A steakhouse isn’t a vegetarian’s natural environment and I usually also steer well clear of ‘family friendly’ restaurants but, when the Malta Inn in Maidstone asked me to review their newly-refurbished Beefeater restaurant, I thought, ‘Well, I’m sure I won’t starve, so why not?’ It would also give me a chance to see what a Beefeater is like now as I hadn’t been to one in about thirty years.
My memories of Beefeater restaurants begin and end with the Red House at the bottom of the M11 in Redbridge, the London suburb in which I was born. This was where any family occasions were held and the place where – at the age of 15 – I had my very first steak. Unfortunately, instead of the upmarket culinary experience friends, television and magazines had led me to believe steak was, it needed a chainsaw to make even a small scratch in it and put me off steak for ever. Obviously, I wasn’t about to ditch my 24-year-long vegetarian lifestyle and order a steak but I was up for seeing what Beefeater had to offer vegetarians these days.
On entering the restaurant, we were immediately led through the cavernous building to our table in a smaller room away from the main part of the restaurant. Before we’d even sat down, the waitress asked us what we’d like to drink. Although I’m not going to be offered a job as a sommelier any time soon, I would have liked to have seen the wine list first, even if it was just so I could point to the second cheapest and say, ‘That one, please’, like everyone else does.
I asked for a large white wine, The Meat Eater ordered a Coke and as we waited for our drinks, we had a look at the menu and surveyed our surroundings. The chairs had a mixture of covers – tartan, navy, grey and brown but not in a mismatched-vintage-retro-hipster way, but in a smart, functional chain-restaurant way. Our table had a riverside view of boats and houseboats but the main thing we noticed was the quiet and we wondered if this was a special room for child-free diners and, if not and it was just a happy coincidence, then child-free sections should definitely be a thing.
Unlike the main courses, none of the starters on the menu had a ‘V’ next to them and upon letting the waitress know I was vegetarian, she said the potato dippers were vegetarian if I had them with cheese, not bacon. Extra kudos to the waitress for not giving me a ‘what are you doing in a steakhouse then?’ look when I said I was veggie. As I’d decided before I’d even got there I wanted chips with my main course, I didn’t bother with the potato dippers.
I’d already looked at the menu before arriving at the Malta Inn and knew my options were limited to a veggie burger or vegetarian enchiladas which was pretty much what I had expected (either that or a veggie lasagne). Although – as I said above – I wanted some chips, I didn’t fancy a burger, so I ordered the vegetarian enchiladas (£9.99) and asked for a side portion of their triple cooked chips (£2.99) (steaks come with unlimited chips and I had thought about asking The Meat Eater to ask for two portions so I didn’t have to pay for mine but decided not to be so cheeky). The Meat Eater ordered the 10oz rib-eye steak (£17.99) with peppercorn sauce (99p) and the waitress asked him how he’d like it cooked. We also asked for a portion of onion rings (£2.99).
The food turned up quickly and my volcano-hot enchiladas were fresh, tasty and covered with a generous amount of sour cream. They came accompanied by two unbuttered pieces of corn on the cob but, with no way of eating them other than picking them up with my fingers (and I am no Jay Rayner in that respect), remained uneaten. The triple-cooked chips (unfortunately not 80s-style beefeater chips) were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle – i.e. just as a chip should be. The onion rings were crispy and oniony but I was a bit miffed with the less than generous amount of them. The Meat Eater said his steak was ‘as expected’.
Before leaving the restaurant, I visited the toilet and almost choked on the smell of smoke. There was also toilet tissue and water everywhere and although one can’t expect staff to inspect the toilets every 5 minutes, I certainly wasn’t expecting to walk into something akin to a public toilet.
So. Would I go back to the Malta Inn (or any Beefeater restaurant) in the future? It wouldn’t be my first choice for a meal out but that’s purely because it’s not targeted towards people like me, i.e. un-child-friendly vegetarians but, if it was a family gathering or something like that, then I’d be happy to as the food was fine and the staff were friendly, helpful and efficient.
Our meal for 2 including drinks (2 x large white wines and 1 x Pepsi) came to £48.08.
The Malta Inn is located at Allington Lock, Sandling, Nr Maidstone, Kent ME14 3AS. Visit their website for more information and/or to book a table.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal in return for a review, but all opinions are my own.