It all started with a conversation about breakfasts – quite the most important meal of the day according to dieticians and people who know about these things. I have no problem with that as breakfast happens to be my favourite meal of the day and whilst not eating cooked breakfasts on a regular basis, I do enjoy it as an occasional treat and especially when I’m away.
Visit Kent and Produced in Kent have joined together to promote their association with local produce, and those in the hospitality industry who provide locally sourced breakfasts. To be awarded Kent Breakfast accreditation establishments have to guarantee that at least 60% of the ingredients used are locally sourced.
'Come to Kent and try our breakfasts' they said, 'and whilst you are here come and meet some of our food producers'. So I did! A.H.
I started off in Canterbury with a terrific welcome from Dickie Barsby of Kent Greeters. Kent Greeters took its inspiration from the Big Apple Greeters of New York – friendly volunteers bubbling over with enthusiasm who are happy to share their knowledge and love of their home town and district with visitors. www.kentgreeters.co.uk
Dickie and I sat over a coffee in the Foundry Brew Pub (below) whilst he told me anecdotes about Canterbury and about another of his passions (interesting and quirky pubs) before we headed off for a quick walk round Canterbury so that I could get my bearings. (Another of his favourite Kent pubs I gathered is in Herne Village -The Butcher's Arms reputedly the smallest Free House in England, and the original micropub - www.micropub.co.uk )
If you only have limited time in Canterbury, do not leave without visiting this magnificent, and awe –inspiring building founded by St Augustine in the 6th century. Following a fire in 1070 the cathedral was completely rebuilt. Over the centuries changes have been made but parts of the quire and some of the windows plus their stained glass dating from the 12th century still exist. Archbishop Thomas à Becket was murdered here in 1170 and since then the Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage.
Bed and Breakfasts
Magnolia House: Magnolia House is in St Dunstan’s Terrace, a 10 minute walk from the city centre. I could see why the AA had awarded it five stars. Run by Isobelle Leggett every effort has been made to make guests feel at home. The comfortable guest sitting room is equipped with books, magazines, newspapers, board games and local information.
My room and en-suite bathroom were so well-equipped I felt positively ashamed of my guest bed room at home. There was of course a hospitality tray but in the fridge along with complimentary wine and mineral water was fresh milk for my tea and coffee. The sewing kit was not the usual hotel sewing kit, but came complete with proper thread, needles and even scissors. A bathrobe hung in the bathroom along with a wide selection of toiletries. Isobelle has thought of everything that a guest might possibly want and has provided it – comfort indeed.
Isobelle asks that guests complete a breakfast menu form the night before. How did I want my eggs – Benedict, scrambled, poached; bacon, sausages, tomatoes, etc - and at what time? Next morning I went down to the cosy dining room where a table overlooking the walled garden was already set out with fresh fruit salad, yoghurts, cereals and juice. Within minutes of my arrival Isobelle appeared with delicious coffee, bread from the local bakery, followed very quickly with some of the best bacon I’ve ever eaten and perfectly scrambled eggs. www.magnoliahousecanterbury.co.uk
Alkham Court Farmhouse: It was dark when we drove up the country lane and turned into the courtyard of Alkham Court Farmhouse. The lane was obviously winding its way through deep countryside. However, it wasn’t until the next morning when walking the few yards across the courtyard from my room to the main building and the lovely Oak room, with its exposed beams and big windows, for breakfast that I realised just how glorious is its location. The view was idyllic –obviously great walking or horse riding country – yet the coast is only a couple or so miles away.
Wendy and Neil Burrows owners of Alkham Court can be justifiably proud of their five star certification and even more so of being awarded the accolade of 2013 Gold Winner of Visit England’s Best Bed & Breakfast. Unfortunately we had arrived somewhat later than planned so had to decline our hosts’ tempting offer of a complimentary drink in front of the cosy wood burner in favour of quick unpack and change for dinner.
I was staying in Pheasant Room, one of the four self-contained guest rooms each with their own private entrance. The rooms have a traditional air of comfort but with stylish modern touches. Mine was decorated in restful shades of creamy beige with accent points of turquoise provided by two armchairs, plus to my delight, a vase of fresh white roses on the table. On the sideboard stood a Nespresso coffee maker, goodies and still and sparkling mineral water. In my very modern bathroom which was equipped with Gilchrist & Soames goodies -a big wet-room style shower.
The three ground floor rooms offer disabled access with a ramp and are wheelchair accessible with good-sized bathrooms. Also in the grounds is a building has been converted to accommodate a sauna and hot tub which is complimentary for guests. Other facilities include fresh milk, fruit and homemade cake available at any time, packed lunches can be provided as can homemade soup with crusty bread for anybody requiring a light lunch or an evening snack.
As with Magnolia House, the breakfast the next morning was a sumptuous affair. A side-table groaning with goodies and again there was absolutely delicious bacon, beautifully cooked scrambled eggs and excellent bread. www.alkhamcourt.co.uk
Madame Oiseau: Sandrine May discovered her passion for working with chocolate in her mother’s kitchen in France making truffles for friends and family. She freely admits that she is self-taught. However, there definitely is nothing amateurish about the stunning and delicious chocolates she makes and sells.
Eventually she met and married an English man and moved to Kent. Madame Oiseau might never have come into existence if it had not been for Sandrine’s husband Kenton, who encouraged her to start making chocolates professionally.
They opened their first shop in 2003 in a building in Lydd owned by a Mrs Bird, so decided to name the chocolate business after her, but in French - Madame Oiseau.
In 2005 the couple opened the Canterbury shop at 8 Borough, where we opened the shop door to an intoxicating smell of chocolate. It was the run up to Christmas and along with the more usual counter display of truffles and chocolates the shelves were laden with seasonal goodies.
Front of house Ellie was busily serving customers but tucked away in the miniscule backroom we found Sandrine and Claire working as fast as they could to cope with the demand.
Whilst Claire decorated fancy moulds Sandrine dipped candied orange peel and ganache into tempered chocolate before gilding her ‘lilies’ with decorations.
The choice is overwhelming – nutty pralines, boozy fresh cream truffles, creams delicately flavoured with rose or fruit, luscious ganache centres, chocolate mendicants topped with nuts or fruits or even chillies, chocolate dipped candied orange, lemon, ginger or nuts , to say nothing of all the novelty moulded chocolates like frogs or teddy bears!
These hand-made chocolates are simply heavenly. Sandrine uses two tons per year of best quality chocolate couverture from France, Belgium or Venezuala. Then there are the fillings: cream fillings are just that. Fresh cream is used so therefore they do have a more limited life than most commercially produced chocolates.
But who wants to keep chocolates sitting around anyway. Madame Oiseau’s chocolates cry out eat me, eat me. www.madame-oiseau.com
The Foundry Brew Pub: There is nothing very glamorous about the exterior of the Foundry Brew Pub. It’s tucked up White Horse Lane at the back of the High Street, a seriously industrial looking building with a large sign proclaiming ‘Foundry’, once part of the Drury & Biggleston’s Foundry. Canterbury Brewers parent company is Stoneset Inns which also runs the City Arms. The Foundry opened in 2011.
On the ground floor is a small bar area where customers can sit and enjoy their beer or indeed wine or coffee whilst watching the brewing process taking place; upstairs is the main restaurant. For folk who really don’t want to drink beer for whatever reason there is also a small but comprehensive wine list.)
Brewing is carried out by Jon Mills and Tom Sharkey with the aid of their new brewer Jack Pope. It may be a traditional microbrewery but the range of brews includes exciting new flavour combinations. Apart from their own brews they also offer a range of beers and ciders on draught from the award-winning Meantime Brewing Company.
Over a light but very tasty lunch Jon told me that they pride themselves on only using the best quality malted barley, hops and yeast in their distinctive recipes.
I was there pre-Christmas and it didn’t take much persuading for me to try their special Christmas beer, made believe it or not with whole oranges. From there I progressed to the oak-aged Wee Heavy. My palate is not good enough to pick up the whisky and oak flavours that come from the barrels, but certainly, as with the Christmas beer, I loved it.
They also brew a Pumpkin beer to celebrate Halloween and a Blackcurrant Stout (yes, made from real blackcurrants when in season). The brewers just love experimenting. Their popular Canterbury Lager is also available in 330ml bottles. It has been rough filtered (no yeast sediment) and can be served clear from the fridge. With new beers constantly coming on line, plus a restaurant and the Thursday evening music and beer nights it’s no wonder that Canterbury’s Foundry Brew Pub is one of the city’s most popular pubs. www.thefoundrycanterbury.co.uk
Terlingham Vineyard: Tucked down a lane off Gibralter Lane close to the village of Hawkinge and next door to Hawkinge airfield museum, yet a mere 25 minute drive from Canterbury, we found the Terlingham Vineyard and Winery.
It’s an idyllic spot. Rows of vines stretch like teeth from a comb across three and a half acres of gentle south facing slope; in the distance is the English Channel and France. Terlingham claims the distinction of being England’s smallest commercial vineyard with its own onsite winery. Small it might be, but it produces seriously good still and sparkling wines.
It’s in the grounds of Terlingham Manor Farm, a comforting red brick farm house, home to Lorna and Graham Wilks. The couple, originally from Johannesburg, moved to Kent in 2011 and have since become dedicated and highly knowledgeable wine producers.
Accompanied by Lorna and Graham we strolled amongst some of their five and half thousand vines picking out the different varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Rondo. Graham explained that the chalky soil, the sea breezes and the warm south facing slopes were all instrumental in producing the wines which they strive to produce the natural way; their wines reflecting the characteristics of each individual harvest.
We continued our discussion in the winery and later over a tasting. The grapes they explained are all hand-picked, and the delicious sparkling wines hand-riddled in traditional pupitres and disgorged by hand.
Bed and Breakfast too
Not content with wine making Lorna and Graham have also converted one of the farm buildings into stylish and luxurious bed and breakfast accommodation with three en-suite rooms and a kitchen/breakfast room. The fridge is filled with locally-sourced gourmet goodies for guests to make their own continental breakfasts.
Terlingham is also licensed to hold weddings – and what a romantic spot for a wedding. The vineyard is open on a few select days in summer from 11am - 4pm and into the early evening if the weather allows. A tour of the vineyard starts at 12.00 noon. www.terlinghamvineyard.co.uk
Griggs of Hythe: This place is an Aladdin’s Cave for all things fishy. Their new premises are the Old Life Boat Station buildings on the Fisherman’s Landing Beach on Range Road; park alongside the building and head for the entrance which is, appropriately enough, overlooking the sea. When we were there in December the building was in the process of renovation and was a hive of activity designed to make Griggs an even more popular foody destination.
Griggs supply the catering trade but they also sell to the public. Do bear in mind however, that what they sell depends on the weather and the season, and that as they open at 7am they close early/ mid-afternoon. Needless to say if customers don’t want to prepare their own fish, just ask.
Along with the straight-from-the-water wet fish and shellfish they also sell their own homemade fish pies and fishcakes, soups and pates. They have also installed a new smoker in which they can smoke anything from duck breasts to smoked mackerel.
Come the summer season their café will be back on the beach serving brunch-style dishes, or for a little extra they’ll cook the fish of your choice. An Al fresco lunch on the beach seems like a terrific idea to us. www.griggsofhythe.com
Haguelands Village: Not far from Hythe is Haguelands Village a great place, especially in summer, for a family day out. For a start there are the alpacas with their cute curly hair styles and a shop, Alpaca Annie, that sells high quality garments made from their fleece. Take a tractor trailer ride round the farm or maybe try tofind your way out of the summer Maize Maze.
There is also a fish shop on site, a bistro and a farm shop that sells an extensive range of local produce and even a hairdresser and Channel Radio. With its variety of events and other outlets coming on site Haguelands Village is definitely a place worth keeping an eye on. www.haguelandsvillage.co.uk
Cheesemakers of Canterbury: Jane Bowyer was well versed in processing milk, butter and cream but a few years back decided a change was needed so set too to learn about cheese making.
She had long been a fan of hard cheeses and after months of trial and error produced her first batch of the very tasty Ashmore Farmhouse cheese. Since then she has gone from strength to strength with her range of hard and soft cheeses, including goat’s cheeses, which have won many awards.
Cheeses are on sale at Dargate Dairy, Lamberhurst Farm, Dargate or from their shop in The Goods Shed, Canterbury. www.cheesemakersofcanterbury.co.uk
The Goods Shed and Restaurant
Another Aladdin’s cave full of foody goodies is The Goods Shed next door to Canterbury West station. Once a Victorian railway goods shed today it is home to a thriving market of some 12 independent small business all devoted to the serious business of food and drink.
Think along the lines of butchery, fishmongers, fruit and vegetables, general stores, cheese maker, bakery, master of wine, charcuterie, sandwich bar, larder stores, fine catering and cakes and you get the idea. Plus, as I was to discover there is a popular and very good restaurant serving market produce with delightful friendly service and a regularly changing menu.
The Goods Shed is open six days a week, closed on Mondays. The Farmers’ Market and food hall is open from 9am - 6pm; 7pm Fridays and Sundays till 4pm. The restaurant however, is open in the evening (not Sundays) with last orders at 9.30pm and the Bottle Shop for beers and lite bites is also open in the evenings. www.thegoodsshed.co.uk
For suggestions of places to eat that also serve locally sourced produce go to Foody Travellers Recommend. We have individual reviews for Deesons Restaurant in Canterbury, the Marquis at Alkham and Rocksalt in Folkestone.
For more information, see www.visitkent.co.uk