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Sunday 11th August 2019

Review: Our best bottles by the glass

With the recent rising trend of ‘destination’ pubs and restaurants – places where the food and service is so good that you’ll go out of your way to make the trip – there’s one problem: If you don’t want to double your evening’s spend with a two-way taxi fare, you invariably have to drive. Which is all well and good, except that the drink is just as much a part of the dining experience as the dishes.

Luckily for me, The Tanner Brothers’ Kentish Hare in Bidborough has found a solution in the form of Coravin. If you’ve never heard of it, this nifty device will change the way you eat out; simply put, it’s a corkscrew that uses a needle to pierce, rather than remove, the cork, enabling waiters and sommeliers to pour any amount of any wine, preserving the rest of the bottle for future use.

For venues like The Kentish Hare, this means they can not only serve small, safe measurements for designated drivers who still want to enjoy a cheeky tipple, but do so with their finest, top-quality vintages. By using the needle-led opener to puncture the cork, the remainder of the pricier plonk never gets ruined by oxidation, so can be popped back in the cooler or cabinet for another day.

This is music to my ears when I take my seat in the award-winning venue’s beautiful garden, where GM Paul explains the benefits of the Coravin system. Giving drinkers a chance to sample a wider range of snazzier options than they could perhaps otherwise afford, it also offers the freedom to try what you want, when you want, without sticking to one red, white or rosé – in short, everybody wins.

Already sold, I dive right in, taking Paul’s recommendation of Domaine René Monnier, Le Limozin, Meursault 2017, to accompany my crispy tiger prawn taco with avocado, salsa, sour cream and jalapeño. Its full, opulent flavour is staggeringly good, and just the exotic flair I need in my glass to accompany the colourful, vibrant taco, which goes down equally well with every delicious bite.

Next up, Paul presents his Matias Riccitelli ‘Old Vines From Patagonia’, Rio Negro, Merlot 2016. Deeply textured, complex and intense, this red’s lovely herbal aromatics of lavender and rosemary are perfectly complemented by wild dark fruits and hints of chocolate, making it a no-brainer for my main choice of 45-day-aged native rump cap with ox cheek and sauce reform.

I can clearly see the upside of this sophisticated approach to hospitality: I’m well-fed, watered, and, despite having already had two highly sought-after vinos that I usually never would have dreamed of ordering, still way off being anywhere near tipsy. Tonight, my intoxication stems not from the booze, but the sheer unadulterated delight of immersing in great food, wine, company and taste.

In a turnout for the books, Paul’s not letting me get back behind the wheel without tasting his Tenuta Castelgiocondo, Frescobaldi, Brunello di Montalcino 2014. A dense, warm, full-flavoured and complex Brunello, its leather and earthy, savoury notes are combined with violets and toasted coffee for the ultimate taste sensation. Much like my rump cap, it’s utterly out of this world.

But what’s a good meal without dessert? For my ‘final fling’, as the Tanners like to call it, there’s no contest: The chocolate fondant tart and malt ice cream is every bit as rich, indulgent and decadent as it sounds, and exceeds even my own sweet tooth’s expectations.

Thoroughly done in – in the best possible way – I now relish in the drive home, having ticked some outstanding wines off my bucket list, but not broken the bank on unnecessary transport, or overdone it by consuming an entire bottle. It really has been the best of both worlds here, and a true testament to ‘destination’ dining as a concept that’s open to all, without costing the earth.