On the list of local restaurants here in East Kent I have been meaning to visit for a while is this place called The Corner House in Minister. I'd heard very good things, but then I spied that the old Flying Horse pub on Canterbury's dreaded ring road (no, really, try getting out of the city onto it at 5pm!) was being re-painted. The Corner House were opening their second restaurant (they are going to be opening up rooms upstairs later this year) in the City Centre, and they were kind enough to invite me along to check it out.
They have a set lunch menu, lighter lunch options (I want to go back to try some of their sandwiches), and their full a la carte, which you can find online. We went for the main menu (which I paired with local Kent wines from their great wine list), as it seemed like the best way to try as much as possible.
Some great, still warm homemade bread came to the table as we ordered, to go with our starters, a glass each of Chapel Down's Rose Brut English sparkling wine, one of my favourites of theirs, and in my opinion one of the best English sparkling wines out there (you can read more about it in my post from the vineyard).
To start, I went for the Garden Pea Panna Cotta with a broad bean and mint salad, topped off with crispy shallots. It was a really rich, bright, creamy starter; so imaginative and unexpected with great textures and flavours. Literally my only qualm about this dish is that I would not technically call it a panna cotta; there was absolutely to wobble whatsoever, which was disappointing. It was more of a cream mousse.
My lunch date's starter was excellent fun. She had a flower pot, filled with seasonal veg (mostly grown by the restaurant, and all from the Canterbury/ Minster area), served with a nutty homemade pesto (walnut or cobnut, I think) and a lovely and rich, grassy aioli for dipping and scooping. There was crisp cucumber, peppery radishes, a gloriously sweet baby roasted carrot, English garden peas and long, thin, new season beans. The vegetables will change depending on what day you visit, and this will be the starter I order the next time I visit. It was so lovely and whimsical. The only complaint I heard was some of the peas were not picked early enough so they were a little tough, but as I said, the veggies will always rotate.
I struggled a bit pairing local wine by the glass with our mains. The only options were from Biddenden Vineyard, and I find their 2014 wines a bit lacking. I skipped the white as I already knew I could do better, and went for the rose instead. It was an okay wine, but a bit flat; it tasted much better with food than without. In all honesty, either don't show off the best of English wine, so order something else by the glass, or order a bottle of Chapel Down's Flint Dry if there is a couple of you at the table who are not driving.
As we did when we visited The Sportsman earlier in the month, we ordered both of the fish specials and swapped half way through: herb crumbed cod loin with mashed potato and an oven dried tomato and spinach fish cream sauce, and a pan fried seabass fillet with mashed potato and a courgette, black olive and tomato salsa. They were both great dishes, and we both preferred the crisp seabass and bright, punchy salsa. However, we both felt that both dishes did not as much live up to the reputation of The Corner House. Within walking distance in the city centre, Deeson's will give you a consistently better fish dish for the same sort of price, and The Good's Shed will give you even better than that for barely much more.
Our dessert sharing platter is reason enough all by itself to book a table at The Corner House right now. Somehow produced for only £7 per person (!) we were presented with a lemon posset topped off with fresh single cream, a scoop of (simply divine) homemade honeycomb ice cream in a frosted kilner jar, a slice of (unusually but actually quite pleasantly coffee spiked) Kentish gypsy tart, slightly brûléed and topped off with lemon zest and a raspberry compote, a pair wonderfully soft and aromatic cookies studded with fennel seeds, and a rich chocolate brownie, served with caramel sauce and a scoop of peanut butter ice cream. And yes, it was all bloody fantastic, and absolutely as good as it looks.
To finish off my Kentish wine pairings, I ordered a glass of Chapel Down's Nectar, a really exciting, perfumed, honeyed dessert wine which tastes like an English country garden that I wanted to tell you about when I visited Chapel Down, but forgot to take a photo of. It really complimented all of the desserts, and I'd call it a special little treat to order with your pudding wherever you see it on a menu.
While this may seem like a bit of a mixed review, I am really pleased The Corner House has come to Canterbury. The service is flawless and the atmosphere is really relaxed and quiet; with the frosted windows you would never know that you were right on the ring road; it is an oasis of calm. The starters are fun and imaginative, and the desserts are to die for. There are cocktails I have yet to try made from Kentish Nip from the Hip fruit liquors, and they have great sharing options for their mains, including daily barbecue options for 2 or more people which is absolutely perfect for the summer season. I will defiantly be going back, but I also want to drive out to Minster to try the original; I feel some of my niggles from our Canterbury meal may simply just be teething problems for the brand new branch which only opened at the end of last month.