Menuwatch: Compasses Inn, Kent

15 September 2017 by
Menuwatch: Compasses Inn, Kent

Fruits from the hedgerow pair with local farmers' produce at this rural, homely Kentish pub, says Katie Pathiaki

Driving through the Kent countryside, the satnav stops halfway up a winding road. You're faced with the decision to push on or turn back. Those brave enough to take on the adventure and go forth and are rewarded by arriving at a secluded pub, centuries old and full of character.

The Compasses Inn is like one of those pubs you see in the movies. It's other- worldly, like the Green Dragon in The Lord of the Rings. It's quaint, with striking wooden beams draped in hops, the tables paired with carved wooden chairs and, most importantly, it's full to the brim with locals catching up over a pint of Kentish ale.

The owners, Donna and Robert Taylor, are ever-present. Donna runs front of house and greets everyone who enters the rural pub as if they're an old friend arriving for dinner.

Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor
"When we were looking for pubs in the area, we came to this one and immediately fell in love with it," Robert says. "It's like stepping into another world," Donna adds. "Our regulars are farmers with their guns and dogs and they sit in front of the fire." The farmers play an important part in the pub's day-to-day operation, not only because they use it as a meeting point between their farms, but also because they provide lots of the meats served there too. "They shoot to order," Donna says, and as if on cue a farmer strolls past and asks, "Have you got rid of all of my pigeons yet?" Robert reassures him that the 230 he brought in only a week ago have already been devoured. Since the pub's inception, Robert - who works alone in the kitchen with an apprentice - has offered an Á la carte menu full of homely, warm dishes that perfectly match the atmosphere of the pub. However, at the time of Marina O'Loughlin's review in *The Guardian* in 2015, they also had a bar snack menu of mini English treats, such as an ox cheek bap, but that had to be dropped after it took customers' focus away from the actual menu. That menu changes regularly, depending on what produce is available. At the tail-end of summer, it features honey-glazed bacon with a crab and cucumber salad, toasted garlic and coriander; local wood pigeon with black pudding purée, elderberry syrup and cobnuts; and a fillet of beef with an ox cheek croquet.
Honey-glazed bacon with crab and apple slaw
Honey-glazed bacon with crab and apple slaw
"Generally, you'll see ox cheek somewhere on my menu - it's a bit of a staple," Rob says. One of the new dishes coming on the menu for autumn is a ball of crispy truffled Brie with cauliflower purée. "The cauliflower purée is so flavoursome, because there's nothing added to alter the flavour," Rob says. It's made from three lightly seasoned cauliflowers that are cooked in the pressure cooker and finished in a blender with a bit of cream. "I try to work seasonally," Rob explains. "We have so much to choose from around here - blackberries and elderberries grow on our doorstep. My dishes are made from the seasons and there are things that naturally fit together in every season." He explains that chefs he looks up to for inspiration have a simplistic, yet complex and well-executed style - like Nathan Outlaw and Stephen Harris of the Michelin-starred Sportsman at Seasalter in Kent. Donna and Robert met while working at the Royal Garden hotel in London's Kensington and have worked together ever since, including a stint in Australia, where Donna is native, and running a restaurant on the beach. Donna, a former pastry chef, is one of Robert's biggest critics - and his biggest fan. "Robert has this incredible whipped beef dripping sometimes to go with the bread," she says. "Someone once came in and said they had asked their chef to put it on at their pub, but they couldn't get it to look or taste like ours! They were whipping blocks of lard from the supermarket!" she laughs.
Sweet soused herring with beetroot and horseradish cream
Sweet soused herring with beetroot and horseradish cream
aking to the couple, it's apparent that they aren't in any hurry for accolades, especially after being awarded two AA Rosettes. In fact, the couple aren't in a hurry to do anything - all they want you to do is come in, kick off your wellies and enjoy a glass of Kentish wine by the fire. From the menu •Soused herring with horseradish cream and soda bread £8.95 •Confit pork belly with barbecued celeriac, apple relish, crispy sage and cider cream £17.95 •50-day aged beef with ox cheek croquette, confit potato terrine and English mustard clotted cream £21.95 •Whipped cream cheese with caramelised pear and gingerbread crisp £6.95 •Chilled chocolate and cherry fondant with milk sorbet £6.95 Sole Street, Crundale, Canterbury, Kent CT4 7ES Save Save Save

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