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Test Driving The Fordwich Arms - a waterside inn that's 100% worth the trek

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentThe oysters at Fordwich are particularly excellent. You can have them raw (£2.50 each) or poached (in this case with Oscietra caviar and Kentish rapeseed oil (£6.50)

What exactly is the big deal about The Fordwich Arms?

Remember that time when everyone (in the food world) was talking up The Sportsman as one of the best reasons to leave the Big Smoke? Well, that's pretty much where we are now with the Fordwich Arms.

This pub and restaurant is at the top of every foodie's hit list for a great out of town trip and there's a reason for that. In a short space of time - it opened at the end of 2017 - it got great reviews from all the main critics, brought in a Michelin star, won AA restaurant of the year and has been on the Top 50 Gastropubs list ever since.

Who's running the show?

Dan Smith is Chef Patron here - he's ex-Clove Club and was named The Observer's Young Chef of the Year in 2016. His wife Natasha is co-owner and pastry chef (she was at the Michelin-starred Chapter One before this). Head Chef Kieran Bellerby came here from Gary Usher's Elite Bistros in Manchester and in charge of wine is co-owner and sommelier Guy Palmer-Brown - who moonlights between here and his other position as Wine Director of The NoMad hotel in London.

So, yes, you could say it's a pretty strong team.

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentHere's the Fordwich Arms (the river flows behind it).

Where exactly is it?

As the name suggests you'll find it in Fordwich, which is also known as Britain's smallest town and was an ancient 'limb' to the Cinque Port of Sandwich. Now it's a lovely rural spot that's just a ten-minute taxi ride from Canterbury West. If you're coming here from London, the journey couldn't be easier - take the fast train from St Pancras in under an hour. The pub is right next to Fordwich's 16th-century town hall, on the banks of the River Stour.

And if we fancy staying over?

You could always go 'champing' in Fordwich's St Mary the Virgin (that's camping in a church in case you were wondering). Otherwise, the nearest bet is Canterbury for hotels or there's the option of self-catering at Woolton Farm, just over three miles away.

Where should we meet for a drink first?

That depends on the weather, really. Inside the Fordwich Arms, pretty much all of the space is given over to dining and there's a lovely sheltered terrace by the river for alfresco dining. There are a few seats up at the bar for a pre-dinner drink, but there's also a massive pub garden which you could just pop in for a pint on a nice day.

bar2It is worth propping yourself up at the bar for a quick pint before sitting down - this is beer from Chapel Down's Curious Brewery

What's on the menu?

Essentially it's a choice between a tasting and a-la-carte menu. Plus, if you're here on a Sunday you can enjoy a roast main course as part of that. The tasting menu is currently £85 for five courses, plus snacks, bread and petit fours. Wine pairing on top of that is an extra £75.

We opted for the a la carte for our weekday lunch and even before you get into that you're greeted with the first two 'extras':

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentSnacks - this lavish lot involved trout being salt-cured as it was sliced on a slab of Himalayan salt before being served on a potato crisp. There was also a bowl of heritage tomatoes with redcurrant, tomato and soy consommé and, in that terrarium, crisp lamb shoulder with capers and mint.

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentBread course - served with butter and also a pot of utterly divine whipped pork fat spread with marmite.

After that, you head into the a la carte proper

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentDuck liver parfait, Sauternes, beetroot & warm doughnuts (£15) - the doughnuts are off to the side and we think they should eome with all parfait courses from now on. 

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentRoast Orkney scallop, pea, white grape & verjus (£18) - thick slices of gorgeous scallop in a summer pea foam.

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentBlackface lamb rack, braised shoulder, young turnip & Isle of Wight tomato (£30) - that extremely delicate tart filled with the lamb shoulder was phenomenal.

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentSouth Coast turbot, summer truffle, grelot onion & Madeira (£32) - one of those great transitional dishes taking you from spring through to summer. And they really let the excellence of the fish speak for itself.

Room for dessert?

Part of the reason we opted for a la carte was the intention to make it all the way through to dessert without burnout. Here's what we had:

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentFordwich tiramisu (£11) - one of their signature dessert dishes. 

oyster course at the fordwich arms kentCherry, burnt vanilla & yoghurt tart (£9) - again, sublime pastry work. 

What about cheese?

If you're not fit to burst at the end of all this, you can have a go at the all-English cheese menu, It did look very good indeed, with the truffled Baron Bigod (£10 per portion) being the most tempting.

And to drink?

There are cocktails to start with - and you can also enjoy a nice pint of Curious at the bar (see above). The wine list, as you might imagine, is a bit special. On our visit, we kicked off with a lovely glass of local sparkling wine from Westwell (£12) and then opted for a bit of a bargain for our main bottle - a chilled red La Ficelle (£36) which took us through to desserts which were paired with a really unusual Herefordshire ice cider from Blenheim Superb.

Summing it all up

The Fordwich Arms had already built up a stellar reputation before we visited, so we went with extremely high expectations - all of which were met. Lunch here is a perfect day-trip for any Londoner and something you really should put in the diary. You can even pop into The Goods Shed (right next to Canterbury West station) to stock up on great local produce and booze on the way home. All in all, strongly recommended. 

 

More about The Fordwich Arms

Where is it? King St, Fordwich, Canterbury CT2 0DB

How to book: Book online

Find out more: Visit their website or follow them on Instagram @thefordwicharms.

 

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