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Review: The Night Circus, secret location near Maidstone

By Nikki White

OK, let’s get this out of the way from the start.

Those who know me know I hate the phrase “pop-up”. Somehow, it livened up the word “temporary”. You can’t get away from it, a bit like the word “hub”. When did everything become a hub?

Anyway, back to pop-ups. I’ve tried to avoid them but when an invite landed in my inbox for the Night Circus pop-up restaurant, I couldn’t resist. Circus and restaurant are two words I do love.

The Night Circus was there for just two nights. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com
The Night Circus was there for just two nights. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com

The secrecy of its back story intrigued me so much, I was happy to stand in the middle of a farm on a freezing Friday night.

The idea is the brainchild of Nicci Gurr, the owner of Home Gurr’Own. After working with Albert Roux in London, she and her family moved to Cranbrook where they run a smallholding. Many of the ingredients at her events come from their home, and if they don’t have it, they’ll find somebody nearby who can help. And that goes for many of the drinks served too.

Previous pop-ups have sold out quickly, and this year’s was no exception.

For just two nights, for a select number of people, Nicci served up some of the finest Kent ingredients, with a healthy helping of stunning entertainment.

This year’s theme was inspired by a line from The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern: “No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

And so it was.

We arrived at a farm near Sutton Valence, where we walked along a lantern-lit pathway to a small camp of tipis.

Fire eaters performed. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com
Fire eaters performed. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com

Firepits blazed to keep guests warm, helped along with a welcoming cocktail of Earl Grey gin and tonic or coffee vodka martini from the tipi bar while we watched fire eaters perform.

Extra wraps were a thoughtful touch for those of us who can’t go out until March without a thermal vest and two pairs of socks.

From there it was into the main tipis where the feast of food began.

It’s a set menu, but you know what it is before you buy your ticket so you’ll know if it’s to your taste or not.

If you’re a foodie, and particularly a fan of Kent ingredients, the five-course menu was a real treat.

The starter set a high benchmark - scotched quails eggs, with chargrilled cauliflower, beetroot and horseradish, with a red pepper coulis. It was served with black olive sourdough bread which had been ceremoniously paraded in among clouds of dry ice. I could have eaten several plates of that, but there was plenty more to keep room for.

The food was a Kent feast. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com
The food was a Kent feast. Photo: www.jacksonandcophotography.com

Next up was a homemade lime and fresh mint sorbet. This was another winner for me - it was sharp, refreshing and if I’d only been served those two courses, I’d have been happy. That sorbet needs selling in local shops.

The main event was smoked fillet of lamb with Jerusalem artichoke, a leek pearl barley risotto, pickled vegetables and crispy kale.

I wasn’t a fan of the smoking - although my hubby loved it - but I could appreciate how tender the meat was and the hours of work that had gone into the dish. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the star of the menu for me.

The vegetarian option was a trio of dhal, made with split pea, red lentils, and chickpeas served with chargrilled vegetable rice.

The winner for me was the dessert. Rhubarb and custard, always a marriage made in heaven, but this was a delectable interpretation accompanied with a crème brûlée, and biscuit crumble top. Delicate, subtle, creamy with that pang of fruit.

We probably shouldn’t have fitted any more in, but then the tea and coffee arrived, suitably served in a giant cafetiere, a family-sized teapot and an old-fashioned bottle of milk along with delicious chocolate petit fours with sprinklings of peppermint rock.

All while we were savouring every mouthful, aerial performers gracefully swept from one move to another on large hoops suspended from the apex of each tipi.

Aerial performers entertained throughout the evening. Photo credit www.jacksonandcophotography.com
Aerial performers entertained throughout the evening. Photo credit www.jacksonandcophotography.com

It was difficult to know where to look, from the spectacle and beauty of the food on the plates in front of us to the trio of performers who made hanging from a ceiling look so easy.

The whole evening was magical. From the hush-hush of the exact location to the intimacy of the numbers, you felt as though you were part of a secret club, lucky enough to have got your hands on a golden ticket, and knowing that even if you shared it, nobody else could enjoy it because it would soon disappear into the starlit night.

From the moment we arrived, with the fire pits blazing, it felt different in a really good way.

The staff were friendly and attentive, ensuring we were well fed, watered and entertained, even apologising for a delay on one our courses which I hadn’t noticed because I was enjoying the entertainment so much.

It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening, helped by the fact we were on a table of other couples who we’d never met before but got on well with.

Usually, you’d be placed with just the people you’ve booked with, and there were several couples enjoying an evening just as a two.

But my advice is to take friends. Share the secret, and experience the magic.

Home Gurr’Own’s pop-up restaurant returns next year. Tickets this year cost £54. You can sign up for email alerts at www.homegurrown.co.uk

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