Those familiar with Dan and Natasha Smith’s work at The Fordwich Arms in Kent may find themselves initially blindsided when first visiting The Bridge Arms – the pair’s second venture, which launched last summer. For while The Fordwich Arms treads a delicate line between gastropub and restaurant, The Bridge is more in keeping with the feel of a proper local boozer; albeit one that puts seasonality and provenance at the forefront of the menu.
Dan and Natasha were both just 25 when, in 2017, they upped sticks and left London to live in its smallest town, Fordwich, and take over the running of The Fordwich Arms pub. Dan had previously spent five years working at The Clove Club in Shoreditch, being an integral part of the team that earned the restaurant its first Michelin star; Natasha had most recently been one of the head pastry chefs for luxury catering and events company Rocket, having also worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in both London and Kent.
For Dan, who has previously cited Stephen Harris’s beloved gastropub The Sportsman – located less than 15 miles up the road from Fordwich – as an inspiration, taking over The Fordwich Arms was an opportunity to bring together proper old school hospitality and a more modern and forward-looking approach to pub restaurant cooking. Within six months it secured a place on the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards top 100 list, and before their first year was out the couple’s cooking had earned it a Michelin star.
Compared to The Fordwich Arms, The Bridge Arms is a markedly more relaxed proposition. Rather than a tasting menu, there is just a daily à la carte option with a focus on grilled meats and fish, much of it cooked using a Josper oven.
“The idea for the menu at Bridge is relaxed, family-style eating,” explains Natasha. “There’s elements and influence from what we do at Fordwich naturally because it’s our style of food, but the dishes are made for sharing. It’s the sort of place we really want to eat on our day off.”
While the food offer may be different, there’s a certain symmetry to how The Fordwich Arms and The Bridge Arms have been received. Both have been applauded by critics, with Tom Parker Bowles describing The Bridge as “an old-fashioned Kent boozer serving up stunningly modern food”. And they’ve also both caught the eye of a certain red book. Dan and Natasha’s idea may have been for The Bridge Arms to remain a casual gastropub but, in a turn that surely cements the pair’s reputation as power publicans, The Bridge Arms was awarded a Michelin star of its own earlier this year. It’s place on this year’s Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards top 100 was probably inevitable.
“They say one star is entirely about the food and I fully believe that,” says Dan, reflecting on The Bridge’s accolades. “It wasn’t our intention to get a star at The Bridge, but when you put that effort into the quality of the ingredients and the food, if you cook as well as you can, naturally things will happen.”
The Restaurateur of the Year award is sponsored by Entegra