The rain stopped and the clouds parted for the Food and Drink Networking Club’s second anniversary event on 11 June 2019 at The Small Holding, Kilndown. The sun shone on the restaurant’s eponymous small holding from which award-winning chef Will Devlin sources as many as possible of his menus’ ingredients - herbs, fruit and veg as well as rearing their own chickens and pigs, and guests were invited to wander round and explore. The plot is visible from the restaurant and you really do feel a sense of ‘from farm to fork’ – these days when provenance is an important factor for diners you can’t beat it!
There were plenty of new faces at the event as well as familiar ones too, tucking into the delicious cheese, charcuterie, homemade bread and accroutrements provided by The Small Holding as well as drinks from our other tasting tables: beer from nearby Cellar Head Brewery was being served from behind the bar and sparkling wine and rose from Downsview Vineyard which is based in Jarvis Brook, East Sussex was on offer too.
After a thank you to everyone for coming and a nod to this event being the Club’s second birthday, I passed over to Will from The Small Holding to say a few words. Despite both chef and restaurant winning awards (The Small Holding won the award for Kent Restaurant of the Year 2019 sponsored by Thomson Snell & Passmore at the Taste of Kent Awards), Will remains humble about his achievements, his passion for his trade clear to those of us in the room … and if you’ve dined there, evident in every dish. As his brother and business partner, Matt, explained later, they don’t do it for the accolades but simply because they love it!
Both Cellar Head and Downsview took to the floor with very similar stories of how their drinks and businesses came about – people who had a brainwave and decided to pursue it!
Cellar Head is based very near to The Small Holding at Pillory Corner, Flimwell where their tap room is popular with visitors, passers-by and walkers alike. Chris McKenzie and his wife Julia started Cellar Head two years ago and have recently moved to a bigger premises to expand their operation. To date, they have created 4,012 casks of beer and over 35,000 bottles, driven in part, they believe, by consumers increasingly moving away from traditional retailers and looking to independents for their food and drink.
All three businesses talked less of competition with their peers and more of collaboration which is something that we celebrate and encourage at the Food and Drink Networking Club. Will works with FDNC co-founder Matthew Sankey and Cellar Head beers were the first beers he stocked whilst, Chris and Julia serve Downsview Vineyard sparkling wines in their tap room. Cathy Brown from the vineyard talked to us about how it started out as a hobby with a few vines! Today, they operate commercially although production remains very hands-on: Amy Baigent, wine expert from The Beer Seller in Tonbridge who attended the event, was amazed that the daily turning of the sparkling wine bottles one eighth, otherwise known as riddling, is still performed manually – this could be hundreds of bottles a day!
Meeting new people was then in full swing. One of the great aspects of the club is that members come from across the food and drink industry so you never know with whom you’re going to chat next! It was great to see Alex Thurman of blog, Feed the Brood who came along with an FDNC regular, Jo Banks of Alive with Flavour, and Freddie Southwell of Wild Seasoning Kitchen attended, telling us about his great location at The Hop Shop and Asian inspired supper clubs. Longtooth Gin founder, Natalie Arnold, talked about the resurrection of this famous gin recipe and how the company gives 10% of its profits to the World Wildlife Fund in support of wild tigers, the gin bottle’s logo whilst I was fascinated to hear from the owners of Silverhill Elderflower farm about the boom in this flower and berry – I have a very poorly elderflower tree in my garden so was asking for gardening tips too!
As the evening came to a close, people took advantage of the longer June evening (and it wasn’t raining!) to wander round the plot or chat to guests on the decking.
The next Club is already in the planning at another great location. If you’re interested in coming along, please contact Cara Seal to request more information. We hope to see you there!
The founding members of The Food & Drink Networking Club are:
Alisa Sweeney of Thomson Snell & Passmore.
Caroline Kings, writer and food blogger, Eat Around Tonbridge – a blog all about encouraging people to support local independent food and drink businesses on and around Tonbridge High Street.
Matthew Sankey, Sankey’s restaurants and fishmongers, Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge – Sankey’s restaurants and fishmongers are well-known throughout the local area for providing top quality fish and sea food to diners from Tunbridge Wells and beyond.