V is for… Verdigris
Chef Scott Goss is looking for a natural way to bring high-quality hospitality to west Kent
“How do we say it? F*ck knows. We all just call it ‘V’.”
That refreshing honesty, which runs right through every element of the restaurant and bar, is exactly why people are getting excited about Verdigris.
At the heart of Tonbridge’s High Street, where the road crosses the River Medway, chef Scott Goss has set about creating a drinking and dining landmark that would perhaps be more expected in a swanky London suburb than rural Kent.
But that is the old way of thinking. This is the Garden of England and there is no reason it can’t become a hotbed for culinary talent; Goss is a huge advocate of changing the way young chefs see progression in the industry.
“Back in the day, as a 16-year-old chef, if you really wanted to kick off your career and go right to the top, you went to London,” says Goss. “You didn’t question the hours, the money and the stress; there was no such thing as HR or a chef putting their arm around you.
“At my first appraisal with a head chef, he looked at a piece of paper and said ‘Well, I haven’t sacked you yet, have I? So f**k off back to work, then’.
“And that was my introduction to the great world of catering, and by god it has changed since then.”
There are the leading lights of the county such as The Sportsman in Seasalter, The Fordwich Arms near Canterbury, The West House in Biddenden and The Compasses Inn at Crundale all making waves in the dining scene, showing Kent certainly has a new pull.
“Now more than ever, young chefs don’t have to go to London to learn their trade any more,” says Goss. “There are so many great places in Kent to start your career. Get to a restaurant where you are absolutely going to learn from someone. Somewhere that bakes their own bread in the morning, does their own butchery, gets the fish in whole off a day-boat catch.
“That is where you’ll learn about ingredients and quality. Work with chefs that start their day in the forest and forage their way to work – that would be my advice.”
The 40-seater restaurant, which also has a 50-seater bar and covered riverside terrace, proudly promotes its ethos in line with Goss’s vision.
‘Respect and gratitude for life in every form; harvest sustainably; choose free range, organic, local and wild caught; and never forget that Mother Nature is and always will be the true artist.’
Goss continues: “Surely it’s more exciting to get a whole lamb in at springtime and break it all down and use it, rather than be a f**king robot who can take a perfectly portioned lamb rump out of a packet. It’s the old-school bit in me and that’s the exciting bit.
“As chefs, that’s our skill and craft. That’s our buzz.”
V IS FOR … VERDIGRIS
Verdigris has been refurbished to reflect its Art Deco heritage with shining 20s-style back bar, marble countertops and dark wood-panelled walls.
The cocktail bar, led by mixologists Jim Harrison, Isaac Eaglestone and sommelier Marco Brivio, opened first in September in 2018, while the kitchen opened in December, but it has been non-stop ever since.
“We landed on our feet pretty quickly and had to gel a young dynamic team together pretty quickly,” explains Goss.
“We had a good summer together beforehand and we always joke that Verdigris was built in Fuggles pub up the road, having a beer around the table most nights.
“We wanted to create that really cool, chilled area and atmosphere. We don't use the term fine-dining here, but everything we do we want to be of the best quality.
“So for example, don’t ask Jim to produce a Sex on The Beach, because you aren't going to get it.
“However, ask him to take those ingredients and come up with the best cocktail you’ve ever f**king tasted and that’s what he does.
“That’s the same for all of us on a creative level. We won’t turn our noses up at anything, but we will try it and as long as it works with V, then happy days, that’s what we do.”
V IS FOR... VIBRANT
During Team ’cene’s visit to Verdigris, we were treated to four dishes: the smoked haddock and leek soup with slow-cooked egg, complete with V’s homemade bread and homemade butter; oysters with a choice of chorizo and cumin milk or shallot vinegar; lamb neck with artichoke and wild garlic; and beef flank with peas, gem and asparagus.
Amazing British flavours, presented in a modern way, and with a beautifully casual atmosphere.
“As chefs, we all have a style or a repertoire that we bring with us, but now I will look at a dish and think ‘Nah, that doesn’t belong at V, it belongs at a restaurant I was at before,” says Goss.
“And that’s cool because you want to continually keep pushing yourself to create new ideas and never stop the ball rolling.
“It’s always nice to have a blank canvas where you have no rules and you can start again. That’s what we’ve done with V.”
Goss certainly has his own style, and not just on the plate. He is a tall guy with a trendy beard and tattoos. His presence is perhaps even more enhanced since his appearance on the BBC’s Great British Menu in 2018. But Goss doesn’t buy in to the whole celeb chef phenomenon.
“I never use the word celebrity, because I’m not one. But equally I’m very proud of my restaurant and my cooking and my career.
“Being able to walk around with my head held high is great, and if people want to judge and hate, let them. But I’m proud of what I have achieved and everything I do, like being a father; I’m a proud father. Everything I do, I try to give it all the energy I have.”
During the interview the restaurant’s phone rings and, with no one around, Goss takes the call for a booking for a table of four, asking for a contact telephone number and dietary requirements before heading back to his seat.
“It’s not about waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and thinking ‘I’m Scott Goss, I’ve got this celebrity status and I’ve got to act like this’. I never change for anybody; the odd swear word slips out of my mouth, don’t be offended by it, that’s just who I am.
“I’m covered in stories, rather than tattoos, it is just who I am.”
In fact, Goss’s forearm hosts the words ‘To feed you is to love you’, which is also the slogan on the front of the Verdigris menu.
“It’s much more fun cooking for people who don’t know who you are,” he continues.
“They come to the restaurant and have this big 6ft-6 bloke delivering the food and I think they think it’s going to be some tiny little French chef, immaculately shaven, walking out of the kitchen.
“Don’t judge me by my image, judge me by my food.”
V IS FOR... VERY F**KING FRESH
Looking back at Goss’s track record as a chef, working under greats such as Gary Rhodes and Anton Edelmann in famous Michelin-starred restaurants, it would be easy to picture an inflated ego and a penchant for shouting, but the former Thanet College student has a relaxed aura around him. And this translates to the food.
Working at City Rhodes in London, Goss loved the idea of bringing British classics to the top level of cooking.
“Michelin-starred restaurants in London at that time were all very French-driven,” he says. “But you had this British guy [Rhodes] saying that actually you can make this shepherd’s pie or Welsh rarebit one-star michelin. And that really interested me.”
And it wasn’t until his return to Kent some years later that he decided on his style of cooking.
“I went to The Swan at West Malling, working with Andrew Clarke [of St Leonards and Brunswick House restaurant fame].
“I remember reading Restaurant Magazine with him and it was all about Simon Rogan and his foraging up at L’Enclume in Cumbria and winning his second Michelin star.
“We are reading this magazine in the heart of f**king Kent. We put the pint down and thought let’s get out and start foraging. We really started to self-educate, making it more about the ingredients to the point where surely a mushroom picked out of the ground nearby is better than one cultivated and shipped over from Italy.”
Foraging his way to work daily, Goss wants to create great food that is both locally influenced and recognisable as well as a destination that offers both live musical performances and a platform for local artists.
“My food is approachable, I don’t think you’ll ever be scared. It will be different but not messed around with so much that it’s unrecognisable. I want people to come here, have an oyster and think ‘F**k, that’s a great oyster’.
“I love a Friday lunchtime, being packed and everyone is eating fish and chips. It is beautiful, it has a great story from Sankey’s Fishmongers
down the road. It brings a smile to my face and it’s what everybody wants. If you can pull that fine-dining rod out of your a*se, it’s OK. That’s my journey, I guess.”
As we close the interview, a man walks into the bar and asks for something to eat. After the looking over the menu, he says: “I only really want a sandwich.”
Goss beckons him over: “Come on then, let’s see what we can do.”