Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Whitstable

I've only been in Whitstable four years so I'm hardly the seasoned Whitstableite but have been asked a few times "Where should I go for food/booze/drugs/sex?". OK, maybe not the last two, although I hear the penultimate can be easy to find, allegedly. Here are a few recommendations of places to go that I will update over time. The list below - in no particular order - isn't exhaustive, it's based on places I've visited and enjoyed. This is not a guide. If you're wondering where your favourite X,Y, or Z is, I probably haven't been there and I also see little point in putting negative stuff here.

Eating Out
The Sportsman
Oh come on, you knew this one already didn't you? It's probably why you're coming down. I discovered Whitstable through a visit to the Sportsman, so thank you to them for finding me a new home. If you're coming to Whitstable on a whim there's a 99.9% chance it's probably booked for this week or weekend. Or quite possibly the next six weeks. But if you're reading this well in advance of a trip, just treat yourself. Let's just say that the tasting menu (remember to mention the tasting menu when you book) is my favourite eating out occasion in the UK.

Harbour Street Tapas
The default answer from me when I'm asked where to go if people are popping down for the day. Lee Murray has the excellent Murray's Stores in the Goods Shed and alongside Tim Wilson (most recently Executive Chef at the Groucho Club), they've opened a cracker here. Hake fillet, leeks, cockle and saffron sauce or beetroot, blood orange, ajo blanco and dill. Crab and spring onion tortilla, chicken thighs with a wicked romesco sauce, lamb chops, and superb smoked anchovies with aioli on toast. I could go on. Get some olives as you sit down, you won't regret that move.

Farm and Harper
I've had some pasta at the bar, an excellent plaice "fish dog" and sausage sandwiches at lunchtimes. In the evening I've had pork loin with romesco and a pearlescent slab of hake with brown shrimps and capers on the ever-changing evening menu. Phil the chef worked at the Lanesborough Hotel in the past and seems to effortlessly juggle multiple orders when I sit at the bar. I love the idea that they have their own farm that is going to help to provide meat of their own provenance for the menu. The aforementioned pork loin was from their own mangalitsa pigs.

Samphire
An admission: I've only been here a few times and like to save this as a treat for when friends visit. The new chef as of 2019 has St John and Rochelle Canteen on his CV, so that's all good with me. Yes it's a glaring cliche but like the Sportsman I admire their use of local stuff. Once had a rabbit tagliatelle as a starter there that was so good I went back and asked if they could do a main sized portion: which they did with aplomb and recently the mussels in local Biddenden cider and the lamb hotpot from the set menu were excellent.

Cafe and Kitchen
I've had excellent lunching, homemade pies, roasts, breakfasts and soups here. I particularly enjoyed a terrific courgette and mushroom risotto made with spelt here as well as really filling, hearty pea and ham soup.

Roly Smokes
Up at Whitstable Harbour there are about 20-30 huts selling all sorts: stained glass, driftwood made into household things, Thai food. I particularly like Roly Smokes: he used to be at the Old Kent Market in Margate but moved to this Whitstable pitch about 18 months ago now. Has done some competition BBQing in his time and typically has smoked lamb, pork belly, chicken thighs as well as tumescent German sausages from the excellent Sausage Man in Lewisham.

Wheelers
I've only sat at the bar here a couple of times and enjoyed their "tapas" plate, a perfectly cook piece of skate with brown butter and prawn dumplings in a terrific dashi broth. I'm waiting for a special occasion to have the full menu but their chilled counter heaves with smoked fish and pastries to take away as well and I've had their fishcakes to cook at home a few times. You can go in there with any shaped pie dish and they'll fill it with fish pie for you to cook at home. How good is that?

Pubs/Bars
The Twelve Taps
Becca and Libby have brought craft beer and gin to Whitstable in spades. Spratwaffler Pale Ale from the really excellent Time and Tide Brewery in Deal is the house beer - no, you won't find a Peroni or a Fosters, refreshingly. There is a dangerously endless array of beers from around the country and occasionally overseas on the - yes, you've guessed it - 12 taps (key kegs) - and the same goes for their selection of gins. They've also hosted tap takeovers from none other than London's Kernel Brewery and more recently Buxton Brewery. Pub quiz is every 3rd Wednesday in the darker months and is properly challenging: which is a good thing. Importantly, the great staff here really give a shit and are into what they sell.

The Ship
I call this a "locals' pub" to visitors but that's unfair as locals' pub usually conjures up imagery of the pool balls screeching to a halt, music stopping and everyone turning round to eye you up and down as you walk in: which couldn't be further from the truth. Unfailingly friendly service, immaculately clean and three German beers are usually on tap as well as four ales on draught. All this and schnitzel-in-a-bap and German sausages. Good for watching the sport.

The Neptune
All I need to say is that it's a pub on the beach and this should be enough to sell it to you. Live music and pub quizzes too. Good fires in winter. Oh, and a jukebox. Heaving in summer, as you might imagine.

The Black Dog
You can't talk about this part of the world without mentioning the micropub: they were born up the road in Herne. The Black Dog looks like a Victorian seance parlour and serves up well-kept ever-changing cask ales and delightfully adheres to some of the ground rules of a micropub - phone calls outside, please. I particularly admire the chutzpah of their French poster showing the damage to internal organs from booze.

The Lobster Shack
I like to go here for a sundowner (I quite like their Kentish Lager) later in the day in summer as it winds down there typically around 9pm  - unless a wedding is on at the East Quay Venue next door - and can be a mite quieter in peak season than the Neptune or Pearson's Arms in the centre of town. This place also serves up good old seaside fare: fish and chips, scampi, oysters, mussels

Other Stuff
After Hours: Are you still fookin madferrit? I'm usually tucked up in bed before midnight but the Rock Lodge stays open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays (see also Sunday Roasts below). The Twelve Taps also offers an extra hour of craft beer and gin joy until midnight on these nights too and the New Inn offers an extra 1/2 hour of supping time on Fridays/Saturdays. If I find out any more later pubs, I'll stick them on here too.

Fish and Chips: Well of course you want some when you're by the sea. VC Jones is where the queues form - of course they do, they cook all their stuff in beef dripping, but hat-tip to Ossie's on the High Street who have a friendly welcome and often give you a little portion of free chips if you're due a wait.

Bread: Whitstable is blessed at two ends of the scale of bakers: the very modern sourdough bakery at Grain and Hearth and as old-school as you can get at Hubbard's.

Ice Cream: On Harbour Street, Sundae Sundae make all their own stuff in a wonderfully quirky shop. When it warms up the queue is always there, which is enough of a guide as to whether you should go. Also, Dolce in Tankerton about 3/4 of a mile up the road are doing some good gelato. For an old fashioned Mr Whippy there is an delightful old couple that own a (legally-parked) ice cream van in the Harbour overlooking the seafront.

Sunday Roast: Several places I've mentioned already do a well-priced roast. Step forward Cafe and Kitchen and The Rock Lodge and Georgia in the little room at the back of the Duke of Cumberland does excellent roasts in winter and Pearsons - if you can get in - do a good one, too at a slightly more premium price. Am sure this list will grow as I try more.

Smoky Things: The Native Smokehouse, based in Chris Coates' back garden in Sydenham Street and also the Tankerton Smokeshed are smoking their own smoked salmon on-site. Chris also used to do bacon and has been known to smoke some cheddar, too.

Booze: A friend with much greater wine knowledge than me liked the look of some of the boozes at The Offy, and I like the ever-changing selection of craft beers they stock.

Fresh Fish: If you want fresh fish that's just been landed from a boat that night, then join the queue at around 8.45am every Saturday in the Harbour for Millennium Fisheries' catch. Plaice, huss, skate and cod often there to take home and work your wonders. Fish isn't guaranteed every week but he has a sign on his hut (a few doors down from West Whelks) normally if it isn't going to happen.

Chinese Takeaway: Based only on a couple of visits and the fact that pretty much everyone says this place when asked "where's the best chinese takeaway in Whitstable?": China Chef in Tankerton is the go-to. I particularly love the "thin-gauge" noodles they use for their chow mein, their crab claws bursting with prawn and Pei Pa Tofu with prawns. Here's a photo of when I had a takeaway on the beach cos I'm like well edgy.

Just A Short Hop Away
And if you really feel you have to leave Whitstable, my favourite places nearby, in no particular order are (and this, I'm sure, will expand - much like me):

The Goods Shed, Canterbury: A temple to the seasons. Fruit, veg, fish, meat, cheese, booze, restaurants. Murray's Stores has all manner of imported items, the restaurant on the mezzanine level takes all its produce from the shed itself and cooks it immaculately and Wild Goose on the left as you walk in has some excellent small plates. There's also a widely-stocked butcher with cuts from many different locations nearby and similar the fishmonger's display is always brimming.

The Fordwich Arms, Fordwich (nr Canterbury): Fabulous cooking in a stunning 1930s building with lovely staff that is rightly attracting interest from Londoners and restaurant reviewers. It seems to be getting better by the day. East Kent's very own Marina O'Loughlin has said she's not been as excited about an opening round these parts since the Sportsman opened in 1999. The recent Michelin star came as little surprise. If they've got the pheasant dumplings in a smoky broth then crack on - one of my favourite dishes I've had in Kent.

Bottega Caruso, Margate: Magnificent Italian home cooking including homemade pasta, the very warmest of welcomes from Simona, Harry and the gang and some of the best jarred tomatoes you'll get your hands on from their farm in Campania, amongst other imported delights (I particularly like their funky pancetta). It's like you're eating in someone's house rather than a restaurant such is the warmth. If you want to know more details and in much more style, a friend wrote about it here - and Grace Dent followed suit in the Guardian recently.

Angela's, Margate: Always a warm welcome and unfussy, fabulous cooking from Rob Cooper that shows off sparklingly good fish and shellfish. If it doesn't get a Bib Gourmand next year then Michelin obviously haven't visited and the glowing review in a national newspaper attests to this. The sort of place you'd want at every seaside resort. They've also opened a new seafood place in Margate, Dory's, such is the success of the restaurant that is literally round the corner from Angela's.

A Casa Mia, Herne Bay: As good as any of the best pizzas you'll have in London, I reckon. Their margherita with all "DOP" top-end ingredients is stellar. They also have a deli about 5 doors down that uses the same pizza dough to make their panini. You're always well looked-after by Gennaro, his wife and their all-Italian staff.

The Three Mariners, Oare (nr Faversham): The Walkers' Menu is one of the best value set lunches around these parts. £16.95 for 3 courses and they lob in a boule of great homemade bread. Lovely pub.

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