Restaurant review: Chapman’s Seafood Bar & Brasserie, Canterbury

The exterior of Chapman's of Canterbury (Pictures by Manu Palomeque)

The exterior of Chapman's of Canterbury (Pictures by Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Seafood lovers are in for a treat at Chapman’s of Canterbury, where it doesn’t come much fresher or tastier

Cosy interiors

Cosy interiors - Credit: Archant

I had inadvertently picked Graduation Week for my visit to Canterbury and, having secured what surely must have been The Last Parking Space in a city teeming with proud parents and uncharacteristically smart students, fell into Chapman’s Seafood Restaurant with a big sigh of relief and even more or less on time.

And it really was my lucky day, because the first person I met was sous chef Stuart Bowman and when I asked for his top recommendations of the day, found I’d ordered my lunch before even taking my window seat – a record!

A glass of my favourite off-dry Biddenden Ortega soon in hand, I watched the world go by (just along from the Westgate Towers in the historic St Dunstans area, it’s a great people-watching spot) as I actually now read the brasserie-style menu and blackboard specials.

As the only restaurant owned by renowned fish wholesaler Chapman’s of Sevenoaks, you know you’re in for a treat with the pick of the best fresh fish from local day boats along the Kent and Sussex coast always available.

Chapman's

Chapman's - Credit: Archant

You can also expect quality shellfish, including platters of fruits de mer bursting with whelks, clams, cockles, prawns, oysters, mussels, crab and half a lobster – ideal to share over a leisurely hour or two (but ideally not on a first date, you will get messy. Fact).

I’d picked what seemed to be the serving team’s favourite starter, as well as my own, judging from their enthusiastic endorsement. And my piping hot scallops baked (and served) in their shells with succulent chorizo in a fresh, herby tomato sauce was indeed one of the best versions of this classic dish I’ve ever tasted.

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The room itself is simply decorated, cream walls with teal panels, framed fish pictures, a scrubbed pine floor and sturdy wooden tables and chairs. Upstairs is another room which can be used for private dining and in total there are around 140 covers across the two floors.

Service is just right, friendly, chatty, informed and with perfectly judged pauses between courses – and boy, did I need every minute of the ‘big pause, please’ I requested following my Big Fish main.

Chapman's

Chapman's - Credit: Archant

I’d opted for another classic, Dover sole meunière, and a mighty catch it was indeed. Served on the bone (which I much prefer to that theatrical deboning ceremony some places go in for) and cooked the simplest but very best way, in brown butter and lemon, the fish was meaty yet delicate in flavour, the sauce piquant and buttery, the side dishes of ratatouille and potato dauphinoise perfectly chosen. A triumph.

What I’d really have liked to do next was have a bit of a lie down, but I did worry I might still be here for evening service if I nodded off ...

So, one big pause later, I chose another special from the blackboard, strawberry Pavlova, which was not only indulgent and seasonal but also tasted like childhood on a plate. A delicious coffee later and soaking up the contented vibe of a steady flow of customers at neighbouring tables as a medley of jazz, swing and Beatles’ oldies played in the background, I finally managed to haul myself out of my chair and head off.

Go for the fish, return for the fish, the friendly, welcoming atmosphere and the happy feeling this place inspires. Loved it.

Chapman's

Chapman's - Credit: Archant

The essentials

What: Friendly, local seafood restaurant

Where: Chapman’s Seafood Bar & Brasserie, 89-90 St. Dunstans Street, Canterbury CT2 8AD. 01227 780749, info@chapmanscanterbury.co.uk

When: Mon 6-9pm, Tue-Thu 12-2pm and 6-9pm, Fri 12-2pm and 6-9.30pm, Sat 12-9.30pm

How much: scallops baked in the shell with tomato and chorizo, £11.50, Chapman’s fish pie £12.50, Fruit de Mer platter, £32 or £60 for two to share

Meet the chef

Stuart Bowman

Tell us a bit about you

I was born and raised in Canterbury, starting as a pot washer for Chapmans and worked my way up to sous chef. I have worked here for four years, and what I most enjoy about my role is the influence we as chefs are allowed to put into the menus.

Who are your main local suppliers?

Maws Fine Foods, Macknade, Ripple Farm Organics and of course Chapmans of Sevenoaks.

Your signature dish?

Pan-fried seared tuna with tabbouleh, a quick and easy dish that packs a lot of flavour.

Top cookery tip?

Always pan fry Dover sole, it’s the quickest and best way to serve it.

Biggest influence?

That would be Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Must-have kitchen gadget?

Our Robot Coupe

Dream dinner guest?

Keith Floyd

Breakfast this morning?

Poached eggs on toast