Places To Eat In Kent: New Management at The Compasses Inn, Crundale

It’s always a challenge, discovering a total revamp under new ownership of a once beloved destination, but while it still has a few kinks to work out I’m really glad I got in there at the beginning to test out the new food offering at the Kent pub I’ve probably spent the most time at over the years, The Compasses Inn in Crundale.

Towards the last few months of last year custodians Rob and Donna set off to open Tallow which quickly became one of 2021’s hottest new openings, and last week The Compasses started to serve food again with Michelin starred chef Ben Crittenden from STARK in the kitchen, soon to be joined by Masterchef the Professionals and The Dog Inn alumni Sam McClurkin.

As I mentioned, there are still some kinks to work out. The pub feels very much at the moment that it has been stripped of it’s atmosphere without a new one bring brought in to replace it, but I have a lot of hope for what they’re doing trying to bring the Compasses back to being a good old drinking pub, as well as a fine dining gastropub. By the looks of it they’ve got some great beers on tap, and it would be nice to see the beer tied into the food somehow as it is something the pub will be specialising in (they’re planning on brewing their own on site): suggested beer pairings alongside wine pairings on the menu would be a nice touch?

Anyway, I was driving so as well as the wine I enjoyed a lovely Citrus and Samphire Shrub with soda water from behind the bar; it was lovely for there to be an interesting 0% option that went well with the food. The Tempranillo we all had a glass or so of was also excellent, though we felt more could have been done to showcase the drinks on offer as it was not really clear and the wine list was not made available in the bar while they were getting the table ready.

Anyway, the food when it came was exceptional. The star dish of the day was the pigs head, slow cooked to umami perfection and served with a preparation of apples and celeriac. It looked lovely on the plate, and the flavours were unparalleled. We were also rather impressed with the cured salmon served with herbed creme fraiche, a wonderfully light and delicate fennel salad, and some fantastic seaweed crackers. The fish was, frankly, gorgeous, and the whole dish was very special, yet very simple.

The whole, small menu (four choices only for each course) was a wonderful mix of fine dining gastropub and slight more ‘good food pub’ dishes, which is what my starter was, a flawless chicken liver parfait served with a good red onion chutney wrapped in a lovely truffle cream that had just enough perfume without being overpowering. It came with a good toasted sourdough (though never enough, why do restaurants never serve enough bread with the size of the pate portion?!) and I enjoyed it as much as I would have done the other two starters, even though it was a lot simpler.

Determined to try as much of the menu as possible, we all went for something a little different on the main course. My beef sirloin was beautiful, served with a delicious carrot / chervil / toasted buckwheat / horseradish cream preparation, and the steamed pudding that came with it had a lovely flavour, even if the filing was a bit dense. And excellent dish overall, however, which I heartily enjoyed.

The barbecue pork with a poached egg, potato terrine and Tenderstem broccoli was more on the pub food side of things: I was told that while the flavours themselves did not 100% seem to make sense together each element was absolutely delicious, and the pork I tried a bite of was tender, succulent and had an incredible flavour: some of the best pork I’ve eaten out in a while.

I think the star of the mains, however, was the confit cod with brown shrimp, mashed potatoes, umami butter sauce and baby leeks. The cod almost melted in the mouth (to excuse the overdone culinary expression) and the sauce was fantastic, accented by the allium sharpness of the leeks and the seafood sweetness from the shrimp. It looked utterly beautiful on the plate, too.

The puddings gave me more to get excited over. I was reliably informed by the coffee lover at the table that the elegant looking chocolate coffee cremeux served with dulce leche and a buttermilk sorbet (which I also tasted and can confirm was light, lovely, and with just the right amount of tang) was excellent, and the tonka bean panna cotta with almond sorbet and candy pink poached forced rhubarb was lovely too.

However, I can promise you I’ll still be thinking about my warm orange steamed pudding served with blood orange slices sitting in a puddle of cool marscapone custard sometime into next week. It was light, tender, and hit just the right level of contrast between hot and cold, sweet and sharp. Such a simple, seasonal dessert, executed perfectly. Honestly, it really was something special.

Book a table at The Compasses here, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed by the food! I for one am looking forward to checking it out again later in the year (but I’ve got a lot more places I’ve never reviewed to hit up first now things are somewhat back to normal!) to see how they’re getting on.

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