Tuesday 31 August 2021

The Compasses Inn, Crundale

Apologies, if you've even noticed, for the relatively low level of activity here recently. I don't have a particularly good excuse other than I've been on holiday and am having a lot of work done on the house, two activities I don't recommend anyone else attempt at the same time. But here we are now, and in the well-established tradition on this blog of avoiding the really hard work until the last possible moment I'm not going to tell you about my four days in Berlin, or a smart new Japanese Izakaya in Liverpool I visited a week or two ago, but instead a gastropub in Kent I went to on Saturday.

If every great meal begins with a journey (© Ferran Adria) then the Compasses is off to a flying start before you even get to the starters. Even for an part of Kent known for its serene, pastoral loveliness, Crundale is especially off the beaten track, down a series of tiny lanes and a £20 cab ride from the nearest station. During a post-lunch pint in the front beer garden over the course of 20 minutes or so, we counted exactly four pieces of traffic - three Landrovers and a horse and cart, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the area.

Inside, the pub is as pretty as you can imagine, with a maze of low-beamed rooms featuring giant ancient fireplaces, and whether thanks to Covid restrictions or a genuine customer-focussed desire to do the right thing, tables are very nicely spaced apart. If, like me, your ideal dining room is a 15th century pub with stone-flagged floors and views over a manicured lawn flanked by willow trees then even if food-wise they offered nothing any more exciting than scampi and chips it still would have been more than worth the journey.

Fortunately, the offering is a little more ambitious than that, although I must admit to a pang of disappointment reading the phrase "Game may contain traces of shot" at the bottom of a game-season menu that contains no game. I have heard there are supply issues with grouse this year though, and I think we may still be a bit early for wild duck, so I won't dwell on that.

Once the starters arrived anyway, most was forgiven. Halbut was a dainty, geometric arrangement of delicately cured fish accompanied by remarkably sweet and lovely potatoes and a fresh tomato consommé packed with personality.

Quail was intelligently presented, with the supremes neatly trimmed and black puddings coming in the form of little cherry-sized breadcrumbed nuggets. As well as some actual cherries dotted about the place, the sauce I think was cherry-based so it all added up to a rather clever and attractive little dish.

You can't really go far wrong with the combination of chicken, leeks and truffle - well, I imagine you can but the Compasses fortunately hadn't - and some gloriously moist chunks of poultry with golden brown skin came arranged next to very nice herby dumplings and with a very moreish cream sauce. On top of all this, as well, a generous mound of shaved truffle which is always going to win extra brownie points.

The other main was "treacle cured beef", served nicely pink and accompanied by some dark, glossy ox cheek and something called "English Mustard Clotted Cream" which I'm afraid I didn't get to try but I think I'm on fairly soild ground assuming it was pretty good. I didn't hear any complaints, anyway.

Desserts, if ever-so-slightly less exciting than the mains, still impressed with a combination of presentational exactness and seasonal charm. Raspberry, lemon and yuzu tart had a slightly clunky thick pastry case but the filling was very enjoyable topped with huge plump raspberries. And creme caramel arrived with "elderflower poached apple", which sounds like it really made use of the best local produce (and I'm sure it did).

It seems to be a bit of a theme of Kentish gastropubs (see also the Kentish Hare) that local wines are being offered at ludicrously low markups, so a bottle of Gusbourne Estate 2016 landed on our table for barely a £10 markup at £45, and was enjoyed all the more for it. And furthermore our bill of about £80/head (they don't even ask for service, so we added it on) seemed more than reasonable considering the amount of effort that had gone into everything that lunchtime.

Of course, if you want to factor in the transportation to and from this idyllic spot, yes the costs add up. But as you can hopefully see, we didn't feel like it wasn't worth the outlay, and it didn't seem to be putting many other people off either - every table inside was taken with plenty more out back enjoying the garden. If you're good, no matter where you're good, people will find you. And The Compasses are very good indeed.