We have something special in East Kent in the form of our high quality, local country pubs focusing on good food made with local ingredients, paired with carefully curated wine lists. Last year the exciting news came that Mark Sargent, the Michelin starred chef behind some of the Kent and London restaurants we all love like Rocksalt in Folkestone and Plum + Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel in London was taking over the rather average pub in one of the Canterbury-adjacent villages I frequent: The Duke William in Ickham.
When I first heard about the opening I wanted to head on down a soon as, but local rumours that all you were getting was standard pub fayre with inflated prices, and an experience at Rocksalt with fantastic food, but frustrating service put me off somewhat. So, it was only last Saturday that we had the chance to head out into the spring sunshine for lunch, now the pub has had the last year to get into its groove.
Settling down with a basket of freshly baked sourdough, and current and fennel seed bread we ran through the menu, accompanied by a carafe of Croatian white wine for those of us who were not driving. I particularly loved the flavoured bread, and it really got me excited for the first course. As for the wine, we'd never had Croatian before. It was a lot like an English wine such as Chapel Down's Flint Dry, but with a nice, sharp acidity at the end. I'm curious, so I now want to hunt down a Croatian red to sample, too.
We started with something from the bar menu. I was interested about 'mussel popcorn' the moment I saw it on there (they also do a mussel popcorn hot dog), and I confirm that even if you're not at the bar and sitting down to dine, it is a very, very good call. Big, plump mussels are deep fried in a crisp batter and served with a delicious homemade mayonnaise in a way that delighted the mussel lover at the table (me) and even converted those who usually would not touch them. A clever example of the fact there are not really 'likes' and 'dislikes' with any ingredients in life, just ways of cooking them.
Moving onto starters proper, I'm a sucker for devilled eggs wherever they appear. These were made with a paprika spice mix that made them taste almost meaty (I had to check with the server that they were in fact meat free), topped with a rich, plump and salty Spanish ortiz anchovy each. Oh, and a tangle of lightly dressed lambs lettuce on the side. They blew the last devilled eggs I'd had out of the water (at Zinique in Venice: Los Angeles, if you must know), and I cannot understand why they don't also appear on the bar menu.
Wherever my father goes and there is potted shrimp on the menu, that is what he orders. Therefore, I've had the opportunity to steal bites of many good and great versions over the years. A generous amount of sweet shrimp, shaped with just the right amount of seasoned butter, and simple yet thoughts out accompaniments made this plateful perfect for fans of such a thing. My father found it a solid specimen.
Daddy is also pretty predictable in that he will always order something meaty, even in a seafood restaurant. However, it was good that we got a solid read on the 300g Rib Eye, served with a garlic herb butter, grilled tomato and mushroom, yet more lambs lettuce and chips, as The Duke William do a wonderful sounding steak night each week with £15 steaks, and a free bottle of house wine between two. He enjoyed it, but noted that it did not blow him away; something to ponder for £28 (by far the most expensive dish on the menu) in a small village near Canterbury when the steak is not mouthwatering, even if Hugh Grant sometimes stops by.
The rest of us ordered one of the specials, sea bass, topped with brown shrimp butter served on a bed of blanched curly kale and crushed potatoes. It was perfectly executed, full of rich, well balanced flavours, and was polished off all around. As the sister to a fish restaurant, you know you'll be in good hands with seafood.
Shall we finish off with dessert? We're onto more person-predictable dishes here: given the option, both my father and I will always order one of our all time favourites, Kentish gypsy tart. My Mum makes a mean one, but the brown sugar/ condensed milk/ cream filled tart is a bit rich just for the two of us to eat a whole one! Perfectly light and traditionally flavoured in a sweet, thin pie crust, what really excited me was the dollop of fresh lemon cream on the site, that perfectly cut through the intense sweetness of the tart. Honestly, this was one of the best plates of gypsy tart I've ever had, and what I'd recommend over anything else.
While I did not try it, the rich, warm, just set chocolate brownie looked super decadent next to a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. I think the only complaint there was that it was impossible to finish all of the chocolate on the plate; the ice cream had frozen the chocolate under it rock solid stuck to the plate!
If you're in our neck of the woods, or looking to escape London for the weekend, I'd really recommend booking at table for a lunch you most certainly won't be disappointed with. After lunch (and stopping by the garden centre for the obligatory British May Bank Holiday visit) we headed over to Barnsole Vineyard in Staple for a tasting of their brand new English sparkling wine they've launched this month. But more on that soon!