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The Compasses Inn

Some time ago, in a far away dentist’s waiting room, I was flicking through a copy of The Rooters Gazette and happened upon an article examining deliberately-hidden towns and villages across the British Isles. Apparently, back in ye day, we all existed as individual tribes that seldom ventured more than a mile from our birthplaces.  On the upside you were unlikely to be frustrated by tourists asking questions in unfathomable tongues, the downside, however, was the high chance of marrying a relative. The article went on to contend that there were still a handful of Narnia-esque places that don’t exist on modern maps for no good reason other than the inhabitants wishing it that way.  And so it was that on a crisp October morning we were magically transported to Crundale (see, you’d never heard of it had you?). At the heart of this fantastical village was ‘The Compasses Inn’, a perfectly imagined pub that had previously only existed in my dreams. Plenty of local beers, an intelligent and reasonable wine list plus a massive garden for the kids. Smiley face. Having dribbled over our menus for ten minutes we chose a crab cannelloni with bisque & a game terrine with spiced pear chutney (both £6.95). To follow we went for ox-cheek bap with horseradish mayonnaise and dripping chips (£9.95) and kedgeree with smoked haddock fillet, poached duck egg and curry ketchup (£11ish). It was only the devil’s little helper, beetroot, that meant we didn’t order all 25 dishes on offer (should we have had the time or elasticated trousers required). All of our picks were perfectly cooked, balanced and presented. I wept a little. Surely the desserts (apple creme brulee & sticky toffee pudding) couldn’t cut it too? Nobody is that good. Ahem. Step forward Rob Taylor. A whisking, pickling and braising alchemist of the highest order. He’s amazing. He’s invincible. He is the King of Crundale. When you do go and pay your respects all I can tell you is that the village is located on the North Downs, about halfway between Ashford and Canterbury, and is populated by 150 of the most tight-lipped people you’ll ever meet.  

The Riz

Right then, hands up if you can name the country: a 30-year civil war that ended in 2009? The British occupied it during the Napoleonic Wars. Anyone? Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Temple of the tooth. Colombo (not him). Well?  I’d kinda hoped it was only me that had spent 43 years missing out on Sri Lanka, but it appears that you might need educating too. Luckily for us, the amazing Paul (Mr Riz) is here to edify. My first lesson came one Friday in October, when we stepped into his unique Cliftonville classroom. Since then we’ve returned on six occasions and have tried 23 dishes from undoubtedly the most interesting menu in Thanet. I’ve heard it said often about Asian restaurants that if the people of that country are eating there, it must be a good sign. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to use that cliché in Cliftonville, but I can say that I’ve already spotted Margate’s Queens of Pizza, the entire staff of Broadstairs’ best restaurant and the Isle’s only real food critic dialling in a take-away (Paul does home tutorials too). As his star pupil, might I propose you try the gobi manchurian; chilli paneer, monkfish curry; Ceylon chicken; duck chettinadu and please, please, make sure you order the mutton string hoppers (despite how they sound). The breads are brilliant (especially the paratha), the rice remarkable and the dosas divine. However if you’re not one of life’s decision makers, do what I do and put yourself in Paul’s nurturing hands.  He really can do no wrong.

49 Northdown Road, Margate, Kent, CT9 2RN, 01843 293698.

The Corner House

Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. Fair point. The lesser talented John Morton declared, ‘A man living modestly must be saving money and could therefore afford taxes, whereas if he was living extravagantly then he was obviously rich and could still afford them’. This unpopular musing, from the then Archbishop of Canterbury, became known as Morton’s Fork and for some odd reason, back in the 80’s, David Sworder named his Minster restaurant after this undesirable dilemma. Three decades later his son Matt has returned to the same space to cook up a storm at the Corner House. We first visited on a Friday evening where we found an eclectic mix of ages and types enjoying modern British, locally sourced plates of great looking food in this bijou galley-shaped restaurant. I enjoyed an excellent chicken parfait followed by the most amazing cod loin I can remember. I finished off with the unrivalled brown bread ice cream. Pretty much a perfect meal. Mrs G had some stuff too but I was so excited by mine that the blinkers went on from the first mouthful and never came off until the bill arrived. On the way out I reserved a table for eight for the following Saturday lunchtime. That’s a tad hasty I hear you mutter. Fear not, dear reader, as I’d stumbled upon a nugget whilst thumbing the menu earlier. Lean in.  At lunch they offer up three courses for £13, two for £10 or one for £8. OMFG! Eight days later we were back. New dishes included a stunning pea and ham soup, an excellent flat iron steak and a divine lavender crème brûlée.  Just as good, but cheaper. If Mr Franklin were alive, well and residing in Thanet today there’s a fair chance you’d find him tweeting, ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes & totes amazeballs food 4 little cash @ Corner House. #yumminster’.

42 Station Road, Minster, Kent, CT12 4BZ, 01843 823000.

So, here are your options: great service, excellent food and good value. Which two are you going to pick? What do you mean you want all three? Bleedin’ moon on a stick, you. This might not be written on the Royal Harbour menu (the grown-up’s one, that is) but they needn’t worry as it’s been beaten into me. I’ve visited on seven or eight occasions and each time one thing gives. I must want to like the place or why else would I keep going back?  Maybe I’m having a dysfunctional relationship with a restaurant? Always making excuses. Maybe it isn’t them, maybe it’s me? Okay, okay, just one more chance then. This week, 12 minutes passed before I forced a member of staff to visit our table. They were rather put-upon that we might want to order drinks / see a menu / be waited upon. We were then informed that today there wasn’t a roast, but paella instead (as luck would have it my 80 year-old mother was only just saying on the way over what a shame it was that restaurants persisted in selling Sunday roasts, on a Sunday, and why didn’t more of them offer traditional Catalan rice dishes instead?). El Bingo! Nonetheless, I persevered. No kids menu? Really? In 2013? That was it. I jumped up, ready to use the diner’s ultimate weapons, but my companions talked me down and I placed them back under the table. I’m kinda glad I did or I would never have met the charming waitress who rode to our aid. She offered up kids’ suggestions. She made mum smile, she kissed it better. She was a Food Samaritan (this awful pun only works if you read it in a Glaswegian accent). Meanwhile the joint jumped to the beat of the resident pianist and our lunches arrived in double-time (an admirable feat, considering how busy they were). The food looked and tasted great (fish & chips, grilled plaice and a crab salad scored the highest). So of course I forgave them, yet again, and with that Parker, the pianist’s guide dog, placed his paws over his eyes, pushed his jaw to the floor and let out an incredulous whine. I like to think he was empathising.

Royal Harbour Parade, East Pier, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8LS, 01843 599059.

 

 

I like ceviche. It’s a great dish. So, well done Peru, I salute you. A week in the Amazon, however, had offered me very little to congratulate them on other than their remarkable embracement of blandness. The nadir of this being corn juice (yes it exists) ladled from a grotty bucket by a grinning coffee farmer. Yum. Thankfully my view, my family and my menu were now confirming just how happy I was to be home again. Phew. For five months now Wyatt & Jones have been making us smile, repeatedly dishing up exemplary local produce to the discerning inhabitants of Thanet’s Nappy Valley. When you’ve got a location as good as this you really don’t have to try very hard. The lovely people at Wyatt & Jones couldn’t try any harder. Everything has been thought of and actioned with aplomb. They’ve got one of those effortless interiors that take a lot of effort. The staff are impeccably trained to know the menu and to always be one step ahead. Nothing is ever a problem. The cooking is accomplished, solid and guaranteed to please even the toughest of Peruvian diners. They even bake their own bread, crumpets and muffins. Ooooh! On this visit ten of us occupied one of the few tables I’d not tried during this brief yet enduring romance. The stars of the event were a ray wing (£14), the rump steak (£12), my mixed grill (£17) and the fishcake (£10). The kids menu was, as ever, varied and considered. They don’t tolerate children here, they embrace them so you don’t feel awkward when they act like…children. Breakfast, lunch or dinner in the hands of these lovely restauranteurs always makes life that little bit better. I like Wyatt & Jones. It’s a great place. So, well done guys, I salute you too.

23-27 Harbour Street, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 1EU, 01843 865126.

Kathton House

Now I know a great restaurant in Sturry,
that doesn’t serve pizza or curry.
Awesome lunch twenty quid
and they even do squid,
so best you get there in a hurry.
                                                                                                                              6 High St, Sturry, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 0BD, 01227 719999.

The Ancient Raj

I’ve no idea what a Pilgrim’s annual mileage was, but as I battled with Canterbury’s early evening traffic my empathy for them was the only thing flowing around the ring road. Fortunately the Promised Land awaiting me in North Lane drove me onwards. I had one goal: curry. More precisely, the curries, nectars and assorted paraphernalia created by the Ancient Raj chefs. I use the term ‘chefs’ loosely, as ‘gods’ could easily replace it. We’d been lucky enough to eat here a fortnight earlier at the behest of two lovely friends. On that glorious evening the Cobras bit hard, and as such I wondered the next day whether I’d imagined the whole thing. Could it have been that good? Every dish on the money. Excellent service. Great value. There was only one way to find out – I rebooked. As we all know only too well, things are never as good as the first time, so, as we crossed their low-beamed threshold, I prayed that a little cumin-covered miracle might come our way. It did, in the quite unexpected form of a pianist. Now if I was picking an accompaniment to curry there’s a fair chance it would be cold and alcoholic not warm and melodic, but, rather surprisingly, the music hit the spot too, adding another layer to our remarkable experience in the process. We chomped our way, 4:4 time, through flawless papadams that lay happily beneath the customary trinity of chutneys, but which jostled to be smothered in the seldom-seen coconut one (a rose-tinted favourite I discovered 25 years ago in a South Norwood curry house). We quickly dismantled an entire pot of this ruddy ambrosia before running headlong into the mains.  I basked in the Duck Xacuti (breast of Barbary duck in a harmonious massala sauce flavoured with star anise, fenugreek, chilli and coconut), which was one of the loveliest things I’ve tasted in ages. My recently vegetarianized wife (I know) picked out the vegetable biryani and was very glad she did so. We also enjoyed the peshwari nan, special rice, saag paneer and some onion bhajis, all of which left us both more than happy. They quickly cleared our dishes away and returned with the dessert menu. Never being one to waste space on such trivial things, I returned to the menu proper and ran an accumulating finger over the lines. There were still ninety or so dishes that I hadn’t yet tried. Hmmm. There was only one thing for it, I thanked God for capacity and ordered lots more. So why not trek on over and catch up on this pilgrim’s progress, I could be here a while.

25-26 North Lane, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7EE, 01227 455882.