As some readers will know I am responsible for the PR for Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight which takes me Canterbury on a regular basis. Every time I’m there I hope I’ll manage to get a table at a restaurant called Deeson’s – but it is so popular that advance booking really is essential… By some miracle though I recently, finally managed to get in as a solo diner. Below is my restaurant review.
It’s the last day of the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight launch weekend. I’m knackered. I need a rich, meaty meal and a restorative beer. Canterbury has lots of good places to eat but they fill up quickly so unplanned dining isn’t always a success here.
I wander up Guildhall Street from the High Street. In and around what I think of as the Sun Street triangle (take a look at it on a map) there’s a choice of restaurants and eateries, including the wonderful Salt tapas restaurant on Palace Street – where I went with friends recently – Belgian restaurant La Trappiste and Deeson’s. I look longingly at the Deeson’s menu and ask a waitress if they have any tables. “Is it just for you?” she asks. I smile and nod. “Then we might have. Take a seat for a moment and I’ll find out.” She returns smiling. Finally I am in.
Although Deeson’s has a reputation for fish and seafood it is meat I need. Beef? No. Pork? No. Lamb? It’s my childhood favourite. Yes.
Regular readers will know I believe the British restaurant industry needs to make much more of beer and about my work to bring a beer section (called Brewhouse – which is happening again in 2015) to the London Wine Fair where some of the best beers around are put in front of people responsible for sourcing and buying them. Deeson’s is a rare example of a restaurant with a small but varied beer menu featuring local breweries. There’s none of the usual, lazy reliance on lagers here – although local lager is available. The selection includes a strong ale, an IPA, two pale ales and a stout. A range not to be sniffed at. Maybe they found it easy to stock local brews in a beer-steeped, hop-growing stronghold like Kent, but as most counties in the UK now have several local breweries there’s little excuse for restaurants not to at least investigate whether they might stock some (although I accept they’ll most likely be looking for bottles and not all breweries are able to bottle or bottle well).
It gets better. The waitress had clearly tasted the beers. I am delighted – but it’s tempered by a wish that she also had knowledge of how to put beer and food together. I’ve mentioned I’ll be having the lamb and asked after a strong ale to see if it will go nicely with it. She says it is rather bitter, so I don’t think it will work with the sweetness of lamb, but she suggests Gadds’ No. 3 pale ale instead – which is also pretty bitter. I decline and order the Oyster Stout (also Gadds’) instead.
I love the fact that Deeson’s is a proudly British restaurant, serving top notch British food in unpretentious surroundings. Old fashioned chairs and scrubbed wooden tables combine with walls painted subtle shades of blues and greys with occasional flourishes like the jet black wallpaper adorned with colourful butterflies next to my table.
The service is attentive and efficient without being intrusive – although I wish my waitress were a little warmer. She is absolutely polite, I’d just like her to be a little more friendly to this solo diner.
I have to wait a little while for my food, but a young man comes to apologise telling me that chef wasn’t happy with my lamb. What’s worth having is of course worth waiting for. The roast lamb (a slow cooked shoulder served with new potatoes, baby carrots, mixed greens and mint sauce) is exquisite and melt in the mouth with only a little fat on it. It’s a proper, good-sized portion of meat too with exactly the right amount of potatoes and a decent amount of veg. Mixed greens turns out to include kale and sprouting broccoli, there’s the carrots too and and a surprise joy in the shape of tiny onions cooked whole. It ticks all the boxes – and there are many when it comes to lamb as my mum used to cook it for me in many different ways.
It is at this point it dawns on me that it’s not just the decor that is unpretentious. The prices – mains from £14 – are insanely good value for the quality of the food and the portion sizes.
I was right about the beer and food pairing. This rich dish called for dark beer – no hop bombs required. The slightly sweet, earthy flavour of Gadds’s Black Pearl Oyster Stout (6.2%) complemented the lamb and the meat returned the favour. The beer isn’t entirely without bitterness, but it’s restrained and not too harsh thanks to the use of British hops. There’s also vinous and figgy flavours and tiny hints of tangy liquorice. All this, with exactly the right amount of natural carbonation from the bottle conditioning, combined to refresh my palate between mouthfuls of meaty delight prepared in the Deeson’s kitchen.
Beer – being the sociable drink it is – is mostly improved by good company but occasionally I find myself alone and I’m not going to forego beer as well as companions. It is an exceptional restaurant or pub that is able to provide a memorable evening for someone visiting alone – but Deeson’s is exceptional. I can completely see why it is so difficult to get a table here, glad I persevered and even gladder that I finally got in.
Deeson’s British Restaurant is at 25-27 Sun St, Canterbury, Kent.