I’ve heard the phrase “destination restaurant” a few times recently – it seems to be rather ‘on trend’ or whatever descriptor we’re using for something that all the cool kids are aspiring to these days. From what I can glean, it means that your primary reason for visiting is the restaurant itself. So it’s not somewhere you popped in to while you were visiting a friend or your Auntie Mabel, or a place you spotted on a shopping trip with your pals, or fell into after visiting a landmark. You went there for that restaurant, and that restaurant alone.
While I’m slightly sceptical about some people’s view of their establishment as a ‘destination restaurant’, or indeed their ambitions to be one, I’m pretty sure the Corner House in Minster fits into this spot. Minster is small. I mean, really small. We visited on our recent visit to Kent and were surprised (pleasantly) by the stillness and quiet after slightly busier seaside towns of Whitstable and Broadstairs.
It’s pretty too. There’s a church (obvs), some B&Bs, chocolate box little houses, one of those train stations that’s basically a platform and nothing more. And there’s the Corner House. Its home is an old-world building that has been simultaneously modernised but also restored, helping it fit comfortably in its village surroundings.
There’s actually more than one Corner House. The Minster version, originally headed up by Matt Sworder who trained at Gordon Ramsey’s La Noisette when it opened in 2013 and now run under Head Chef Predrag Kostic, and a sister restaurant in Canterbury which opened its doors in July 2016.
Both have rooms, too – useful if you’re travelling to visit, and Minster can declare itself award-winning, scooping title of Kent Restaurant of the Year in 2015 and 2017. It’s also recently become dog-friendly in one area of the restaurant, garnering a big hurrah from pooch-loving gluttons like the Mannings, and I’m proud to say Brandy was pretty much the first dog to visit.
Inside there’s a nicely-executed rustic charm about the place, but again with a finesse that belies somewhere that takes its food, and service, seriously. We’re greeted at the door and taken to our table without a second of discomfort at a slightly large Rottweiler coming for lunch and tucked in the corner near a comforting fire and perfectly placed to admire some eye-catching artwork on the wall.
The menu is all about locally-sourced, British produce. It’s not too fussy but, like the decor, shows finesse. Starters include chicken liver parfait, smoked mackerel pate and Stour Valley pigeon breast, while the mains range from confit pork belly to flat iron steak, Mussels ‘Kentish style’, stuffed rabbit loin or pan-fried duck breast.
However, it’s the sharers that catch our eye. We’re tempted by the pot roasted pheasant but its the Romney Marsh lamb that reels us in like a sexy seductress (or the male equivalent). A slow-braised lamb shoulder with dauphinoise potatoes, seasonal vegetables and lamb jus.
Like any great date, it’s even better in person than on paper. It arrives resplendent on a board with a saucepan of the jus next to it, just crying out to be torn from the bone and devoured. Our groans as the meat falls apart bring the reminder that this lamb has been slow-roasted for four-and-a-half to six hours until its this tender, while the jus alone is a two-day process. It’s rich, succulent, and deep in flavour, while the jus is a potent love potion if you’re the kind of person who goes weak at the knees for concentrated meaty goodness.
If the main event wasn’t impressive enough, the sides were pretty darn good-looking best friends. The Dauphinoise was crunchy on top, soft and fluffy underneath, and indulgently creamy. The veg was cooked perfectly, tender without being mushy yet still with the right degree of unyielding texture. And I’m not sure how they do the slightly crunchy cauliflower, but I’m definitely up for having it again.
It’s a LOT of food. So much so that we had to ask for a doggie bag and enjoy the next day (which yes, was still frickin great). And at £19 per person, I think it’s blimin good value for food that good. I hear that people return time and time again for this dish alone and having had it, I can see why.
The dessert menu called to us, whispering sweet nothings (or somethings) like sticky date and ale sponge, treacle tart and dark chocolate mousse. But the lamb had left us spent, somewhere in that place between feeling oh-so-satisfied and battling feelings of guilt that come with such sinful gluttony. We vowed to return again – having better prepared with a long walk around the Kent countryside and some kind of training to stretch our bellies ready for an epic feed.
Like a second date after a passionate first meeting, I’ve got it all planned out. From the romantic walk in the picturesque surroundings first, to a room upstairs or nearby so we can enjoy a long lazy lunch and at least one bottle of wine and definitely dessert.
But some things will be the same. And they’ll be just as gorgeous. The service, the setting, the fact we can take Brandy too. And that lamb. That lovely, lovely lamb…… *exits stage left to lie down in a darkened room with meat dreams*
If a destination is one that leaves you planning a three hour drive just to eat the same meal you’ve already had before, the Corner House fits the bill for me. It’s not Michelin starred, the food doesn’t look like a piece of modern art, but in a world dominated by “trends”, gimmicks and ever-increasingly complex cuisines and presentation it’s refreshingly simple and honest whilst retaining the most important things when it comes to dining (in my book anyway) – flavour, quality, comfort and service. I for one am planning a long-term relationship between us 😉
We were invited for a complimentary meal at The Corner House. I have to confess to not feeling 100% when we went but it’s testament to their food and service that we stayed, filled our faces and left wishing we had it in us to go the whole hog. This was fab, and when I’m firing on all cylinders I know the earth’s going to move.