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Restaurant: The Goods Shed, Canterbury

‘The soup is the essence of winter, as unglamorous as Uggs, but every bit as comforting’

The farmers’ market has become a bit of a joke, shorthand – like
Boden and Nespresso – for a good old sneer at the middle classes.
I don’t care for the knowing likes of Borough, but I genuinely love the market in a draughty old railway goods shed in Canterbury, its vast Victorian windows regularly rattled by high-speed trains thundering past.

And the restaurant
here has never let me down. I’ve taken 80-year-olds and small children;
sat beside fleece-clad farmers and David Starkey; called in for a
starter and freshly-pressed juice, and been poured out into the night
after many courses and a greedy assault on the drinks list.

This
time, I go with a food writer not known for mincing words. The reaction
is amazement: “It’s not nearly as twee as I expected.” Forget wicker
basket-toting gals in flippy skirts looking for single-estate brownies:
the Shed is a week-long working market where real people do their daily
shop. Though it does do brownies, too. And handmade macaroons,
slow-proved bread, local beer, cheese and charcuterie, and a wealth of
hairy, grubby, misshapen vegetables that taste of what a hardcore
foodist would call terroir. Each day, between 5.30pm and 7pm, these
are sold off at knockdown prices. This is where Kent’s “Garden of England” tag really makes sense.

For
the first time in the restaurant’s 10-year history, it now has a
distinct identity and actual menus – it’s officially been renamed
Rafael’s Restaurant at the Goods Shed
, after long-term chef Rafael
Lopez. You might have your scalp alternatively fried and frozen as the
industrial overhead heaters click and gzzz into life, or be temporarily
deafened while a whole Dexter beef carcass is butchered into manageable
chunks, but none of this dims the pleasure of Lopez’s gutsy, intuitive
cooking.

The dishes that issue from the open kitchen are a vivid
reflection of the season: roots and squashes roasted into toffee-like
lusciousness; brassicas with cream for comfort; the earthy perfume of
morcilla (sorry, got carried away: it’s actually their own black pudding
– crumbly, fatty, almost spreadable). There are sorbets of quince, or
rosehip and crab apple, and pears in mulled wine with cinnamon cream. It
all makes me feel festive in a way that the actual Festive never does.
Or maybe that’s just the Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut.

The
food cheers, too: a picture-perfect fillet of softly pickled herring,
sweet and taut, with a tangle of onions, crunch of acidulated carrot and
dollop of crème fraîche, on bread baked by Enzo in the market below.
A bowl of soup, green lentils, whole mushrooms and kale is the essence
of winter, as unglamorous as Uggs but every bit as comforting.

There’s
always superbly roasted local chicken, a herb-scented marriage of juicy
meat and crisp skin; this time with a creamy sludge of brussels sprouts
and blades of brittle bacon. And venison haunch, an improbable amount
of it, black-and-rose meat of velvety pungency, just-wilted greens, that
black pudding and the murky sweetness of prunes. I’ve eaten fat lamb
chops with barley and mint; rough, meaty terrines with homemade chutney;
thick slabs of hake with aromatic bisque of crab and fennel. Never mind
“weekly-changing menu”, this one changes twice daily. The only
disappointment I’ve ever had is a timid treacle tart, lacking the
texture and jamminess of the best. Such woe.

Ingredients are
“sourced” from roughly 2ft away in the market: finest Kentish produce,
British traditions and techniques, Spanish sensibilities. The result is
balm to the soul, not to mention the kind of grub that sends you off
with a giant grin on your well-fed chops.

The Goods Shed’s
philosophy has always been to bring farmers into the community and cut
out the middle man. If the result is as consistently delicious as this
is, all hail the horny-handed sons of the soil.

The Goods Shed
Station Road West, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 8AN, 01227 459153. Open lunch,
Tues-Sun, noon-2.30pm (3pm Sat & Sun), dinner, Tues-Sat, dinner
6-9.30pm. Three-courses for about £30 a head, plus drinks and service.

Food 8/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Value for money 8/10

Guardian 4th Jan 2013

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