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Restaurant review: Kathton House, Sturry

PUBLISHED: 16:22 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:22 16 November 2018

Fillet of beef with wild mushroom and red wine jus (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Fillet of beef with wild mushroom and red wine jus (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Knowledgeable, attentive service, masterful cooking and exciting food and wine pairings make Sturry’s Kathton House a must-visit and one to watch

The attractive dining room at Kathton House (photo: Manu Palomeque)The attractive dining room at Kathton House (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Having never knowingly been to Sturry before, I managed to completely miss the High Street then do several loops while I worked out it was one way and I’d just passed my destination, Kathton House, right at the end.

My journey from West Kent had also taken a ridiculously long time considering I was still in the same county, thanks to the vagaries of the M20, and I tried to barge in via the wrong door, despite a big arrow pointing me to the correct entrance.

It could have all gone badly wrong but, once finally inside, the fresh blue and white decor, soft lighting, simple elegance of white linen-clothed tables and, above all, the calm and soothing presence of assistant manager Dylan Olding, started to work their magic.

Despite being only 22 and in post a mere two months, Dylan’s training at the Abode in nearby Canterbury has created a consummate professional who is more than capable of running the restaurant, which newly married owners Corina Andro-Grenham and Justin Grenham took over in April.

Kathton House, a listed building that was once a hardware store, is named after the original owners Katherine and Tony (I guess ‘Corjus’ didn’t work quite so well to warrant a change ...).

Dessert at Kathton House (photo: Manu Palomeque)Dessert at Kathton House (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The dining room seats 35 and is nicely intimate, with wooden floors, a skylight, interesting nooks and crannies, a small garden to the rear and narrow courtyard leading to an en-suite guest room.

There are plans for further openings (Rye and Brighton were mentioned) and Romanian executive chef Niki Lupsa is ambitious for his first rosette.

The quality of food coming out of his small kitchen, where he has just two other chefs and up to three part-timers on busy days, suggests that ambition may very soon be realised.

Guided by Dylan, I chose my favourite scallops to start from an exciting à la carte that not only sees regular seasonal changes but also wine tastings to match new dishes (on my visit those included wood pigeon with braised chicory, fig chutney and pancetta and a pink tuna main served with cavolo nero, Swiss chard, anchovy mayonnaise and a saffron sauce).

There’s a six-course tasting menu as well, where each dish is carefully matched with its perfect wine accompaniment, an option that’s particularly popular at weekends, when the restaurant is invariably fully booked. And not just with locals – they’re flocking here from as far away as Southampton; even one family visiting from Australia recently made a point of dining here.

Executive chef Niki Lupsa (photo: Manu Palomeque)Executive chef Niki Lupsa (photo: Manu Palomeque)

While I waited for my first course I nibbled on an oven-warm roll made with mustard and oregano and an amuse bouche of a deep-fried goat’s cheese ball with a hint of cinnamon and splash of apple purée. So tiny, but packed with such complex flavours.

Dylan recommended a glass of Val de Loire Vouvray La Forcine with my pan-fried scallops, which perfectly picked up the accompanying apple purée, sharper pickled apple and lemon vinaigrette. Pretty and delicate on the plate, with a subtle scattering of violas, this was a new combination for me but I loved the fresh lightness of it and the contrasts of textures.

A rather unnecessary (in my eyes) raspberry sorbet then appeared as a palate cleanser – beautiful, but too sweet after such a subtle, delicate starter and just too much before a meat main, which was my next choice.

I opted for the fillet of beef served with confit potatoes, wild mushroom and beef red wine sauce, which was a stunner of a dish – glistening darkly on a deep blue plate, perfectly cooked to my liking and with a retro dish of baby corn, mange-tout, carrots and broccoli on the side. Dylan’s recommendation of a South African Freedom Cross Pinotage with its hints of blackcurrant and black pepper perfectly picked up the richness of the beef and its jus.

Keeping it classic, I finished with a dark chocolate mousse, which managed to be light yet dense and well, just heavenly – especially teamed with a first for me; compressed strawberries.

Prepared sous-vide to retain maximum juice and sweetness, this is a marriage made in heaven when teamed with chocolate. Sprinkled with tiny meringues to provide crunch and texture, this new favourite will be hard to beat.

Other dishes that caught my eye were the home-made tortellini with spinach and ricotta (the only veggie main) and blackberry mousse with deep-fried ice cream, which I must try!

Here is a chef not afraid to experiment, with a great eye for presentation and a mastery of flavour and unusual combinations that work and excite. Coupled with superb front-of-house service and an attractive, quirky setting, Kathton House is definitely one to watch. Next time, I’m staying over.

The essentials

What: Fine dining in an elegant listed restaurant just outside Canterbury

Where: Kathton House, 6 High Street, Sturry, nr Canterbury CT2 0BD, 01227 719999, www.kathtonhouse.com

When: Lunch and dinner daily Tue-Sat and Sun lunch 12-4pm

How much: Lunch £24 - £28.50, dinner £41-£48.50, Sun lunch £17-£29

Meet the chef

Niki Lupsa

Tell us a bit about you

I started culinary college at the age of 12 in my home country of Romania. My first commis chef job was at the Hilton Hotel in Bucharest, where I worked for three years, then went to work on cruise ships. My first job in the UK was in 2008 at a restaurant in Chester, after which I became the personal chef for Her Majesty’s Ambassador at the British Embassy in Bucharest. In 2015 I returned to the UK to be a sous chef at The Abode Hotel in Canterbury, leaving in June 2018 to join Kathton House.

And your principal local suppliers?

Brogdale Butchers in Sturry, The Lazy Lobster in Whitstable and TJ Fruiterers in Canterbury for our fruit and vegetables.

Current favourite dish on the menu?

The duck breast because of its Asian hints and the acidity introduced from the pickled damsons that accompany the dish so well.

Who has influenced you most?

Mircea Niculescu, head chef at the Hilton Hotel Bucharest, as he taught me the basics and how to constantly improve. Jauca Catalin, head chef at Abode Hotel in Canterbury, was a good mentor and gave me the chance to develop myself.

Your must-have kitchen gadget?

My plating tweezers, as they allow me to add the delicate finishing touches to dishes.

Who would you love to cook for?

When I worked at the British Embassy in Bucharest I had the pleasure of meeting and cooking for Prince Charles, and I can’t ask for more than that.

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