Sunday 29 November 2009

The Fitzwalter Arms - Goodnestone. Kent

Saturday afternoon, it's a beautiful autumn day. Crisp. The slight chill of the approaching winter is in the air but not yet cold enough to be anything other than invigorating.
The car is winding through the beautiful Kent countryside. I'm now well off the beaten track.... seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The comfort of two laned tarmac clad roads has long since been replaced by a single lane 'track' threading it's way through fields and woods which every now and again give just the briefest blurred glimpse of one stunning ancient home after another as we speed our way along at some speed. I'm late. I have a table booked for lunch at quarter to two, and I've miscalculated how far away it is. A pretty village crossroads just comes into view through the trees.

"In 100 yards, turn Left" announces the unflappable voice of the Sat-Nav. I carry out the instruction and my destination, The Fitzwalter Arms becomes apparent at the end of a sleepy village road.

It's exactly quarter to two, perfect. I park and take in my surroundings. Goodnestone is the kind of sleepy hamlet you imagine belonging to an England long past. The pub, obviously the heart of the village is situated next to a lovely old church, ancient tombstones lean this way and that at impossible angles, a pheasant struts urgently and pecks in the grass amongst the graves.

The beautiful pungent and distinct smell of woodsmoke fills the air and there is complete silence, Incredible silence in fact, broken only by gentle birdsong. I'm charmed. Goodnestone feels like life hasn't changed here for hundreds of years, and I love it.

The Fitzwalter Arms has a bit of a reputation. The Chef David Hart has previously worked at the renowned Sportsman in Whitstable, and it's sister restaurant The Granville as well as The Square in London. The pub is also mentioned in Diane Henry's rather useful book 'The Gastropub cookbook, another helping'. I am looking forward to lunch immensely.

Entering, past the pile of muddy Wellington boots in the porch, and through the heavy wooden door into the bar, where a solitary regular is whiling away the hours; propping it up. An ancient clock ticks heavily, and a real fire lazily pops and crackles in the fireplace. It all feels rather cosy.

We are greeted cheerily and shown through into a bright but fairly unadorned and simple dining room, with windows overlooking the graveyard next door. There is a large table of happy diners in evidence polishing off their lunch. From the county attire, the cheerful yet slightly plummy accents and the heap of assorted shooting paraphernalia... cartridge belts, jackets, shotgun cases lazily heaped in a corner, it is obvious the local hunt is in for a pre-shoot lunch.
A chalkboard with today's lunch menu is posted on the wall. A jug of tap water is proffered without having to be asked for, and a plate of bread is brought over. It's gorgeous and obviously homemade, soft but with a yeasty crust it's very good. I ask the passing landlady to confirm it is indeed made on-site. Apparently yes, twice a day and it's "Seriously moreish".

I order the Cep risotto to start, whilst the GF declines a starter (sigh) and continues to munch on the fantastic bread.
It's not long before my plate arrives, It looks great, steaming, it smells rich and mushroomy. I dig a fork in, slowly lifting and it's oozing rich and creamy, exactly as a great risotto should - it tastes fantastic studded with beautiful meaty ceps, and I start to demolish it in short order. The GF asks for a taste....she agrees it's very good and then tries to have another taste. moving back in with her fork which prompts me to leap to action.

"Woah there,...Get away, what are you doing?.... You didn't want a can't have any".

Rejected but resigned she draws back to her side of the table.
Harsh perhaps, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, you want a starter? order your own. But I did let her mop up a bit with her bread - I'm kind of soft like that.

Welcome at this point, our mains arrived to distract us from the mutual, silently mouthed obscenities, threats and associated hand signals backed up with reproachful stares and hard looks.
I've ordered Rabbit Saddle wrapped in bacon with roasting juices, it comes to the table looking very nice indeed, simple, no frills. It's served with roast potatoes and cabbage. My choice of rabbit had pleased the GF no end. She is apparently still quite unrecovered from a heart-rending attachment to a long dead childhood pet named "Bubbles". Taking this information in blankly, I take a bite of the's beautiful, meaty, subtly gamey.....I subdue a sudden urge to belch whilst simultaneously barking the word "Bubbles". The thought makes me giggle to myself. The GF asks what I'm laughing at, I tell her... and get a frosty look in return.
Meanwhile, the GF is eating her dish of Poached organic salmon fillet with potted shrimp butter. She's enjoying it, and despite the tension raised by the spectre of Bubbles, she offers me a taste. Again, as with my rabbit dish; it's simply but beautifully cooked, flaky almost buttery - I detect a hint of nutmeg.

I'm polishing off my main, it's all I can do to scrape the last of the delicious roasting juices up. Stuffed silly but happy and content. Studying the desserts chalked on the board. I'm thinking about the Earl Grey creme caramel with prunes in Armagnac. For some reason I have a thing about Earl Grey flavoured desserts and find myself drawn to them. But, on this occasion I decide to enlist the help of the landlady and ask for her opinion, as she's 'no doubt tried them all - what does she recommend?'

The 'Warm chocolate mousse, almonds and praline ice-cream' is apparently massively popular and as such is a constant on the board. I take that recommendation and place my order. The GF goes for the cheeseboard.
The chocolate mousse arrives in a large scaldingly hot bowl, its scattered with almonds and the ice cream sits in the middle melting in a creamy puddle. I have a taste and its gorgeous, the light warm mousse mingling with the rich praline ice-cream and almonds, the sides are a baked gooey sticky chocolate crust. It's a lovely dessert, the best I've eaten in a gastropub for some time. I can see now why it's never taken off the menu.
Meanwhile. the GF is digging into the cheeseboard, it looks a little uninspiring, but its a nice selection. The GF comments it could do with some kind of chutney or quince paste. The portions are pretty generous and I lend a hand.....there's easily enough for two to share.

Coffee's are ordered, and a large cafetiere is placed on the table, along with some rather nice nougat to nibble. The pot is huge, and the coffee is pretty good. We easily get two cups each out of it. It's £2 each. (The Bell take note).

Lunch finished, we pay and make our way outside, its starting to get dark and the pub lights come on - it looks cheery and very picturesque. Off in the distance I hear the feint pop and echos of shotguns - the local hunt finishing their shoot. I'm quite jealous of the village's inhabitants having such a fantastic venue in their midst, the pub is charming, entirely un-mucked about with....there's nothing fancy or showy, and the food is the same, unpretentious, beautifully cooked and seriously tasty. It's very hard to fault. It's one of the best lunches I've had for quite a while.

Our lunch for two, with two glasses of wine, coffees and tip came to £65 which is, by anyone's standards a complete bargain.

The Fitzwalter Arms
The Street

Telephone:01304 480303


Grethic said...

Great write up and as we travel to Kent fairly often sounds like a must do, is booking essential?

The Ample Cook said...

What a lovely lunch. It's so nice to see rabbit on a menu. You don't see it enough in my opinion.

Your dessert sounded delicious Dan, especially the ice cream.

This place will go on my list. Great write up.

meemalee said...

Oooh, the rabbit looks nice and moist - good choice, Dan - never mind Bubbles!

And this "the sides are a baked gooey sticky chocolate crust" - sounds divine ...

Your GF's right about the cheese - looks likes it neededed a bit of zing.

Kavey said...

Sounds smashing... and love the soft side of you coming through there! ;)

Dan said...

Grethic - Its not massive, so I'd say yes, book if you were planning dinner or prime time lunch. Although, late Saturday afternoon we were sharing the dining room with only the local hunt, no other diners.

Jan - agreed, love a bit of rabbit. The dessert was cracking, all the food was cracking. Enjoyed it all - not just for the grub but for the lazy afternoon soaking up the English countryside atmosphere.

Meemalee - Bubbles, shmubbles.....if I knew her then and knew rabbit tasted that good - he wouldn't have last five minutes.
The cheese board - agreed, only thing it was missing - also would have been nice to know exactly what the cheeses were....I forgot to ask. *slaps head*

Nora said...

Wow, warm chocolate mousse, almonds and praline ice cream sounds like the best pud ever! This place sounds great - I'm going to have to find an excuse to go tootling around the Kent countryside.

Dan said...

Kavey - I know...a moment of weakness ;)

Nora - Warm chocolate mousse was bloody lovely. Kent and the Whitstable/Faversham area in paticular really do seem to have more than a generous share of great gastropubs to eat. The countryside is lovely too.

LexEat! said...

I like that the journey is just as important as the destination for you!

Jane Milton said...

great description, i am now rejigging diary to squeeze in a trip to see friends in Kent preXmas

have forwarded the link to others too,


Dan said...

Lex - I like writing about the journey...setting the scene, and I love the countryside!

Jane - Hey Thanks, I'd be really interested to know what you think of the place. I had a cracking time.

Greedy Diva said...

I'm so inspired for an invigorating jaunt into the countryside now! Hard to beat a good country pub. Is that trick photography, or was that mousse main meal size - I like it!

Hollow Legs said...

Sounds pretty good - so hard to get a decent pub lunch these days without paying through the nose for it.

Dan said...

Greedy Diva - hah glad to have inspired you. The mousse was pretty big...large bowl, and it was lovely.

Lizzie - agreed, nice to find somewhere serving up good food and not charging a fortune for it.

Uma said...

I could eat a bowlful of the chocolate mousse right now. Not surprised they've never taken it off the menu. What a find.

Graphic Foodie said...

Brillant value for money - great find! Wow you really are putting in the man hours with the gastropubs, huh? Tough job, tough job...

Dan said...

Uma - your telling me, I could eat a bowlful of the chocolate mousse anytime. Was lovely.

Fran - Thanks. Yeah I know, all Ive done on the blog is eat out in gastropubs last few weeks....think I'm going to have to return to some cooking and recipe posts soon.

Browners said...

Another victory for the Gastro Pub Cookbook. Sounds like a really genuine experience. Also love the military defence of your starter. You're right. You've got to make a stand at some point.

Unknown said...

Dan this sounds brilliant - makes me wish I had a car - any public transport options to get there?

Also I am off to Brighton this weekend so hoping to duck into Bills on your recommendation

Dan said...

Browners - the Gastropub cookbook was a great find, thanks again for the heads up. Exactly - the GF always skips starters and then tries to muscle her way in on mine.

Kara - had a quick look on the map nearest big town is Canterbury, looks to be about 8 miles away. There's a train station about a mile from Goodnestone called Adisham - presume that links to Canterbury? it's probably not as hard to get to as it looks. It feels like its in the middle of nowhere.

Bills in Brighton - great stuff, their breakfast is for winners.