Lily’s Bistro & Catering, Canterbury

Bringing people together, share a meal, share stories, share laughter, share with your community
Locally sourced food with a social conscience

Thus proclaims Lily’s on its Facebook page.  It is, as it also notes on the menu, proudly independent, family-run and based in the heart of Canterbury old town, a stone’s throw from the back of the Cathedral.

As a cafe it is possessed of a certain British amateurish quaintness and charm, which I don’t mean unkindly.  It is as if the decor is thrown together and the business end of the catering is done in full view of half the tables.  That’s right:  to one side of the tables there is a fully operational kitchen, putting to shame the principle of the open kitchen where you catch glimpses of some harassed chef creating your main course over a hot stove.  Here it felt like breakfast in someone’s home.

To add to the Britishness of the feel, there is a splendid and diverse collection of teapots on show, each with its own hand-knitted cosy, range of non-matching crocks.  Some would hate the lack of homogeneity, though personally I feel bang at home with a few eccentric touches.

The Lily team, under the watchful eye of “mother and daughter duo Zoe and Kiera Rodda,” seems at first sight deceptively languid, allowing time for a good gossip along the way, though to be fair we arrived for breakfast before any other tables occupied.  The benefit was that our breakfast was cooked to order, though if they had been hit by a rush I suspect that service might have slowed beyond a chilled state.  At least we had the entertainment value of watching it being cooked.


A word too on the menu and the declared mission statement of using the “power of food… to bring people together.”  This they do by having the option of a mega cooked or continental breakfast for a table to share.  Nice idea – wonder how often it is taken up?  This follows in the tradition of Hawksmoor’s unlimited breakfast for two, which I intend someday to attempt.

There is a good range of veggie and vegan options, plus a few plates with scrambled eggs and rolls, though presumably you could request a benedict or some other off-menu variant.

The charming quaintness was notable through the friendly and very English service throughout.  For example, I requested a large English breakfast, but was told that they stopped doing black pudding with it since nobody wanted any, so I was welcome to one extra component.

This is a great shame.  I am indignant on behalf of the great British black pudding, a true delicacy in its own right but sadly neglected by the people of Canterbury.  I am tempted to launch a campaign outside the Cathedral on behalf of the black pudding makers of Bury,  explaining the delights of this glorious product but I doubt it will make any difference – some, alas, will always feel queasy about a dish made from blood and fat.

Thus, I chose an extra sausage, while the boy went for a continental breakfast.  This consisted of a good croissant, a dainty pain au chocolat, butter, jam, yogurt and a small bowl of berries.  Maybe for £6.95 they could have thrown in another round of toast and maybe some cheese or ham, but he seemed quite content.

My average-sized plate was crowded, to the extent that I had to request a side plate for the very decent sourdough toast, all the better to butter it.  Perhaps they could supply a plate with the toast next time?

The plate, while replete with proper bangers, bacon and freezer hash browns, was dominated by a large portion of Heinz beans to fill up the gaps (a small bowl might work better, allowing for the preference of some not to have any component of the full English touching any other), and an equally huge collection of multicoloured cherry tomatoes.  That is, whole pan-fried tomatoes in a range of hues from red to yellow via orange.

I welcome this as a trend, since so many cafes provide poor-quality cheap and tasteless tomato halves thrown in the oven for five minutes.  These actually tasted of tomato, which is a welcome change, though I could have taken a few home in a doggy bag.

Bacon and sausages were both of excellent quality and flavour, though its a shame that Lily’s did not make its own hash browns, or maybe bubble & squeak, that fine staple of London greasy spoons.

Coffees were pleasantly strong and full-bodied, though the first batch unaccountably cool.  This deficiency was remedied by the second round, though at £2.95 the price of coffee seemed uppish.  In fact, breakfast for two with two cuppas each totalling £27.70 seems on the high side, though if it helps Lily’s stay open I feel I have provided a service to the British food industry.

These gripes notwithstanding, I did like the character of Lily’s, and especially its proud independence, flying the flag for personal service and attention.  Next time I’m in Canterbury to visit my lad at the uni, it might be a chance to try the very multicultural dinner fare, but then Canterbury has so many competing options for food (you’ll recall we ate at Pork & Co last time we were out on the town.)  The High Street is dominated by chains, worse luck, so if ever you are in town I recommend you shop around and support the true independents.

Blogs, reviews, novels & stories