Dover. Hmmm. Fair to say that it's probably not the first place that comes to mind for a 'decent weekend nosh' destination. Unless, that is, you happen to remember a Jay Rayner review of a couple of years ago or so, live a short train ride away, and like the idea of a restaurant championing uber-local and seasonal produce. In which case, Dover doesn't seem such a bonkers idea after all. (And, while we're at it, the Michelin-starred Marquis at Alkham is just a short trip out of the centre.)
So, one chilly but cheeringly sunny October afternoon, we rolled up outside the rather splendid Town Hall (worth a visit in itself, honest). And there, across the road, and largely obscured by a million speeding cars, was our modest little venue:
If outside was traffic madness, The Allotment's interior was - thankfully - a haven of calm and warmth.
And, er, a certain degree of worrying emptiness. Yikes. A glass of Chapel Down's Flint Dry was swiftly ordered - and brought to the table - as a nerve steadier.
Still, everything seemed broadly encouraging. Wonderful decor (tongue and groove panelling everywhere, high ceiling, groovy retro-nod lighting, suitably aged wooden flooring), decent tableware, friendly waiting staff. Menu? Well, ish:
It's not that there was anything wrong with it - it just wasn't the kind of menu to get me positively dribbling with excitement. Some might regard that as a good thing, not least of whom my dining companion.
I gave the aforementioned the task of choosing a starter for us to share. The result? 'Vegetable quesilladas.' Right. I won't be making that mistake again.
Or will I? Y'know, they were really rather good. I'm no expert on Mexican food, and I wouldn't mind betting these would have offended the authenticity hunters, but these prim little quesilladas ticked our boxes for kick-off. Beautifully light, gently crisped, filled with spicy (if unspecified) veggie goodness, and accompanied by a convincing guacamole. And, thankfully, not drowned with sour cream. Relief all round.
Onwards, to mains. For no particular reason, it's been a while since I've eaten sea bass, so that was precisely what grabbed my fancy here. With a buerre blanc? Oh go on, then.
Sea bass? Check. Buerre blanc? Check. Melty mash? Check. But, um, braised red cabbage? I don't know whether the chef was recovering from a big night out, or whether cabbage was all they had to work with that day, but I wasn't wowed by the prospect. Mildly alarmed would be rather nearer the mark.
But, dang it, The Allotment tricked to deceive again. It might not have been the most seamless match ever, but I ate it all, as did The Other Diner, so what does that tell you? Perhaps it says most about the cooking here - it's assured, light of touch, and all about the yum factor. The bass was superbly flavoursome, the buerre blanc spot on, and the mash was a winner for butter lovers everywhere. And that cabbage - whether as a mouthful on its own, or scooped up with the bass and everything else - was actually a pleasure to eat. That'll teach me.
By this time, I'm happy to report, the place was filling up. Some, like us, were late lunchers, but it seems that this is also the local 'go to' place for some serious indulgence of the carbohydrate kind. Generous cakes and tarts with rustic eye appeal occupy the deli-style counter by front door, so perhaps that's no surprise.
The pudding menu was equally big on comfort factor - apple crumble, double chocolate mousse, baked blueberry cheesecake, raspberry and almond tart, and meringue with poached plums.
The Other Diner opted for the plums:
And I decided on the tart:
If I use the word 'light' again, this time for the tart, you'll probably shoot me, won't you? But it was. And moist. And liberal with both ground almonds and raspberries. Most tarts like this tend to be a tad on the dry or claggy side, but not this one. Not a soggy bottom in sight, either. Pure tart joy. With a dollop of excellent vanilla-flecked ice cream on the side.
The Other Diner's meringue and plums were lapped up, although there was a minor whimper along the lines of more fruit required.
While we nursed our coffees, our bill arrived. £53 for a 2.5 course lunch, with wine and coffee. Not cheap, but not horrifically spenny, either, for food like this - tasty, well cooked and portioned, and served with care and plenty of charm. Whether The Allotment can keep going in a not especially prepossessing part of Dover through this particularly vicious recession remains to be seen. But, based on our visit, I'd certainly say it deserves to do so. So next time you're on your way through Dover, I suggest you do yourself and a little local resto a good turn, and stop a while at The Allotment.