Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Corner House, Canterbury

I've said before on this blog that the real measure of a healthy dining scene isn't what's going on in the multi Michelin-starred high-falutin' fine dining establishments, but instead what you get for £30-40/head with a glass or two of wine. Don't get me wrong, I love places like Moor Hall, and L'Enclume, and the Fat Duck, of course I do - you'd have to be missing a soul not to have the time of your life eating dinner there, assuming you can stomach the bill - but they exist in their own international jet set tier of restaurants, separate and apart from anywhere you'd just pop into of a cold Tuesday night because you didn't fancy cooking.

And the sad reality is, if you do look at the vast majority of high streets in towns and cities up and down the country, it's still grim pickings for the food-lover. Cookie-cutter Italians like Ask, Zizzi or Prezzo dominate, with fried chicken shops and Nando's taking up whatever grade A spaces are left. Some days, and in some towns, it seems we are further away than ever from having a healthy independent food scene and nothing can save us from the relentless March of the Chains.

So what can we, who care about eating out and eating well, do about all of this? Only to find your precious local gastropub or bistro, with its seasonal menu cooked by proper chefs who get up early to prep all the fresh ingredients themselves, and where it's all served by people who love what they do, and you give them your custom. And if you happen to find yourself in Kent, and need some inspiration for how to find such a place, well let me tell you about the Corner House in Canterbury.

The menu at the Corner House is familiar and comforting as a hug from an old friend. This is, of course, exactly how it should be - you can't win hearts and minds by being stubborn when it comes to traditional gastropub favourites. So there's pork scratchings and sausage rolls, roast sirloin and Yorkshire puddings. There's triple-cooked chips, and braised shoulder of lamb for two. There is, in short, something for everyone, and judging by the happy mix of young and old we sat with on Sunday, they know their audience well.

Starters all looked worth ordering, but after much deliberation we ended up with chicken liver parfait (usually a good litmus test of a kitchen) and venison carpaccio. The venison had a good gamey flavour, was seasoned well, and was dotted with an intelligent selection of seasonal bits and pieces, including parsnip "fries" and puréed beetroot. It brought to mind a similar dish made up in Lancashire at the Parkers Arms, and as the Parkers is one of the very best restaurants in the country, that's about as big a compliment as I can pay.

The parfait, sweet and fluffy with a luxurious meaty flavour, came topped with an interesting port jelly, which dissolved in the mouth and complimented the liver perfectly. My friend, a chef, wants it to be known that she thought the parfait was a bit too sweet, but I didn't at all and I'm writing the review so there.

The main course presented a dilemma. Ordinarily, custom on these review trips would dictate that in order to sample as much of the menu as possible, I and my dining companion would choose different dishes for each course. Unfortunately, the existence of a game suet pudding on the menu provoked a short but... intense discussion on the subject of who should do the right thing and order the cod, or polenta, or beef, or something I mean come on, and with neither side being willing to compromise (I mean it's not like she should be grateful for a free weekend trip to Canterbury but you'd think it might have registered as a factor) we ended up with a suet pudding each. Fortunately, they were pretty much perfect - stuffed full of pigeon, pheasant and partridge with a glossy game jus, and extremely impressive work with the suet. Oh, and lovely buttery mash to go with it, too.

Someone really knows their pastry at the Corner House, because the desserts conspired to be even more impressive than the savouries. Upside down pear & ginger cake (beautifully balanced sweetness and fruit flavour) came with a honeycomb ice cream so rich it had somehow developed tones of woodsmoke alongside the caramel.

And tonka bean creme brulee had a great texture contrast between the crunch of the sugar glaze and a supremely clean, smooth custard, topped with some chunks of delicate poached pear. Yes, perhaps each of the desserts could have done with one fewer flourish amongst the toppings, but these were still superb examples of the pastry section's craft. Seriously impressive stuff.

This being an invite, we didn't see a bill but doing a quick bit of maths now I don't think the total (with a bottle of wine and a gin & tonic) would have pushed much north of £40/head, which puts it firmly in that category of Good Local Restaurant I mentioned earlier. We need as many places like this as possible, on high streets up and down the country, and we need people to know about them and spend their money at them, to save Britain from Chain Hell. One day every small town could have a Corner House, and wouldn't that be wonderful?


I was invited to the Corner House, and didn't see a bill. Immaculately specced rooms upstairs start at £79/night, which seems like a bargain to me. Also Canterbury is achingly pretty, and well worth a trip.


It's Me Again said...

You are right about the high streets, my last visit to Blackpool saw me looking for ever, for something good, having to try Nangos and Prezzo for the first time, jesus H Christ, the last time! I had no car to go further afield. I recommend,Fish and chips, a pint of beer, if ever your in that part of the world, there are some good ones.
Nice pics. looks like something our town needs. Our local pub is OK but Corner house looks better. The other 4 pubs in our town are awful. The takeaways also awful. That's one reason why I cook a lot, South Devon is surrounded by good produce.
P.S. Rae Morris, her new album out on Friday, absolute stunner, live as well , go buy go see. Keep the reviews coming.

Unknown said...

Wow, this is serendipity indeed. I am London based but studied in Canterbury and am currently looking into where to go for reunions. we left in 1990 and I have friends coming from the US in April !

I actually found you playing on Twitter. I have a favour to ask, I have been collared into helping promote Marmalade Morning in a tiny village in Suffolk ( I have family and friends ) I helped at a similar thing in 2014 and it was quite something, hosted in the ground of a beautiful stately home.

Thanks for the fab Canterbury write up and if by any change Marmalade Morning would be of interest, let me know. xx

Diana said...

Sounds delicious! My mouth is watering to see these roasts. I am so excited to try them all. Thanks for sharing.