The Small Holding Guest Chef Dinner at The Compasses Inn, Crundale
Do you remember when I wrote about an amazing evening I’d spent at my favourite food pub – The Compasses Inn in Crundale – where Russell Norman came and we had dishes from his cookbooks, cooked by the Compasses Team as part of their guest chef series? Last Monday I was lucky enough to attend another of their amazing evenings with another amazing chef I’m already a fan of, Will Devlin from The Small Holding (which I reviewed in September) full of Kentish ingredients (a lot of which were foraged) and flawless cooking. Left to right, in this great team photo I took when I snuck into the kitchen after service: Will, Scott Hubble, The Compasses’ sous chef, and Rob Taylor, the genius behind everything delicious that comes out of The Compasses’ kitchen.
We started with some nibbles and fizz in the bar. Gusbourne’s local English Sparkling is always a good idea, and while I did have a nibble of an impossibly light cheese and onion choux bun (wonderfully delicious, but not very Rachel friendly!) I was all over the wonderfully tender and flavourful venison croquettes, topped with a squidge of bright, but still very autumnal homemade damson ketchup. I love substantial nibbles like this.
Sitting down for our first course, a round of celeriac served in a celeriac veloute-like sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and a scattering of ants. Yes, ants. Obviously I had to lift the cheese off my portion and the celeriac was still delicious, but I want to talk about those ants. I’d never been brave enough to try them before, but as I trusted the chefs, ants. Ants are amazing, They’ve got a tiny bit of crunch (but not in a gross way) and an astringent, lemony burst, adding brightness and zing to any dish. If you get a chance, try some ants. I’m in love.
Next, more cheese from Rob. Crispy Winnies Wheel with a molten core, topped with caramelised cauliflower puree and sitting on a base of a water wonderful pickled walnut ketchup. I can tell you the sauces were lovely?
Anyway, onto my first course proper, Will’s raw, hand-dived scallops with apple and lovage. These were incredibly fresh, and rather than being bright and zingy as you’d expect most raw scallop dishes to be, the texture was incredible, making it almost creamy, but still with some of those crunchy, fruity bursts from the interspersed apple cubes. This, along with a chocolate caramel macaroon you’ll see in a minute, was my favourite dish.
Next came on of The Compasses’ signature dishes that, if you’re a regular or if you’ve visited them at Pub In The Park you’ll recognise: soused herrings with dill mayo and pickled shallots. The balance on this dish is beautiful, fresh, acidic and creamy, all at the same time, and it always looks so beautiful on the plate. And these are proper, kosher-style rollmops, delicate, fresh, but with a wonderful firmness to the flesh that is so often lost.
Next, another beautiful dish from Will. After visiting The Small Holding I did not shut up about the impossibly tender mutton we had for weeks – this second meat main dish also did not disappoint. If you are not aware, The Small Holding is called such because they have a literal small holding at the end of their car park where they grow and rear the vast majority of what appears on their menu. The pork we had came from one of their pigs they’d slaughtered the week before. Again, so juicy and tender in a way you’re not quite sure pork can really be, it was served with more produce from The Small Holding that had been kept back from the summer harvest and preserved for autumn / winter – preserved lettuce and some beautiful fermented tomatoes I’d love to recreate.
For Rob’s main we had another of his classics: slow cooked ox, this time glazed with stout, and served with a mushroom ketchup and a wonderful English mustard clotted cream (I love Rob’s flavoured clotted cream – there used to be a confit salmon dish served with dill clotted cream on the menu that I wish he’d bring back!) The meat was moist, tender, unctuous. The whole rich was rich but not too much, and perfect for our last savoury course.
Also, can we pause for a moment before dessert to talk about a couple of wine / beer pairings that were part of the wine flight on offer to go with these past two courses? With the pork we had a wonderfully light 2018 Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir from Simpsons Wine. One of the newer Kent vineyards I’ve always found their wines to be a little young for my tastes, they’ll be much better in a couple of years time once the vines have had a chance to mature, but this was wonderfully bright and light, perfect to go with milder meats like the pork, and perfect served just slightly chilled, like Biddenden Vineyard’s Gamay Noir from the same year.
Looking backwards for a moment, with our herring we were offered a Triple Hopped Bear Island lager. As the name gives away, this is a very hoppy bear, more like an ale, and it was a curious choice to go with the herring. At first, I had no idea how it could work, but actually, it complimented the herring beautifully, not drowning any of the delicate flavours. It took a while for me as I associate herring with breakfast, but it was actually lovely.
Moving forward again, to the picture below, with the ox we’re back in Kent again with Shepherd Neame’s Double Stout. Now, I’m not a stout drinker. The only interaction I usually have with it is when my Mum puts it in the Christmas Pudding (that I don’t actually like) but it was much lighter than I expected, and not heavy at all with the very rich ox, contrary to my expectations, cutting through the glazed meat and indulgent mushroom ketchup.
Shall we talk about pudding? First, Will sent out a wonderful dish of Small Holding apples on a very light and thin pastry base, with a pine ice and the most wonderful iteration of Kentish cobnuts I’ve ever tasted – made into a sort of puree butter, like a wonderfully rice and nutty nutella before being spread on the plate underneath the tart. The whole thing was wonderful, a lesson in balance and desserts that don’t have to be pure sugar.
Rob made a wonderful macaroon, chocolate and caramel, which was part dessert, part rich and indulgent confection just slightly larger than you’d expect to find in a chocolate box, rather than a dessert plate. This, with Will’s scallops, was my favourite dish of the evening, a lesson in balance where excess would have been too easy.
Another of my favourite touches at The Small Holding were their petit fours, so I was really happy glancing at the menu at the start of the evening to find more were planned with our pots of fresh mint tea. It seems that madeleines, perfectly buttery and insanely light are something of a Small Holding signature, and they came still warm from the oven (indeed they were still going out when I slipped into the kitchen after polishing off mine). They were paired with preserved orange and chocolate fudge, little bites of richness to bring the meal to a close.
The Compasses have more guest chef evenings planned for the New Year, so keep an eye on their Instagram where they are the first to announce upcoming events and give details of how to book!