A Hunch for Lunch: Zeus and Deeson’s, Canterbury

A newspaper cutout in the window of a Chinese restaurant declared how ethnically diverse Canterbury’s cuisine is now becoming. Cantonese cuisine is hardly cutting-edge cooking, in fact it is one of the oldest ‘exotic’ cuisines to hit our fair pie and mash shores. The article nonetheless does have a point, even if the medium that I found it did not best illustrate it, and the citizens of Canterbury are abound with a choice that rivals London (that is to say, Crouch End, maybe).

Nobody in Canterbury walks anywhere or knows where anything is in the city. If something is off the High Street or Westgate, I find myself buggered when trying to explain the location of something. Zeus is between the library and Siesta, and the person that suggested we try it lives off Palace Street and has only just discovered this “hidden gem”.

I noticed that it had been open for at least as long as I have moved back to Canterbury. The space it occupies used to be a terrible bar, another terrible bar, and, I think, an office supplies store where my friend worked when she was fifteen. At least seven months on, Zeus is still open and seems to be doing a-okay, if TripAdvisor is to be believed. Back in January I had tried to go with my mother but it was closed for a refurb and we went to the ever-reliable Deeson’s (round the back of Debenham’s, near Siesta) instead. Here is an apples and oranges review of both.

“It is no bad thing that Zeus is closed because they use a lot of hashtags.”

Never judge a restaurant by their branding is not a saying to live by. Tacos Locos, for example, tastes exactly how it looks. If you are the marketing director of Zeus, come talk to me as I would like to know why various hashtags (#Souvlaki, #EatGreek) painted on the window of an otherwise perfectly good storefront is enticing. You’re better than this, Zeus, or I’m too judgmental of hashtags.

Zeus-7

Accursed hashtags. From Best of England

Deeson’s is classy British, respectability on the outside and in, though the interiors of the two restaurants are more similar than I would have expected from their branding strategy. A lot of wood. Canterbury likes wood. It shows that our restaurants are rustic and use local produce and remind us of home and what not. Far better than neo-industrial which teaches us to be cool. I don’t want to be cool when I eat, I want to be fed.

I sit by the window in both restaurants. It is not quite al fresco weather yet. There are only two other tables occupied in Zeus, and in Deeson’s our side of the restaurant is empty, though around the corner it is nearly full. Zeus is peaceful, as is Deeson’s until they spend ten minutes repairing the coffee machine.

“Most people go for the lunch menu. The Souvlaki is very popular.”

“But it’s just Souvlaki.”

Will, my dining companion, spends half the year in Crete. He wondered out loud whether this is more of a restaurant or a taverna. The giveaway is the full name of the restaurant: ‘Zeus – Ouzeria and Taverna’. He then wondered if it was Greek or Cypriot, concluding Cypriot, it’s always Cypriot. Good, next: the food. My experience with Greek food is limited to being perturbed at being charged €1 for a single bread roll then later getting several free courses at Italian and burger restaurants in resort towns (Stalis and Malia, because everyone needs a tacky girls holiday at least once in their lives). Will and the waitress talked me through the menu as I was evidently too lazy to read the menu which is one of the most descriptive menus that I have come across; there is even a key.

Deesons-7

A better al fresco day, from Best of England

The Deeson’s menu is simple for English people to decipher and among the best representations of British (when is food British and when is it English?) cuisine that I have come across in restaurants or otherwise. The more I travel the more I realise that I have no real connection with British food, no nostalgia stories where I come close to tears praising the relative merits of a beef stew and Sunday lunches that never were. British food is widely derided. This is incorrect, but it isn’t much of a stretch to see why other cultures may write it off as “stodgy” or “boring”.

Grandma might not have made it, but the parsnip soup was damn fine and here I am actively recommending a parsnip soup, a recommendation that sounds so bland that were it given to me I would be inclined to turn on the jukebox in my mind. And I will and have recommended the steak, the best steak in Canterbury and the third-best steak I’ve had after Gaucho and Hawksmoor. Good job, Deeson’s, good job indeed. I am told they use fresh, seasonal ingredients, many of which are grown/reared in their smallholding somewhere on the outskirts of Canterbury.

With its view of the Cathedral, Deeson’s may also have the best toilet in Canterbury.

Back to Zeus, where we have a carafe of wine while taking an inordinate amount of time to decide. The waitress knows the menu well, or is good at pretending that she knows the menu well. She recommends the pork tigania, which I tell her is a good choice.

The lunch menu is quite good but we go for meze because why the hell not, we’re already daydrinking on a Thursday. A problem with daydrinking on a Thursday when there is an election is that you go to vote and the polling people know you. Villages are small.

From the menu:  talagani saganaki, courgette and aubergine crisps (no zuchhini fritte; apparently not greasy enough to be authentically Greek), dolmades, tzatziki (not garlicky enough to be authentically Greek), and possibly something else. The meal was heavy, too heavy for dessert, but not so heavy that mastika with Greek coffee chasers was too much. Afternoon indulgence in an empty restaurant.

If you like Greek food, why not give Zeus a whirl. I prefer Italian. Or Chinese. Or a whole host of other dining options, including, would you believe it, British. It’s a nice restaurant space, but I’ve been concluding that a lot recently so maybe I’m just pleased to get out the house.

No myths to be made or broken, and please, no more hashtags. A Greek salad is a Greek salad is a Greek salad.

Zeus, 2-3 Orange Street, Canterbury, CT1 2JA. +44 (0)1227 788 072.

Deeson’s,  25-26 Sun Street, Canterbury CT1 2HX, +44 (0)1227 767 854.

Fancy Eating with Madre: The Ambrette

“You can’t sell me on fusion food. It’s just what people do when they aren’t good at either.”

So went my old opinion. I expect I regurgitated this from something that I read or heard from another food writer because it is exactly the blanket vague strong opinion that snobs would make and I would repeat to mask my naivety or inexperience of the wider restaurant world. In defense of this point, there are a lot of shoddy restaurants that go for a buffet-style extensive menu which shows a lack of focus and thus a likely lack of skill. How can a place do good spaghetti and good sushi, for instance? In Germany and Austria I was appalled by the number of Thai-Vietnamese-Japanese restaurants, most of which served a lot of rice with overseasoned protein. Fusion seemed to be a marketing ploy to cater to the indecisive by restauranteurs who cared for money rather than quality.

Saying this, I did go to and like Nanban in Brixton, though again I was drawn to it being owned by a Masterchef winner and sometimes you have to wonder to what extent you like something because you like it or because you are told that you should like it and therefore like it as a result. Of course, this is how you can grow to love a great many things. For instance, since turning 24 I have taught myself to actively enjoy coffee, lamb, asparagus, and rare steak. Unfortunately, I am yet to find a way to dislike sugary and fatty trash, but there are many more years of my life left.

ambrette

From TripAdvisor, where it sits as #9 in the Canterbury area.

Indian cuisine is one of the cuisines that I am most actively ambivalent (if there can be such a thing) towards. The doctor told me to avoid spicy food, but to hell with the doctor.

On one of my many menu-browse procrastinations, I came across the Ambrette, which proudly has a sign outside announcing its 2015 Kent Food Award wins.

“Let it go, Ambrette, it’s 2017 now,” was Hans’ response to this.

On Hans’ birthday, without Hans, I went on an impromptu development tasting. Nothing beats an impromptu development tasting, except perhaps an impromptu development tasting which doesn’t take four hours to complete. The price was £24.95 for 10 courses, but sitting for so long and finishing so late was a complaint for diners who have jobs during the day. It did bring a “blitz spirit” for the diners who all enjoyed complaining together, while also complimenting the food. Very British, very good.

If you do not equate time with money, the capital saving is worth it; the usual tasting menu weighs in at £69.95, and for £24.95 you can get a three course set lunch.

The restaurant is housed in the old Beer Cart Arms building and retains, or gives the impression that it retains, several of the original features. Wood panelling, wood tables, a piano in the centre of the room, spacious, good toilets. Beer Cart Arms used to be a rock bar that apparently used to do a good Halloween party, and where some friends picked up napkins to soak up the blood of my cut foot when I fell in the river. How times change.

As with my other “foodie” fusion (my how I dislike both of those words) experience, the flavour palate was quite unlike anything else that I had tasted before, in a good way. There was one course which I didn’t like – a weak popping candy grenita – several courses which were good, and standouts from a dosa, a seafood salad, and a wood pigeon wellington (I think, I have since thrown the menu away).

Indian food often falls into the unrefined culinary camp, but this is fine Indian fusion, dammit. Complex, well-thought spicing, Classical techniques, and plates that are a thing of beauty – for the most part; after several courses some of the plates looked a little worse for wear and the staff were clearly overwhelmed.

Have I become convinced of fusion cuisine you may ask? I would reply that this is a lazy and inaccurate question, for fusion encompasses a great many things and I stand by my general reluctance to fusion. In the case of The Ambrette, however, the guides are right (or I think that the guides should be right and am convincing myself that I like it) and it is worth a stop off if you’re in the mood for something finer in Canterbury. The other options are the Abode and other more ‘traditional’ Indians such as Kashmir or the Ancient Raj, but these comparisons are apples and oranges.

The Ambrette, 14-15 Beer Cart Lane, Canterbury CT1 2NY, +44 (0)1227 200 777.