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The complete foodie guide to Kent

The complete foodie guide to Kent

by Rachel Phipps 16 December 2019

Rachel Phipps takes us on a whistlestop tour of her home county, highlighting her favourite restaurants, bars and food shops in the area.

Kent: the garden of England. With the bright lights of London’s internationally acclaimed dining a mere hour’s ride away on the high-speed train that serves most of the county, a Kent-based restaurant needs to be a cut above – not only so it doesn’t lose business to the big city, but to also attract those ‘down from London’ (colloquially known as ‘DFLs’). At least, so it seems on the surface.

If you know who to talk to, you’ll discover a surprisingly high concentration of chefs, restaurateurs and food writers have made Kent their home. While much of the produce from our farms and orchards, fish from our coastline and spankingly fresh Whitstable oysters disappear up to the capital for wholesale distribution, there is still an abundance available at local farm shops and specialist food markets such as The Goods Shed and Macknade Fine Foods. For the chefs who have put down roots here, local produce is the overarching theme. After all, why would you use something that has travelled when the very best British ingredients – including some of the very best English wines for the wine list – are right on the doorstep?

If you’re planning a visit to Kent or just want to know where to eat in the area, read on for some of my top picks.

The Compasses Inn, Crundale

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Kent has more than its fair share of pubs with outstanding food. We have The Sportsman down at Seasalter – good luck getting a table – and The Fordwich Arms, which burst onto the scene to much acclaim a couple of years ago. However, in my opinion the cream of the crop is The Compasses Inn, hidden down a series of narrow country lanes in the little village of Crundale, just outside Canterbury.

Chef Rob Taylor and his wife Donna produce very English, very comforting but still beautifully refined and plated dishes finished to the very highest standard. The level of thought and care that goes into every dish is clear from first bite, setting the bar for what the very best British pub food should be.

If you visit mid-week the set lunch menu is an absolute gem at £18.95 for two courses or £22.95 for three, with generous-sized portions and some particularly special dishes such as the succulent pulled lamb shepherd’s pie you’ll rarely find on the main menu.

thecompassescrundale.co.uk

Wild Goose at The Goods Shed, Canterbury

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In 2002, farmer’s daughter Susanna Sait opened a food hall with an upstairs restaurant in an old railway shed next to Canterbury West Station as a local food hub, championing local producers with an on-site farmers’ market, butcher, wine merchant and fishmongers. Every cover upstairs was booked out opening night, and ever since it has become an evolving hub for the city’s burgeoning food scene. Today, Canterbury Cheesemakers has a stall, and you can also pick up a loaf of Docker’s fantastic sourdough, delivered fresh from its shipping container bakery on Folkestone Harbour Arm alongside your local veg.

As the food landscape has changed over the past decade or so, vendors have come and gone, many of them making way for exciting new dining concepts to complement the original restaurant. The food upstairs is always outstanding, driven by local ingredients with an emphasis on Kentish tradition, but downstairs a tiny cocktail bar called Wild Goose is serving up European-inspired ‘little dishes’ of perfectly composed local produce, cooked with finesse in an impossibly small open camp kitchen. It’s worth fighting to get a space at the bar for.

wildgoosefood.com

thegoodsshed.co.uk

Wyatt & Jones, Broadstairs

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There is no shortage of good fish and fresh seafood cooked along the coast in eastern Kent (Whitstable and its famous oysters are just around the coast), but Wyatt & Jones is a fine example of a classic fish restaurant. It’s built its name by cooking simple British dishes without any bells and whistles; just good, local food.

The kitchen is headed up by Soho House and Gordon Ramsay alumnus Joe Hill and local boy Ryan Whitlock, who returned to the kitchen after starting out as a kitchen porter there years ago. While their main selling point is that they cook fresh seafood with simple flavours really, really well, everything else on the menu also promises to be excellent, highlighting the skill and versatility of the kitchen.

wyattandjones.co.uk

The Small Holding, Kilndown

The awards have been coming in thick and fast for Will Devlin, Kent Chef of the Year and owner of The Small Holding, a tiny pub-turned-restaurant just on the Kent and East Sussex border, since he took it over in 2018, and in this instance they’re heartily deserved. As the name might suggest, most of the food found on their two ‘Half Acre’ and ‘Full Acre’ set menus is harvested from their own one-acre smallholding at the end of the car park, with the rest coming from surrounding farms and suppliers.

Small, perfectly crafted tasting menus are few and far between in Kent but this one more than makes up for it. The little details matter here and it shows in everything from the menus and place settings to each carefully composed, ingredient-led course. The service is also particularly good, and the wine list carefully curated focusing on flavour as well as locality.

thesmallholding.restaurant

Dungeness Snack Shack, Dungeness

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Kelly Smith is from a family of fishermen. Originally joining the police force, deciding that the family business was not quite for her, she returned to her roots after having children to open up Dungeness Snack Shack, cooking up items from the day’s catch from her family’s three fishing boats, ‘Annalousion’, ‘William T’, and ‘The Doreen T’, that were not destined for wholesale (Dungeness crabs and lobster that are slightly too large to conform with commercial standards, for example) in a little van on the beach, just meters away from where her brother and uncle haul in that morning’s catch.

Kelly’s always got fishermen’s baps on the go, stuffed with bright, punchy slaw and whatever fish is fresh. In the summer you’ll most likely find a juicy crab or lobster roll, and during the colder months, as long as the weather has not forced her inside, she makes the most wonderful smoked cod chowder.

dungenesssnackshack.net

Macknade Fine Foods, Faversham

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Located off the main road on the outskirts of Faversham (and with a new location opening soon in Ashford as it marks its fortieth anniversary), Macknade Fine Foods is probably the county’s best independent food hall, sourcing local produce and products from across Kent, as well as importing some choice Italian produce and products to reflect the Macknade family’s Kentish-Italian heritage.

Set a bit of time after you’ve done your shopping at the in-house butchers, greengrocers, bakery and florist for a slice of homemade cake in their cafe before selecting a bottle of English wine to take home with you. If you combine the food hall and Hercules Wine Warehouse, which takes up one of the outdoor units set aside for local food businesses, you’ve got the best selection in the county (almost) under one roof.

macknade.com

The Duck Inn, Pett Bottom

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The Duck Inn is a country pub steeped in history. Most famously featuring in Ian Flemming’s You Only Live Twice Bond novel (it is rumoured the book was written there), it also has a long history of serving up exceptional food. In 1974, it became the first pub in Britain to be awarded a Michelin star.

Today you’ll find South African-born chef-to-watch Dean Legg heading up the kitchen. After leaving The Twenty Six in Tunbridge Wells he took over the pub in 2018. Expect to find generous portions of traditional gastropub favourites served up with restaurant finesse, drawing on English, Asian and South African flavours. Look out for anything served with the spectacular Durban curry mayo, made to a cherished family recipe.

theduckpettbottom.com

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