Lying in the rolling hills of the Weald of Kent and in the Garden of England, Tunbridge Wells is a popular place for foodies to visit, buy great local produce and enjoy fine dining up to Michelin star standards. So, whether you live in the town and fancy a meal out or discovering where to get the best fresh producer, or you are visiting friends and family for the weekend, how would you eat your way across the town and area over 36-hours?

Castle Street, Royal Tunbridge Wells
Photo: Castle Street, off the High Street in Royal Tunbridge Wells by D Hodgkinson

Day 1

Waking up in one of Tunbridge Wells' many hotels or B&Bs and heading downstairs for breakfast is always a pleasure.

If you are staying at Hotel du Vin, Royal Wells Hotel, Spa Hotel or maybe One Warwick Park then perhaps you’ll have a light breakfast before a gentle walk and orientation.

Then, at around 11am it’s brunch time so head for a local, independent café. There’s plenty of choice along the High Street, Pantiles and Camden Road areas and dotted elsewhere about town.

Take your pick from Fine Grind, with its carefully chosen coffee beans with a croissant or muffin, or head to Java Bean for a cooked breakfast, perhaps scrambled eggs on a muffin. To eat and drink from vintage chinaware head to Juliet’s or Scallywags, where delicious fruit cakes and chocolate brownies are popular.

For lunchtime, put together a picnic from a local farmers’ market. Local producers bring bread (sourdough or rye), cheese (Kentish Blue) or a hand made scotch egg packed with flavour you won’t find in those mass produced packets smothered in plastic wrapping.

Pork Pies at the Farmers' Market, Tunbridge Wells
Photo: Pork Pies at the Farmers' Market, Tunbridge Wells

At the Tunbridge Wells (Town Hall) Farmers’ market, held on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, you’ll find these and perhaps alcohol flavoured ice creams or a huge range of bottled beer brewed in and around Kent and Sussex. On the 1st and 3rd Saturdays you could enjoy the Pantiles Farmers’ Market with stalls selling a range of great food including fish, olives and even home made dog biscuits for a take home treat.

The town has several specialist food shops with continental cheeses and deli foods from Fromage & French, or Arte Bianca for Italian-deli food. Both are found on the High Street.

Out of town farm shops are found in Langton Green; Birchden near Groombridge (open during asparagus season) and Fullers on the Eridge Road, which is known for its well-kept meats.

For dinner, fine dining is not hard to find cross the region. You’ll discover Thackerays close to the centre of Tunbridge Wells serving what the acerbic food critic Giles Coren of The Times newspaper describes as having, “stunning interiors and superlative food, wine and service that help create the magical and memorable dining experience”. Typical dishes might involve poached skate wing; confit of Gressingham duck and for desserts, a custard tart flavoured with nutmeg, apricot and thyme caramel syrup. Delicious!

Saved by local residents Lord and Lady Mills of Olympic Committee fame and run by the brothers Chris and James Tanner, the Kentish Hare in Bidborough village, just north of Tunbridge Wells is a popular foodie destination. It’s a smart, gastro-pub decorated with the hare very much in mind with quirky wallpaper and an open kitchen.

Opened in May 2014, it quickly found a place in the Michelin Good Pub Guide and is now on the itinerary of visitors and locals alike. The ‘Hare’ has a great alfresco dining area and smart casual dining area with solid, comfortable wooden table and chairs where you’ll enjoy Main Event dishes such as Roasted fillet hake with shellfish bisque, broccoli and broccoli puree, while for a sweet Final Fling you’ll be choosing between Raspberry soufflé neatly paired with chocolate sorbet and Kentish Hare salted caramel brownie with milk sorbet.

For a final flourish before turning to sleep, perhaps a late night cocktail in The Town House on Calverley Road, or a gin-based cocktail at the Chapel Place bar, on the eponymous street.  

Day 2

So, it’s your second day staying in Tunbridge Wells, or maybe in a nearby village. The American idea of brunch has been embraced here and there are plenty of places to enjoy a late morning fragrant cup of Earl Grey tea; or a strong, reviving cup of builder’s tea to drink alongside eggs benedict or a bacon sandwich, with a slice of meltingly ripe avocado.

Cranbrook Cafes by David Hodgkinson
Cranbrook Cafés by David Hodgkinson

In the picturesque village of Cranbrook, some 15 miles west of Tunbridge Wells, you’ll find the delightfully welcoming pâtisserie café, Cocolicious. Run by Lucinda, it’s worth making a beeline for while visiting the area and it’s where you’ll find “delicious food made with skill and care, using the tastiest ingredients and served with love and aplomb”. Brunch is very popular, and no doubt you’ll end up sharing each others’ dishes of Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or Smoked salmon bagels. Cocolicious indeed!

Back in town, inspired by Australia’s lively coffee culture, Black Dog on Camden Road offers a calm atmosphere to read the Sunday papers, a strong coffee and a well considered Sunday brunch menu featuring dishes such as a Breakfast Stack (bacon, avocado, roasted tomato and baby spinach with feta) priced at £4.95 and smoked haddock and salmon fishcakes at £7.25 per serving.

For an Italian take on brunch try Arte Bianca on the High Street or Gusta on Camden Road where a love of food and coffee is chattily shared with fellow customers and diners.

For lunch, or perhaps even dinner, there are plenty of national and regional chain restaurants to visit with Jamie’s and Carluccio’s two of the more unusual. Bill’s Restaurant chain first opened in nearby Lewes, and still holds onto a local feel, while Basil’s, (they face each at Fiveways in the centre of town) tempts diners with bowls brimming with salads and couscous, and plates of indulgent cream cakes.

For quirky décor & eclectic music, consider the Pantiles-based Mexico-inspired Zapatas restaurant where cuisine and decor comes with a heavy emphasis on Mexican, Andalusian and Latin culture. Sticking with the Latin theme, Pulpito offers tapas from the classic Calamares à la Romana (battered squid rings) to the more unusual Alcaparrones (pickled caper berries)! Pulpito is located on the buzzing Camden Road.

There’s no shortage of great food and drink in Tunbridge Wells, and places to enjoy a great meal with friends and family. Welcome to our foodie town.

Written by Bruce McMichael, Tunbridge Wells (Town Hall) Farmers’ Market (email: farmersmarket@tunbridgewells.gov.uk)

Let us know your favourite foodie finds when you visited Tunbridge Wells.

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