Starting to lose count of the number of times you’ve expected good things from pubs and restaurants, but been unceremoniously let down? Especially by those that’ve been around for ten or twenty years, quietly doing their own thing but building up a good rapport with the locals? The Artisan has something quite the opposite of all that local buzz – unfortunately, this is not a place where a lot of people will choose to spend their time. It feels unrealised, ignored. But also, dare I say: a bit aloof.
A lot of this has to do with the fact it’s situated three or so stories up West Kent College’s main block. Yes, it has the guise of a restaurant, but this is essentially a classroom. For the first time in many people’s dining out ‘careers’, the food and the experience isn’t necessarily for you. It’s for the nurturing of the budding chefs, and the aspiring waiters. In the politest possible way: you’re the test subject.
Ironically, this is a place many well-established restaurants could learn from. Here, catering students armed with fresh ingredients drum up the kind of dishes you wish you’d had at innumerable restaurants on the high street. Lamb chops, from the local butcher’s, roasted to a pink blush. Ravioli, made with freshly rolled pasta, encasing buttery spinach with just the hint of umami.
Let’s just reiterate. Everyone from the cooks to the front-of-house are learning, so there may be cracks in the service (such as forgetting to offer to take your coat, or bringing the wrong beer). But when the food’s this good, and at £12.50 for three courses (as part of the Monday Supper Club once a term), should you really care?
By Hugh Thomas, Kent editor