Food & Drink

Publish date

26 September 2023

A mouth-watering evening at Birchwood for the Food & Drink Networking Club

The Food & Drink Networking Club, co-hosted by Thomson Snell & Passmore, The TN Card and Sankey’s, met again on 25 September. This time, we gathered at Will and Matt Devlin’s fabulous restaurant, Birchwood.

With the bubbles flowing and canapés circulating, Thomson Snell & Passmore’s Alisa Sweeney formally welcomed guests, explaining that the Club’s purpose is to provide a space for local businesses in the food and drink sector to network, share expertise and to showcase the fantastic fayre produced by suppliers across Kent and Sussex.

Jess Gibson, founder of The TN Card, followed Alisa’s introduction by speaking about the diversity of the Club’s guests including producers, retailers and hospitality businesses, and the invaluable opportunities that come from that diversity of businesses coming together under one roof. The TN Card is an initiative that aims to address at least some of the challenges facing the high street, by connecting shoppers with the plethora of businesses on their doorstep and encouraging a loyal and local customer base through the use of incentives and TN Card-holder exclusive events.

Then the founder of Birchwood, Will Devlin, said a few words about Birchwood and its sister restaurant the Small Holding. Their menus aim to source locally wherever possible, with many ingredients at Birchwood being ‘0 mile’, coming from the woods at Flimwell Park itself. Will spoke of his passion for the Flimwell Park development which is a mixed-use centre focussing on sustainability and harmoniously blending business, leisure, residential and tourist accommodation in one place.

The Club then heard from two local businesses: Oenone Thomas’ craft chocolate business, ‘Cocoa Retreat’, and Claudia Martans’ specialist wine merchant, Vinify.

Vinify is an online store established in 2019 focussing on importing prize winning, organic and sustainably produced wines from Portugal. Claudia’s passion for Portuguese wine started when she lived in Jersey where her and her husband initially started importing wines. She explained that Portugal has 250 native varieties of grapes, meaning that Portuguese winemakers have an extraordinary range of flavours to choose from when producing their wines. All of Vinify’s Portuguese wines are blends and made with only native grapes, meaning there is a wine to suit every palette. Claudia’s aim is to introduce England to the distinctive and developed flavours of the fantastic, but lesser-known wines that Portugal has to offer. And if that isn’t enough, Claudia has recently started importing select Italian wines from producers who share Vinify’s values of sustainable and ethical production, so you really are guaranteed to find something to suit!

We then heard from Cocoa Retreat, a craft chocolate producer based in Penshurst. Oenone spoke of her longstanding passion for chocolate, stemming back to cherished memories of her grandmother. Oenone’s mission is to re-balance the chocolate industry, and make the relationship between cocoa growers and chocolate makers one of an equal partnership. Cocoa Retreat focuses on single-estate, single-community chocolate which showcases the flavour of the particular farm from which the cocoa beans are sourced. Oenone is also passionate about combining chocolate with flavours, sourcing local ingredients such as honey from bees kept by her neighbour and harvesting the unique flavours of the Kentish cobnut. Oenone sells her chocolate at Penshurst Farmers’ Market on the first Saturday of every month as well as on her own website.

If you work within the food and drink industry and would like to come along next time then please email – all are welcome!

Heathervale House reception

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