The Rose, 91 High Street, Deal, Kent CT14 6ED (01304 389127). Snacks and starters £4 to £12, mains £19 to £25, desserts £6 to £9, lunch menu, three courses £23, wines from £26
Sitting in the middle of the Rose in Deal table is a single food to which the overused and often abused term “iconic” could reasonably be applied. Pinterest is full of artfully lit photos. Reputable food magazines have published the recipe breathlessly so that those who haven’t had a chance to eat one can try and fail to make it at home. When it first burst onto the London culinary scene, the best way to secure the right to try one for yourself was to be an extremely talented actor who had, at the very least, been nominated for an Oscar. ; that, or maybe a few Grammys, or a Bafta.
That’s because it’s a crab cake dusted with icing sugar, one of the star dishes at the Chiltern Firehouse in London’s Marylebone when it opened in 2013. It was created by Nuno Mendes, the Portuguese chef with excellent, often quirky taste, and a fine, lustrous beard speckled with gray. His crab cake has come to represent the dizzying indulgence of what was, for a time, the hottest and most exciting A-list restaurant in town. Look at us, he bellowed. We are so decadent that we eat savory junk food versions of fried desserts. This was a place where tables were apparently so hard to find even the waiting list had a waiting list.
The punchline of this overheated joke is that none of the Botoxed, dolled up, and sometimes anally bleached A-listers who went there gave a thumbs up about the food. Mendes has a solid track record, from his first modernist experimentations at Bacchus, an East End pub, to the chef’s table at Viajante to Lisboeta, his recent love letter to the country of his birth. But the people he fed at Chiltern Fire Station were just there to see and be obscene.
Of course, that crowd eventually moved on. There was another new hot spot they needed to frequent to strengthen their fragile sense of identity. Meanwhile, the dishes created for them remain in the chef’s arsenal. Alongside the critically acclaimed Lisboeta, Mendes is also the executive chef of this pub with rooms in the quiet seaside town of Deal, Kent. And among the snacks is this crab cake, for £6. In reality, it’s less a luxurious homage to a Krispy Kreme than a simple glazed bun, its golden surface dusted with a little sugar, with a sandwich filling of white meat mixed with fresh cream, a touch of fish sauce and lemon zest. And how is it? Oh, you know: quite delicious.
There’s a lot about the food served in the bar at this shabby-chic pub that delights. Mendes’ big thumbprints are everywhere. As with this beignet, he loves tossing elements into the first courses that look like they belong on the dessert menu. At Chiltern Fire Station, there was an Italian leaf salad with beetroot, orange and candied pecans. Here, there is a salad of tomatoes, grilled peaches, raspberries and almonds. It works thanks to the chilled sour-salty broth that brings it all together. This is not a dessert.
His food is also awfully pretty. Here is a piece of pale pink sea trout confit. Below are golden roasted charlotte potatoes. On top is dark green diced chives and on top, shimmering pearls of egg, the bright orange of barley twists. This pile sits, in turn, in the middle of a lake of a classic dill butter sauce. A lot of thought and a lot of work has gone into this. This means that, despite the uncluttered surroundings – the laminate tables, the simple school chairs – it comes at a cost. Tomato salad is £11. The trout dish is £24. My companion, who is from nearby, says Deal has made a reasonable accommodation with the influx of various Down From Londons who can afford these prices, and the delis and bistros that have opened in recent years. Later, she will point to a grocery store across the road that has a display case of crisps sold in fake paint cans. “Yeah,” she said, “you might be able to buy crisps from boxes, but the town is still very much itself.”
Luckily here at The Rose they do a set lunch menu with two courses at £19 and three at £23. It starts with a deep, earthy sweet potato soup the color of rusty iron, turbo-charged with a thick dollop of hazelnut pesto. The meat dish is a generous breaded and fried pork cutlet with what is described as coleslaw – coleslaw by any other name – under an autumnal downpour of toasted seeds.
This menu ends with “Nuno’s Portuguese olive oil cake with apricot compote”, an ineffably light sponge cake still delivered in its parchment paper basket. The golden-brown, wavy surface, like the smooth folds of a puppy’s fur pushing into its skin, comes with its own little wake-up call from a few flakes of sea salt. A similar trick with a plate of chiffon cake, another extremely light sponge cake made with vegetable oil, served grilled with lightly seasoned and sliced strawberries, their own raspberry ice cream and a drizzle of olive oil.
The vibe here, on a weekday lunchtime, is relaxed and laid back, as if no one has a particular place to go. This perhaps explains the delightfully warm service, touchingly solicitous and completely in every way. Nothing is rushed. Drink orders are forgotten and then have to be explained again. A side salad didn’t show up, until they suddenly remembered it could well have been part of the order, and delivered it as we finished our main courses. They offer to remove that from the bill and, inexplicably, remove a few other things, which then have to be added. For anyone worried that I’m dropping someone into it by noting this, they themselves messaged afterwards uninvited to acknowledge that it had truly been a virtuosic display of slow, graceful mayhem.
But the truth is, I was in no particular rush to be anywhere, so while professionally it should be noted, personally I gave myself to this casual dining room and its sweet parade of impressive cuisine. Once upon a time, only those who could be angry fought for a booking at Chiltern Fire Station. That’s the thing with fashion. Eventually, when the carnival continues, the rest of us enjoy it.
Nathan Richardson, the former head chef of the famed Guinea Grill in London’s Mayfair, has left town. He took over the Lamb Tavern in Buckland, Oxfordshire. On the opening menu: snacks of grilled lamb breast with mint and capers, a beef suet and bacon tart, and a turbot with braised beef cheeks, parsnip clams and chervil. Finish with a molasses tart. To lambtavernbuckland.com.
Many thanks to the reader Thos Oates, who contacted me to recommend wowzabox.com, a new Chinese food menu box delivery service that sprang from the now closed La Yuan restaurant in Newcastle. Founders Joshy Jin and Georgina Li say they wanted to solve the problems of overly complicated menu boxes by providing pre-seasoned ingredients for their dishes from Sichuan and beyond. The current menu includes a Sichuan numbness and spicy fish stew at £10.95 for two to three people, Xinjiang large plate chicken at £11.95 for three people and a sweet and sour rice noodle soup for up to two people at £6.95. Delivery is to much of mainland Britain and the packaging emphasizes recyclability.
Gareth Ward, the multi-award-winning chef patron of Ynyshir in West Wales, will open a second restaurant next year in the nearby town of Machynlleth. Gwen, named after her mother, will seat just eight people, who will be served a 10-course menu. The kitchen will be headed by Corrin Harrison, currently the mothership’s chef. Visit ynyshir.co.uk.