Menuwatch: Bridge Arms, Canterbury, Kent

16 February 2022 by

Imagine the nearby Fordwich Arms in gastropub guise, as co-owner Dan Smith serves up a less formal taste of Kent but with similar flair and flavour. Ben McCormack pays a visit.

Most Michelin-starred chefs who open a pub do so because they want to offer a less formal version of their high-end restaurant. Dan Smith, however, has opened the Bridge Arms because he wants to offer a less formal version of his high-end pub.

Smith opened his pub, the Fordwich Arms, near Canterbury in 2017, when he left his position as sous chef of the Clove Club in east London. The Fordwich Arms won its star less than a year later, and Smith admits that the pub has become a special-occasion restaurant for its six-course tasting menu (£115). Smith lives in nearby Bridge with his wife Natasha, the Fordwich's co-owner and pastry chef, and the couple want their village pub to be a family-friendly place where locals are happy to eat once a week.

Buttermilk fried chicken with coriander mayonnaise
Buttermilk fried chicken with coriander mayonnaise

Smith says: "A tasting menu isn't everyone's cup of tea, and there are diners who just want to eat one course in a relaxed environment."

Pride of place in the kitchen goes to a charcoal oven, a method of cooking that Dan and Natasha fell in love with at their wedding in San Sebastián. But while the oven might have been sent over from Spain, it is fed with charcoal from woodlands within 10 miles of Bridge. "It runs at about 400ºC and adds a depth of flavour that you can't get with any other way of cooking," Smith says.

Rack of Blackface lamb
Rack of Blackface lamb

The oven is shown to best effect in the pub's top-selling dish of a whole monkfish tail for two (£70). Once the tail has been grilled over charcoal it is glazed with a stock made from celeriac, soy and the bones of the fish. The two side dishes are kept deliberately simple to highlight the quality of fish, which is landed on the south coast. Side dishes include a garden salad with a mustard dressing and grated Parmesan, creamed potato with spring onion, Kentish cider-glazed sprouts or hand-cut chips.

"We wanted to do a great fish dish for two people without going down the whole turbot route," Smith says. "Monkfish is an easy fish to share because there's one central bone which gives two perfect portions on either side."

Dry-aged rib of Hereford beef (£75) is another main for two, while diners who don't want to share might go for glazed Gloucestershire Old Spot ham hock with hasselback potato, savoy cabbage and Pommery mustard (£26), or a vegetarian cep pithivier with baby onion, chestnut and Madeira sauce (£22).

Whole monkfish tail cooked on the Josper grill with spiced lobster sauce
Whole monkfish tail cooked on the Josper grill with spiced lobster sauce

Regulars at the Clove Club, meanwhile, will be familiar with a snack of buttermilk fried chicken with coriander mayonnaise (£6), though the chef's favourite starter is hand-dived scallop with garlic butter and seaweed loaf (£15). "We grill scallops in the shell with some garlic butter and the smell reminds everyone of being on holiday," he says. "We serve the scallop in the shell with a seaweed loaf as a celebration of the south coast."

Kent, of course, is also famous for its fruit, which is why Smith is always keen to push the baked apple tart (£9) for dessert. He uses local russet apples, topped with frangipane and baked in puff pastry, and served with spiced apple ice-cream from a soft-serve machine.

The menu evolves on a dish-by-dish basis as ingredients come into season, and Smith devises what's on offer with Fordwich Arms head chef Kieran Bellerby and Bridge Arms head chef Josh Hughes. "We get all the kitchen team to taste the dishes and give their opinion. It's a better way of doing things, because everyone's palate is so different. If you offer an array of different flavours on the menu, you're more likely to appeal to more customers."

Brown butter and Kentish honey custard tart with rhubarb and Sauternes sorbet
Brown butter and Kentish honey custard tart with rhubarb and Sauternes sorbet

Covers in the 52-seat dining room average 40 for midweek lunches and dinners, rising to 60 at weekends. There is a weekly changing three-course set lunch menu for £30, though Smith says most diners order from the à la carte.

As to the future, Smith has no immediate plans to add a third pub to his portfolio, instead concentrating on the beer he is developing using Kentish hops and potentially adding an off-site bakery.

"We're all about keeping it seasonal, celebrating local producers and cooking the best ingredients simply but with an interesting tweak," he says. "The menu will evolve naturally, it always does. If you think about it too much, it complicates things."

In the Garden of England, it's coming up roses for Smith.

From the menu


  • Welsh rarebit tart with caramelised onion and apple £12
  • Applewood grilled prawn cocktail with seaweed loaf £12
  • Confit chalk stream trout with Jerusalem artichoke and treacle bread £10


  • Line-caught sea bass with roast cauliflower, fino sherry and apple £25
  • Glazed Hereford short rib with creamed potato and pickled walnut £22
  • New season cep pithivier with baby onion, chestnut and Madeira sauce £22


  • Brown sugar pavlova with blackberry compote and tonka bean chantilly £8
  • Pumpkin soft serve with parkin and salted caramel £7

The Bridge Arms, 53 High Street, Bridge, Canterbury, Kent CT4 5LA

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