Review: ABode, Canterbury

PUBLISHED: 15:18 11 February 2019

Fine ingredients, skilfully presented

Fine ingredients, skilfully presented

Archant

With a fabulous setting in the heart of the city, ABode Canterbury is not only a great place to stay but offers a fantastic dining experience too

Canterbury is blessed with so much to offer lucky locals and visitors alike, from its world-famous Cathedral and revitalised Marlowe Theatre to its vibrant shopping and dining scene.

It is also blessed in having a rather fabulous hotel right in the heart of the city that’s just been awarded three AA rosettes for its restaurant, joining a mere 10 per cent of all AA-rated hotels across the UK to hold the accolade.

ABode Canterbury was commended on having an ‘outstanding restaurant that achieves standards that demand national recognition well beyond its local area’ – which gave me a great excuse to stay the night and check out the claims for myself.

The ABode enjoys a fantastic city-centre setting in historic CanterburyThe ABode enjoys a fantastic city-centre setting in historic Canterbury

An easy walk from Canterbury West (always my preferred choice when travelling here from West Kent) and right opposite The Beaney, glass doors offer first sight of an enticingly glamorous interior complete with a Champagne Bar.

Reception staff are young, fun and welcoming (Ricky of the great hair and charisma proved a particular delight) and I was soon checked in and admiring my ‘Most Enviable’ room – categories range from ‘Comfortable’ to ‘Fabulous.’

It most certainly was enviable. Spacious, with a supremely comfortable king-size bed I found very hard to leave the following morning, there was a splendid bathroom with a freestanding roll-top bath and wet room, a smart leather sofa, even plenty of desk space – always a plus for me.

A feature wall papered with pencil-filled pots was a nice quirky touch and I loved the muted, modern tartan in warm autumnal shades used for soft furnishings.

Catalin Jauca, Executive Head Chef at ABode CanterburyCatalin Jauca, Executive Head Chef at ABode Canterbury

But dinner beckoned and I took the stairs to appreciate better the historic charms of this hotel which, alongside its contemporary appeal, has 12th-century origins seen in old wooden beams, sloping ceilings and nooks and crannies.

Airy and spacious, The County restaurant takes its name from the hotel’s original name back in 1892. Characterised by modern European cuisine, it breathes a classic yet very modern elegance, with plush neutral furniture and low lighting, a gorgeous central bar and black and white abstract scenes of Canterbury on the walls.

Talented executive head chef Jauca Catalin had decided in advance that I was to try the five-course Tasting Menu, served alongside matched wines. I wasn’t going to argue with the Romanian ex-footballer, but was highly relieved I’d forgotten about lunch.

You can tell a great deal about a place from its bread and I knew at once this was not a chef who would pander to popular opinion.

I tried the warm, home-made granary, spread with butter that tasted like wood smoke and was definitely not for the fainthearted (I loved it). Very crunchy white bread came with a different butter bringing with it a hint of cumin.

The dishes that followed were quite rightly small, but exquisite, no better characterised than in the very first offering: white crab meat with lime confit, mooli and – yes really – peanut butter chilli caramel. The flavour explosion in the mouth was sensational, the lime uniting the sparklingly fresh ingredients into some of the best, most unexpected mouthfuls I’ve ever begun a meal with.

A light, citrussy Alsace Riesling, served by lovely new-ish operations manager Miles Shuttleworth (who sure knows his wines), complemented beautifully.

He surprised me with the next choice, Notios Agiorgitiko, a smooth, mellow Greek red that that suited the gloriously rich Madeira jus and hit of blueberries that pooled around tender squab pigeon breast served with Kohlrabi and semolina gnocchi.

Chef’s love of Japanese cuisine was evident in his skilful pairing of wild turbot with miso-dashi and an apple and ginger purée, the whole wonderful dish enhanced by the honey and pineapple notes of a mellow Argentinian Chardonnay to accompany.

Vying with the crab for first place in my heart came fillet of Kentish beef with salsify, mushrooms girolle, lovage and a deep, peppery red wine reduction: loving chef’s huge, gutsy flavours.

My notes tell me the wine pairing – a glorious Saint-Chinian from the Languedoc-Roussillon region – was ‘divine.’ They also remind me that so often a tasting menu is deeply disappointing: ha! not this one.

A fabulously rich dessert with practically all my favourite things in it – chocolate, banana, peanuts but in very fancy form – came with an orange Muscat that turned the whole thing into the best Terry’s chocolate orange ever, elevated to a whole new fun and lovely height.

Naturally I slept like a log, a very happy log, and you will be amazed but probably not at all surprised that I polished off avocado and poached eggs on sourdough toast for breakfast.

Excellent service from a largely multi-cultural staff, genuinely interested in what I thought, reflects the cosmopolitan city they call home. This place is a gem.

The essentials

what: Stylish boutique hotel offering fine dining

where: The ABode Hotel, High Street, Canterbury CT1 2RX, 01227 766266, www.abodecanterbury.co.uk/dining/restaurant

when: Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm, Sun 12pm-2.30pm

how much: two-course à la carte dinner £48, three courses £55, tasting menu £75 per person, with matching wines £110

Meet the chef

Catalin Jauca, Executive Head Chef

Tell us a bit about you

I was born in Bucharest, but my career started in a very different direction, having spent 10 years playing for a football team in Romania, which was bought to an end after an accident that stopped me playing. Following my father’s advice, I joined a cookery school and later became an apprentice chef in a hotel in Bucharest. I started working at another of the Andrew Brownsword Hotels, The Bath Priory, under the supervision of the two Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines. I then became Sous Chef at ABode Chester, before taking my current role as Executive Head Chef

at ABode Canterbury in 2014.

Your main local suppliers?

The Butcher of Brogdale is our principal supplier for local meat.

Current favourite dish on the menu?

One of my favourites at the moment is the fresh white crab meat, lime confit, mooli and peanut chilli caramel, inspired by my love of Japanese cuisine.

Top cookery tip for our readers?

Make an effort to learn about the ingredients you are eating and use every part in your cooking.

Who has influenced you most?

Chef Michael Caines, who was my mentor when I moved to the UK and inspired me with his discipline, creativity and passion for cuisine.

Who would you love to cook for?

As my father passed away before I moved to UK, he never had the chance to witness my career as a chef and I know he would have been very proud of me, so I would have loved for him to have the chance to taste my food.

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