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Steamy stuff

With its no-nonsense interior and scintillating food, the Goods Shed next to Canterbury's station has Jay Rayner struggling to control his carnal urges

Sunday February 27, 2005
The Observer

The Goods Shed, Station Road, Canterbury (01227 459 153).
Meal for two, including wine and service, �40 to �80

The Goods Shed is pure gastro-porn. It's a place where incorrigible foodies, people who can comfortably fetishise the origins of a chicken (people like me), can go to get their jollies. It doesn't get much more hardcore than this: it's a lovely old railway building right by the station, complete with rough-hewn wood and craggy red brickwork. One side is taken over by a market selling mostly local, often organic produce. On the other side, up on a raised gallery, is a restaurant serving dishes made only from ingredients from the market. If the market hasn't got it, they won't cook it. For the belly-obsessed, this is the equivalent of Amsterdam's red-light district or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg.

The proposition is so good that its (hard)core audience would probably appreciate it even if the restaurant's food was neither good nor competitively priced. In the gastro-porn world, a blow-up price tag is often an item of faith: �27.50 for an organic, free-range chicken? Why, paying anything less would be a carnal sin. But the food here really is good and the bill is reasonable (and the chickens in the market don't cost �27.50 either). The menu, which is similar at lunch and dinner, is simple and makes a virtue of those ingredients. So a starter of grilled fresh herring came on crisp country toast with the zing of gremolata and nothing else. Welsh rarebit had a lovely boozy edge and just the right punch. With it came a small pot of creamy cauliflower cheese, which spoke of a teaspoon of the Dijon. All that, plus a pile of well dressed salad leaves for �5.50. What's not to like?

Judging by the way the waiter tried to walk away after taking our order for these two, it's clear that at lunchtime many people treat this as the place for a light meal. But my companion and I are true gastro-porn addicts. So it was crisp-skinned pot-roast chicken that - hallelujah! - actually tasted of chicken, plus a length of black pudding for me, and the sweetest of little sand soles with a sprinkle of capers for him. Both came with the same accompaniments. There was an earthy, cream-boosted puree of some root vegetable or other, and on top of that a few roasted vegetables and potatoes, plus a sheaf of bright, brassic greens. It's not smart food, but it is very intelligent cooking. I finished with a lemon posset with a shortbread biscuit smeared with lemon curd. My companion had a light apple cake with a heap of caramelised walnuts, and these set us up for a waddle around the market.

In truth, the stalls are more a boutique affair than a replacement for the high street. Both the fish and the vegetables look great, but the choice is a little thin, and though the cheese stand is clearly run with passion, it looks like the kind of place to pick up something special rather than stock up the fridge. Only the extensive meat counter by Chandler and Dunn could genuinely supply anybody's weekly needs. It also gave the Goods Shed something else: the ripe smell of food. Actually, I'm being coy here. It filled the space with the sweet smell of luscious, bloody, raw meat. Some of you will find this notion unappetising, especially the vegetarians among you, who will run from the idea like nuns from a whorehouse, and that suits me fine. It simply means there will be more room at the tables for the rest of us.

� Jay Rayner's novel, The Apologist, is published in paperback, priced �7.99

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