The last six months has been a whirlwind as you can probably tell with the lack of posts on my blog. To recover, we booked a nine night stay in a cottage in Kent that coincided with our wedding anniversary. We decided to treat ourselves to lunch at The Compasses Inn, near Canterbury to celebrate.
I’d become aware of The Compasses Inn as an avid follower of The Top 50 Gastropubs, as this always provides me with ideas of great places to eat when on holiday. Coming in at Number 44 in the 2018 list, The Compasses Inn was somewhere that had been on my radar for a while. On the day that we dined, it was also recognised by Michelin with a Bib Gourmand, recognising great value, quality food for its lunch set menu (more on this later).
The Compasses Inn is located around 5 miles from both Canterbury and Ashford. Its location is very rural and can only be reached around 2–3 miles down a small, winding country road. This journey just adds to the magic and really reinforces the country pub that it is. The village itself is really just a single road with a few houses and the local pub, so don’t expect to find much else.
According to their website, the pub is owned by a husband and wife team, with Robert in the kitchen and Donna taking front-of-house. We can certainly say that both obviously have lots of experience as both food and hospitality were excellent.
As you’ll see from the header image, the pub is very much a traditional Kentish country rural pub and inside is no different. On entering through the front you come across the main bar area, which also seats around 4–5 tables for food. This is a traditional, wooden beamed area and the staff provide a warm, friendly welcome.
We were shown through to our table in the rear dining area, which has a further 10 tables, each seating up to 4 people. Although this is clearly a more modern addition to the pub, it looks very traditional — the main compromise being electric fires (with real-fire effect) to allow tables to be put a little closer. We didn’t really need them as it was a warm day outside, although you can see how cosy this room would be during the deepest winter. This main dining room also leads out to a large beer garden at the rear of the pub, next to a large, well lit car-park.
For lunch on a Friday in September the pub was fully booked. The website suggests booking and given the remote location its certainly something I would recommend, unless you are prepared to arrive at 12 sharp (and even then you may be disappointed). We did see one car pull up and leave after finding the pub was booked up.
The pub has clearly undergone a refurbishment over the last few years and the toilets were immaculate, although naturally pretty small in a side extension to the main building.
At lunchtime on a Friday we were offered two menus. First up was the excellent value, set-lunch menu at £19.95 for 3-courses. With three choices per course, we saw others eating this and it really looked great. It is this menu that the pub has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for. Given this was a celebration for our anniversary, we opted to eat from the main menu instead.
Before we started our meal we were offered the obligatory bread. It’s fair to say that The Compasses Inn is homemade and was absolutely amazing. We were given two pieces each (I believe one was more like a focaccia and the other was a crusty white) served with butter and marmite cream cheese. Not being a big marmite fan I was slightly put off by the cream cheese, but after tasting it really complemented the bread and tasted great. It seemed like if you ordered the set menu you weren’t given bread, but it could be ordered separately and we would certainly recommend it!
Having both ordered from the main menu I opted for the Ham Hock Terrine while my wife decided to try the Pork Belly. Both were beautifully presented (if a little similar looking!) and tasted great. The terrine was perfectly completed by the pickled pear on top as well as the ketchup. My wife was similarly satisfied with the crispy pork belly with poached apples. Both were great dishes but not our highlight.
Following a short wait our main courses arrived. By this point the dining room had really filled up. When I’m out I always try to order something I wouldn’t normally eat at home and this time it was game season so I opted for the locally sourced Pigeon. Clara opted for the Soy Glazed Ox Cheek. We also decided to order a side of triple-cooked chips — partly as I always love to compare these, but also as I was a little concerned the mains would be large enough. The side dishes were great value at £3.50, when compared to our normal £5+ in most London establishments.
On the size front, we needn’t have worried. Both mains were a great size, with the ox cheek dish being particularly large and served with chips already (which I hadn’t noticed earlier). The pigeon dish was a little smaller, but even so we struggled to get through the rather large portion of triple-cooked chips that arrived. These would easily be shared by 3 people as an accompaniment to a main dish.
The pigeon dish was great, the Pigeon was very rich and complemented well with the sauce, pickled red cabbage and potato. The ball of black pudding was particularly delicious! Clara really enjoyed her ox-cheek, with perhaps it even being a little too large. The ‘smoked’ chips on the side were a little less successful. Overall we both preferred the normal triple-cooked chips as the others tasted a little too much like eating a BBQ (the smoky bit!) after a while.
After not really managing to finish all the chips with the main course, we still wanted to try out desserts and I’m very glad that we did! The menu gave us plenty of choice and I opted for my normal chocolate addiction, this time going for a Chocolate Mousse Brownie. Clara could also satisfy her asian sweet tooth by going for a Macaron served with Black Sesame Ice Cream.
We had a little wait for our desserts, which was no bad thing after the large main courses. As the pub was busy I think we probably got stuck behind a couple of other orders and if anything it would have been great to get them 5 minutes or so earlier. Luckily we were in no rush, but others who arrived after us certainly were served more quickly (admittedly they were on the set menu).
Both desserts were simply sensational! They were certainly our highlights of the meal. We could both have easily polished off two pieces of each. The ice creams to accompany them were also really well thought out, full of flavour and a great match. If you have a sweet tooth, then I’d recommend opting for dessert, no matter how full you are!
Finally, brought out at the same time as our dessert, we were given a lovely plate with ‘Happy Anniversary’ written on it. Presented with a few small chocolates, this was a lovely addition to the meal (I had mentioned it was our anniversary when booking). Thank you!
Throughout the meal service was amazing friendly. It was obvious that the front-of-house was well looked after by Donna who was supported by two other waitresses. We found out early on that it as one of the waitresses first services, and while she was clearly nervous (a little accident with a glass didn’t help!) we felt very welcome and looked after. Donna is obviously very experienced and when we arrived 10 minutes early she clearly told us that she would come and take our order at the right time to avoid stressing the kitchen. Its great to be made aware of this, rather than just appearing to forget someone.
We really enjoyed our trip to The Compasses Inn and would certainly revisit. Our personal highlight was the desserts and I’m not sure who looks after desserts in the kitchen, but they clearly understand how to satisfy people at the end of a meal. The total bill (excluding service) was around £85, but if you’re on a tighter budget then you can easily do 3-courses from the set menu much more cheaply. In fact, it would probably be cheaper than a visit to Pizza Express or Zizzi’s and would certainly be more satisfying!
The Compasses Inn is a little off the beaten track, but if you find yourself in the area don’t hesitate to visit!