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% 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
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. Typically no bookings but you can always wait with a glass of wine over the road in David Brown's Deli (see below). Crab and spring onion tortilla, chicken thighs with a wicked romesco, lamb chops, and superb smoked anchovies with aioli on toast. So much good stuff. Oh - and get some olives as you sit down, you won't regret that move.

David Brown Food and Wine/Deli
David opened the deli first and then they expanded into a small wine bar. This place is responsible for my meeting a good 50% of the people I know in Whitstable because they have so much repeat trade and staff get on with so many regulars. Cold meats, cheeses and salads make an antipasti to eat in or takeaway as well as a wide range of soups in winter (have their pea and ham!) with lunches seven days a week. Special mention should go to meal deal on Thursday evenings: £10 for a plate and a drink - and also their chicken liver parfait.

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 spankingly fresh 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. Lots of adventurous stuff from the kitchen. 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.

Cafe and Kitchen
I've had excellent lunching, homemade pies, roasts and soups here. I particularly enjoyed a terrific courgette and mushroom risotto made with spelt here as well as another great pea and ham soup with locally made bacon (see the Native Smokehouse below).

Roly Smokes
Up at Whitstable Harbour there are about 20-30 huts selling all sorts: stained glass, imported French cheese, Thai food. I particularly like Roly Smokes: he used to be at 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.

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. 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. 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 excellent Time and Tide Brewery 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. Pub quiz is every 3rd Wednesday and can be fiendishly challenging: which is a good thing. Importantly, the staff here 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 well-kept 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 invented 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 their chutzpah of putting up a French poster showing the damage to internal organs from booze.

The Lobster Shack
I actually like to go here for a sundowner (I quite like their Kentish Lager there) 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

The New Inn
I stumbled in here with a mate, refreshed, after a long day on the sauce to discover Roy and Becca, the owners, on their 2nd night here and got a warm welcome. The welcome has remained warm ever since from both them and their staff. They have music on regularly a monthly pub quiz, roasts in the winter on Sundays and I'm forever Shazam-ing the speakers as the music, even when not live is usually good. Shepherd Neame pub, which might turn up peoples' noses but this is far outweighed by everything else here: a great local. [Sadly Roy and Becca have to decided to quit whilst they're ahead after 5 years here and the pub is under new ownership as of August 2018]

Other Stuff
After Hours: Are you still fookin madferrit? I'm usually tucked up in bed by that time 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 similarly the New Inn is 12am closing on Friday and Saturday.

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.

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, The Rock Lodge and The New Inn. Am sure this list will grow as I try more.

Smoky Things: I would like to think that any holiday would involve - at some point - waking up to bacon. And the Native Smokehouse, based in Chris Coates' back garden in Sydenham Street is open from 9-12 every morning for his home-cured and smoked bacon and it's superb. You can also now buy it in David Brown's Deli (see above). It's worth ordering in advance as he does sell out. Similarly worth ordering in advance is smoked salmon from up the road in the Tankerton Smokeshed (or you can try it when it appears on the menu at the aforementioned Deli that sells the bacon!).

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.

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. Worgan's is a superb butcher (I'm yet to find a better British banger than their Olde English), 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.

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 that 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 recently.

A Casa Mia, Herne Bay: As good as - if not better than any pizza 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.

Bottega Caruso, Margate: Magnificent Italian home cooking including homemade pasta, the very warmest of welcomes 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.

The Three Mariners, Oare (nr Faversham): The Walkers' Menu is one of the best value set lunches around these parts. £14.95 for 3 courses and they lob in a boule of lovely homemade bread.

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