The mission was simple: find somewhere good to eat brunch with my lad prior to lunchtime in the pub to watch the big match. Good comfort food required, but also somewhere vaguely student-friendly and cool to be seen in, since students care about these things and Adam is a student. As it turns out, the Refectory Kitchen fit the criteria perfectly and is almost next door to the Bishop’s Finger on St Dunstan’s Street, where we eventually drank beers and watched footie.
The Refectory combines outside tables for sunny days (this Saturday was, but we went inside) and a stripped-back bijou interior with plenty of smallish tables. Since they don’t take bookings, we did well to get in early – queues were present and growing by mid-morning.
We sat near the back, close enough to see the kitchen, equipped by blokes dressed in black t-shirts and shorts. It got pretty crowded as waiters made their way through in decent impressions of ballerinas, and diners made their way to the nearby loos, but we mostly toned out the background and chatted over our grub.
Talking of waiting staff, they are barely distinguishable from diners by virtue of clothing (eg. no aprons or badges), but have been hired on the basis of being very young, slender and cool, apparently the main criteria. At least they are enthusiastic, attentive, well-informed and responsive, which is certainly not true of waiters at all diners.
One issue noted was that the brunch menu offered is not the same as that offered on the website, the latter not having been updated to reflect the loss of ham hock hash. Adam was notably disappointed, though presumably it reflects a lack of interest by the Canterbury public in what should be a stand-out dish.
But let’s start with drinks. Adam turned down my suggestion of Bloody Mary with brunch and chose fresh orange juice, which did taste better than average. Unfortunately, my usual black Americano tasted strong but muddy and, in all honesty, a bit off. Whether that was due to the blend being off or inexpert barista performance I can’t say, but it wasn’t up to the standard expected in a world packed with competing coffee chains.
Even without HHH, the menu divides between old favourites and the sort of updated fancy breakfasts that appeal to new-age global diners. You know the sort – plenty of avocado, spinach, chorizo, even a courgette and pepper rosti in evidence. Superfoods and sexy ingredients for those who aim to move away from greasy spoon menus.
Adam chose Refectory Ranchers, a sort of updated new age egg benedict meets Egg McMuffin through the inclusion of “sausage patties” and avocado on a muffin with “chipotle hollandaise.” It looked rather better than it sounded, and was mostly lapped up but for the inclusion of too much bottled hollandaise and the fact that my boy is not quite sure about poached eggs.
A shame since they were done well, and I speak as an expert in the dark arts of egg poaching. He did like the perfectly runny iridescently orange yolks, which pointed possibly in the direction of Burford Browns, as eaten in the Rivington Grill, Good Egg and plenty more fine London brunch diners.
I went for the Refectory Grill-Up, aka Full English, all the better for the inclusion of homemade baked beans – a trend I’ve picked up recently, including the aforementioned Rivington Grill. The English is one instance where the whole can only be the sum of the parts, so I look for attention to detail throughout and no obvious duffers.
Good news: smoked bacon was tasty hand-cured, thick-sliced proper bacon with a good rim of fat-turned-crisp. The sausage was a corker – big and juicy with evidence to suggest it originated with a decent butcher. The beans were atop a slice of good chunky toast, with a good fried egg, unusually flavoursome roast tomato and a flat mushroom on the side. Not innovative but competent throughout, for which small mercy I am grateful.
In fact we added a side order of a sliver of bubble and squeak for a quid just to give it a whirl. Not the best I’ve tried, but evidence of a good assortment of cooked veg added to the spud in the shape of a Scottish pancake sized patty cut in half. Not quite the East end bubble, but not bad either.
It would be interesting to try the more esoteric items on the menu, and maybe that the Refectory continues to innovate – though without undermining the quality and relative value that makes them a good bet. As it is, the lunch menu traverses the world in hope of attracting diners with jaded palates, but maybe there’s a bit of that in all of us?
Just one request: please fix the coffee!