIT DES TROIS PIERRES COSTIERES DE NIMES 2020 (14.5%), £8.99, Waitrose.
Lavender and spice, this fragrant red blend is one to decant and delight in.

DOG POINT MARLBOROUGH PINOT NOIR 2018 (13%), £25, thewinesociety.com. World-beating Pinot – fine wine that’s totally worth splashing out on. Incredible quality.