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Kent locals Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn have lived on the Hush Heath Estate just outside the pretty village of Staplehurst for over 35 years and have a huge passion for local produce and wines - it was on the Estate that they founded their family business Balfour Winery, one of the original wine producers in the county. Here we ask Richard and Leslie to give their insiders' guide to the best food and drink spots in Kent, plus their favourite Kentish wines.
Tucked away just outside Staplehurst is Frankie's Farm Shop and Cafe, owned and operated by Frankie Franke and her family. Not only does the cafe serve great coffee and sandwiches - as well as pancakes for breakfast - the atmosphere is wonderful. Frankie and her entire team run it with such passion. Her husband Marcel has a fantastic nursery next door where he grows his own seasonal vegetables, herbs and plants, including poinsettias, geraniums and cyclamens, which are also for sale at the farm shop.
Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn, co-founders of Balfour, plus our Inn Curator David Hancock at Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath Estate
Rocksalt in Folkestone has stunning sea views and dishes up the freshest seasonal seafood from the Southeast Coast plus free range local meats - you might find roasted monkfish with seaweed creamed potato or Romney Marsh rump of lamb with broad beans and basil on the menu. Another favourite is The Small Holding in Kilndown close to Scotney Castle which is owned by the National Trust. Head chef Will Devlin's innovative 10-course daily changing dinner menu celebrates the best of Kentish ingredients, most of which are grown on his farm.
The new food hall at Lockmeadow in Maidstone which is filled with globally inspired street food. It has been on our doorstep for about two years and we had no idea it was there. The food kiosks are run by local independent businesses and the chefs produce interesting flavour-filled plates - like Caribbean goat curry and Mexican tequila marinated prawn tacos - plus there are fantastic vegetarian and vegan options. We were blown away and it has now become our favourite place to go each week.
The Great House just outside Hawkhurst has brilliant doorstep walks. One route takes you through peaceful farmland to Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest which is home to over 12,000 trees and winding woodland trails. Another is The Tickled Trout in West Farleigh where a variety of circular walks from nearby Teston Bridge Country Park take you along the serene River Medway. Look out for Kettle Bridge, otherwise known as Barming Bridge, which dates back to the 1700s, and for Barham Court, a pearl-white Grade II listed manor, originally owned by Reginald Fitz Urse in 1168. We also love going for a walk around Sissinghurst Castle Garden, a world-renowned National Trust treasure designed by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, plus at some of the amazing castles around Kent like Leeds, Scotney and Bodiam. The estate footpaths through Scotney Castle's beautiful surrounding parkland and woodland are perfect for walking the dogs.
Scotney Castle, Lamberhurst
Each week, Leslie goes to Hartley Coffee House & Farm Shop near Cranbrook. It has a fishmonger, a butchery selling meat from nearby farms, an impressive deli counter offering a good selection of local cheeses like Curd and Cure's award-winning cheddar, plus excellent bread and pastries, locally grown in-season fruit and vegetables, and a popular cafe with views over orchards. It is expensive, but if you're seeking high quality, great tasting produce, it's the place to go. As for drinks, the Wine Store at Macknades Food Hall in Faversham offers a wonderful selection of unique and interesting wines, including the largest range of Kentish wines in the county.
Chapman's in Borough Green is brilliant for the freshest seafood like Rye Bay plaice and Dover sole. Moons Green Charcuterie from Owley Farm in Wittersham produces over 20 different varieties of saucisson which are filled with brilliant British ingredients - they invented the Beer Stick sausage which we feature on our sharing platters at the winery. Kingcott Dairy in Staplehurst are creators of Kentish Blue and Kingcott Blue cheeses, and Block and Cleaver in Swanley Village, owned and managed by Glenn Preston, is a fabulous bespoke butchery.
Kent is full of excellent lesser-known pubs, such as The Vineyard in Lamberhurst or The Fordwich Arms near Canterbury. I hate to mention one of Balfour's pubs, but I have to say, our favourite is The Windmill in Hollingbourne - a quaint Tudor village sitting below the North Downs and close to Leeds Castle. We used to go here even before we owned it. The West Indian head chef Norbert Nelson creates exceptional seasonal dishes. We love his Sunday roasts, plus he always cooks a special of the day - last time we went, the special was a tagliatelle lobster dish which was phenomenal.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Cranbrook
Chapel Down, Biddenden, Gusborne and Simpson to name a few. Chapel Down, the biggest winery in Kent, has a great selection of still and sparkling varieties - Kit's Coty, their premium collection, is excellent, and I think the Kit's Coty vineyard just outside Aylesford is one of the best in the country. At their Tenterden vineyard, Chapel Down has a fantastic restaurant called The Swan where you can tuck into dishes like seaweed pastrami salmon and leek cannelloni with wild mushrooms. Biddenden Vineyard, owned and managed by the Barnes family for three generations, not only produces interesting wines with bold flavours like honey, lychee and elderflower, but also farm-pressed juices and ciders from a variety of Kent-grown apples and pears. Their vineyard is smaller than some of the others, but it has a lovely family feel. What is so wonderful about Kentish producers is that we all have our own unique personalities and a lot of respect for each other, and we're friends.
Our local and seasonal self-build sharing platters are always popular. We offer a variety of meat, cheese and vegetarian options, and all our ingredients are sourced within Kent - like Canterbury-made Bowyers Brie and beef bresaola from Moons Green Charcuterie in Wittersham. We also organise wine and dine experiences from Thursday to Sunday in our private tasting room overlooking the vines, and on Saturday evenings, we have a four-course candlelit dinner and wine pairing - you might find chicken and tarragon roulade to seared swordfish steak and wild garlic pesto tagliatelle on the menu. It's a truly special experience. The one thing we are currently adding to our menus is more imaginative vegetarian and vegan dishes. Leslie and other family members are veggie and so this is important to us, especially because we find a lot of restaurants around Kent lack exciting plant-based options.
A wine and dine offering at Balfour Winery