It’s Saturday morning of the bank holiday weekend, grab yourself a cuppa & have a quick read about the Old Fire Station: I interviewed Richard & Sam earlier in the month…
“Let’s have some fun with it…” – that was the culmination of a conversation between two dads at the school gate, after one of them had just bought The Old Fire Station in Tonbridge & the other suggested hosting pop-up restaurants there. Richard Collins, who owns the building (& the insurance business it accommodates upstairs), didn’t know what pop-ups were; he took a leap of faith with Sam Goode and his book of culinary contacts, to create this quirky, individual & versatile venue.
Richard & Sam were going to have fun with it for three months but six months later, Tonbridge Old Fire Station (TOFS) is going from strength to strength. So far the restraunpreneurs have brought Tonbridge a really diverse range of evenings, a beer café, celebrity chefs, poetry nights & a vegan & vegetarian night, to name a few. TOFS is a genuine destination for out-of-towners, some even venturing from London to enjoy celeb chefs’ cooking – quite an achievement.
“The guys all cook out the front, they bring everything in, their own induction hobs, ovens … it’s like one big chef’s table,” Sam tells me. It must be a very interactive experience I reply and he goes on to tell me about Masterchef 2013 finalist Adam Handling’s dry ice for his desserts “going a bit over the top”.
The venue is probably most recognised for the cuisine it brings to Tonbridge but they have hosted Fuggles beer café, a poetry night & temporary art galleries. And what you may not know is that The Old Fire Station is hired out for sales meetings, residents’ meetings & the like at other times – it’s a venue that never sleeps.
The two dads have not only created a new drinking establishment but they’ve also created their own branded pale ale, & cider with the help of local cider producer, Phil Turner. I didn’t think I was a cider drinker after sampling a fair amount of alcoholic fizzy apple juice in my youth but after I was generously gifted some*, I felt I couldn’t refuse a try. I have to admit that the medium dry was a revelation (elderflower would be second favourite & medium third…if you’re interested!) *under no obligation to be nice about it!
TOFS is a commercial enterprise for sure, but Richard & Sam like to contribute to the community too: in May, they’re hosting ‘Empty Bowls’, a charity evening in aid of The Bridge Trust. The Bridge Trust helps the homeless and so TOFS will be hosting a soup kitchen, of sorts – diners can enjoy soup from three great chefs who are giving their skills & time for free, & come away with a handmade bowl created by a local potter – The Bridge Trust receives all the profits from the evening.
This may seem like a very grand gesture but for several months now, Richard & Sam have been working alongside the local council and other local businesses to ensure Tonbridge continues on its upward trend; they have good relationships with other eating places in the town (big fans of Havet) and support local ventures including May’s Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival, organised by Tonbridge Town Team.
So what does the future hold? “We don’t want something on every weekend…it’s not as fresh if we do that,” explains Richard. Fear not, however, the pop-up nature of the venue is due to continue for the rest of the year at least, & Richard & Sam hope to make the beer & pizza ‘open house’ nights a more regular occurrence; something to keep us entertained whilst our anticipation builds for the big foodie players that are booked in (Justin Brown & Ben Spalding in May & June). And for diners who like the feeling of exclusivity, or want to enjoy an intimate meal with friends, they are in the midst of creating a private dining room upstairs which will seat between ten & twelve.
Not every town, in fact, not many towns have a venue that can offer such a variety of events. The Old Fire Station is helping Tonbridge to gain its own identity, give it a bit of oomph, and not be the poor relation to RTW & Sevenoaks anymore. And, from what I heard, there is definitely more fun to be had there…
Always best to check the Old Fire Station Facebook page until the new website launches (soon):
There are still tickets for the Empty Bowls nights (11th & 12th May) & chef Justin Brown’s 2 night residency but book quickly as they’re selling fast. I will be attending both nights so look out for reviews on those.
The Cider Festival is the weekend of 20th May – cider will be accompanied by pizza made in their very own pizza oven.