Published: 05:00, 13 January 2022
If you’re looking for Kent’s top-rated 'restaurant' for vegan food, the destination might not be what you expect. You won’t be shown to a table, or handed a menu.
Instead, you’ll have to place your order through a serving hatch, before cradling the meal in your arms as you search for the nearest bench. There, each bite will be accompanied by the conversations of passers-by and the stomping of shoes on concrete.
I decided to head to it for a late lunch, schlepping past the harried shoppers clinging to carrier bags, and gaggles of schoolchildren streaming through the centre of Canterbury.
Sat in the heart of St George’s Street, Mr Falafel serves Middle Eastern grub from inside a bright-red hut. It’s impossible to miss.
The unassuming street food outlet not only tops TripAdvisor's list of the best places to get vegan food in Kent, it's also Canterbury's highest-rated 'restaurant'.
As I scoured the menu – displayed on two boards at either end of the serving window – the man inside, wearing a woolly hat, motioned towards me.
“Please try. Falafel,” he said. Smiling, he leaned over and handed me a piece.
As I finished my mouthful, I continued mulling over what to eat. There were a number of chef's specials and meat options, such as chicken shawarmas and sloppy joes, but I opted for the falafel box.
While the man quietly prepared my meal, his hand, wrapped in a plastic glove, reached out again holding a strip of beetroot. Having enjoyed the taste, I asked for more to be added to my accompanying salad.
“My friend, your food,” he called, handing me a box. Inside was a line of plump falafels largely hidden beneath blobs of homemade tahini sauce and a sprinkling of herbs. Next to it was a rudimentary salad, enlivened by the strips of beetroot.
I found myself a seat near the turning for Rose Lane. A closing-down sale poster lay across a nearby shopfront, as a woman stood next to an image of Jesus repeated: “Lord, have mercy on us. Take away the sins of the world.”
After tearing open the container, I took my first bite. The falafel's crispy shell made way for its fluffy, subtly-flavoured centre.
The hints of lemon in the sauce – which was also made using sesame seed paste, garlic and cumin – offered the meal a citrusy edge. Meanwhile, the dish was given added sharpness by the pickled beetroot.
While I sat there, the constant stream of people through the high street continued. “Don’t get me wrong, I love him so much, but sometimes he’s a…” a woman walking past told her friend, as they stepped around a warring couple refusing to hold hands.
Within 10 minutes, the box was scraped clean. It was delicious. At this point, I pulled open the foil across the top of my drink – ayran – a salty, watered-down version of yoghurt. It was a lovely accompaniment.
By the time I started heading back to my desk, a queue of customers had formed outside the hut. Were they waiting outside the city’s best food outlet? Probably not. But they were certainly set to have a gem of a lunch.
Ratings out of five
Food: Prepared quickly, the falafels and accompanying salad were absolutely delicious. The menu had a number of other appetising options, which make it worth revisiting. Those with a sweet tooth will also be enticed by the baclava for dessert. *****
Drink: The ayran was tasty and complemented the grub. Alternatively, customers can also choose from a handful of fizzy drinks, tea, coffee and water. ****
Decor: Canterbury city centre is a lovely place to visit. ****
Staff: The member of staff was friendly and more than happy to let me sample the food, which was a nice touch. *****
Price: At £6 altogether, Mr Falafel represents good value for money. Well worth a try. *****