Ticking a lot of boxes - The Bakehouse at 124, Tonbridge
The deadline to nominate for the Kent Life & Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards is looming - 7 August. So far I've covered the categories 'Newcomer of the Year' and 'Café of the Year' as Tonbridge has plenty of potential nominees for these categories.
On or around Tonbridge High Street we have some lovely independent shops doing their bit to promote food & drink too. 'Gorgeous George' sells wines & spirits and would be eligible for 'Independent Food or Drink Retailer of the Year', as would Ian Chatfield The Butchers, a reliable & very friendly source of good quality meat with its accompanying deli counter. Next year, we may be nominating Favola, the new artisan ice cream parlour.
This week I'd like to highlight a venue that is eligible for both 'Independent Food or Drink Retailer' and 'Food Producer', as well as 'Café of the Year' & the newcomer award - quite a feat: The Bakehouse at 124.
The owner, Clare, & her team would love to win an award from Kent Life & Kent on Sunday, “Kent Life covers the whole county…to win an award is amazing customer feedback.”
The story behind The Bakehouse is about a passion for food and in particular food education: Clare is allergic to many foods and she found it frustrating when staff didn't know the origins or the ingredients of the food they were serving. Educating others about food was important to Clare but she decided to focus on herself first, training as an artisan baker.
124 High Street, a bakery in the first half of the 1900s, is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge & listed. Its size lends itself well to the café and open kitchens. Clare has lovingly restored it, maintaining the quirks of a building with history. Education comes in the shape of a 'viewing bench' for anyone who wants to watch the bakers kneading away; a little bit of calm is available on sofas upstairs; and tranquility can be found with a view of the castle outside in the walled garden.
So what is 'artisan' bakery, and what makes it different from what I might try at home after watching 'The Great British Bake Off'?
"Artisan means that you are making a product from start to finish, using the best ingredients and making it in its simplest form, be it ice cream, chocolate, bread etc....," says Clare, "At The Bakehouse we use flour, water & salt, we don't even use yeast in most of our breads as we use sour dough."
Clare's training means that she understands the science behind the bake and also the results achieved by using different flours. Artisan is different to 'craft' bakery and, of course, a world away from the sliced loaf you buy at the supermarket.
The Bakehouse is a café offering a wide variety of artisan baked goods to suit appetites from breakfast to afternoon tea & cake, & it sells its on-site baked loaves too - there's a 'loaf timetable' so that customers know when their favourites are available.
We discussed that bread often gets a bad press, people thinking that bread doesn't 'agree' with them but, Clare explains that she has converted quite a few customers.
I have tried in the past to make bread by hand, inspired by Mr Hollywood and the GBBO contestants but have failed miserably. I like to know the origins of my food and to be able to see it being made in front of my very eyes, certainly ticks that box. Clare has converted me.
If you'd like to nominate The Bakehouse or anywhere else in Kent (preferably Tonbridge!), you can do so here.