Berry good

My regular sea buckthorn patch near Sandwich has been thin this year, so picked very little yesterday. These delicate little berries were picked carefully off the prickly stems, juiced by mashing through a sieve then put in the freezer, to help glaze the Christmas ham.

Once the rain stops this week I’ll head off for another dense set of bushes further along the coast to find some to flavour vodka: just put the whole berries in a bottle, and leave it for a month or so, before putting it in the freezer. Serve cold and straight, in shot glasses.

The taste is sweet-sour, like mango mixed with kumquat. They also look really pretty on top of a trifle or tiramisu, and should be ripe for another few weeks.

Kent’s ten best sea-view restaurants

This is the first of my Kent coast top tens – if you’re a visitor, the first nine here are all well worth trying. If you’re a local, tell me what I’ve missed out!

The Sportsman, Seasalter

oysters

This feels like the pub at the end of the world, overlooking the sea with only a row of battered beach huts for company. Inside, it’s a bit tired and scruffy and definitely needs a lick of paint. But one glance at the daily menu up on the blackboard, and you’ll see why it has its Michelin star and why people book tables here months in advance. It’s simple, unfussy food, but all of the ingredients are top quality and cooked to absolute perfection. From the delicious home-made breads to the well-chosen wines, the local oysters and fish to roasts that do a little dance on your tastebuds before melting away, it’s hard to fault anything. We’ve never tasted a mediocre mouthful here. This is not just a great gastropub: it is a world-class kitchen.

Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co, Whitstable

Whitstable Oyster Fishery

A long-time favourite that helped put East Kent on the gastronomic map, this is still consistently good (and popular – you’ll need to book in advance at weekends and over the summer). In an airy, light-filled room right on the beach, it’s a great place for spanking fresh seafood, or just a glass of chilled white and a plate of local oysters at the bar. It’s all very simply cooked, leading many to wonder if the high prices are justified. Starters are £7-13 and include oysters, scallops and squid; mains come in at £16-26 for fish, lobster and crab; desserts are £7.50. All I know is that whenever I have lunch here, I feel like I’ve been on holiday.

Wyatt & Jones, Broadstairs

WJ_2904F_074-1000x500

Housed in three former fisherman’s cottages sloping down towards the harbour, this is a long, narrow restaurant with old church chairs, stripped wood floors and tables and calm, soothing colours. The prime tables to book are 15 and 16, right by the open kitchen with views right across Viking’s Bay’s inviting sandy beach. A friendly, family-run place that is open from breakfast to dinner with dogs welcome in the daytime, this is modern British cooking at its best: they make their own bread, pickles and chutneys and serve lovely breakfasts and light lunches. It’s great for Sunday roast, but really comes into its own at in the evenings, when the cooking is beautifully balanced and presented.

Royal Harbour Brasserie, Ramsgate

This eccentric little dog and child-friendly restaurant at the end of the harbour pier is such a treat – like being out to sea in a French bistro. You can drive right out along the harbour arm and park next to the restaurant if the weather is bad, but on a sunny day I’d recommend walking out past the fishermen and eating out on their terrace to really take in the views back over the marina towards Ramgate on one side, and out to sea on the other. Adrian Mowle’s cooking is French inspired, but not rigidly so: he does a fantastic caribbean jerk chicken, for instance, and it is open from breakfast to evening. It’s our favourite spot for Sunday lunch (£10, always beautifully cooked with choices such as pork belly with perfect crackling, venison or corn-fed chicken) with a pianist encouraging everyone to sing along. Leave room for dessert, whenever you go – the sorbets are particularly good.

 

Rocksalt, Folkstone

I have friends who rave about meals they’ve had here, and friends who will happily come down from London to sit in the gorgeous room with direct views over the harbour. But I’m going to admit it: every time I go to Mark Sargeant’s lovely bar/restaurant it’s.. OK. And rarely more than that. Maybe I’ve been unlucky. I love the idea of fresh, local ingredients changing with the seasons, and once had a gorgeous chocolate fondant here, filled with my favourite foraged berries, sea buckthorn. Otherwise, while nothing I’ve eaten here has ever been bad,  nor has it inspired me to rush back.

Minnis Bar & Restaurant, Birchington

The Minnis Bar & restaurant at night

Bustling cliff-top bar/restaurant with big windows looking out to sea, making this a great spot to watch the sunset or rest after a long hike or bike ride to Reculver Towers. Food is consistently good, if a bit 1990s in presentation, and they smoke, cure, salt and pickle produce on site. I love the charcuterie starter, the big pots of mussels and whole mackerel with marinated spiced cucumber, the well-sourced cheeses and the Missis Platter, a selection of miniature desserts that means you can try virtually everything on the pudding menu. They also have a big outdoor terrace for sunny days, although whatever the weather, do call ahead to check they’re open: they frequently host weddings and private parties.

Sands Hotel, Margate

eat_drink

A boutique hotel with a gorgeous restaurant boasting grand floor-to ceiling windows plus a balcony with outdoor seating for sunny days, all facing the town’s wide, sandy beach. The atmosphere becomes more intimate at night when a fire is lit and the room really sparkles. Mostly, the chef is able to live up to the slightly pretentious menu, which is heavy on words like ‘jus’ and features things like parsley emulsion, beetroot ketchup and avocado sorbet. It’s also open for lunch and afternoon tea, though the service in the afternoon tends to be a bit slapdash. Also avoid the lovely looking ice-cream parlour at street level below the restaurant: the gelato looks the part, but it’s all oddly flavour-free.

Great British Pizza Company, Margate

Great British Pizza Company

The fact that there are two branches of this, one in East London’s foodie haven Exmouth Market, the other on the seafront at Margate, tells you all you need to know about this once-ailing town that is fast becoming Hoxton-on-Sea. This is only a pizzeria – but oh, what pizzas! Thin, crispy, wood-fired gems with unusual, seasonal, gourmet ingredients (pear and blue cheese; air-dried ham and rocket), plus great coffee, inventive ice-creams and sorbets and house wine served straight out of temperature-controlled barrels. It’s all simple, fresh and very lovely. A strong contender for best pizza in the UK, let alone Kent.

Posillipo, Broadstairs

Posillipo Broadstairs

A traditional family-run Italian, oversized pepper grinder and all. But there are stunning views across Viking Bay from the terrace in the summer and from the window tables inside, and while no River Café, it offers Italian home cooking using good, fresh ingredients. The seafood linguine is particularly gorgeous, and my son used to love the white and dark chocolate profiteroles. We have many happy memories of family meals here after a long day on the beach.

Jasin’s, Deal

There are three things to recommend about this café: location, location, and location. In an award-winning building at the end of Deal Pier, with great views out to sea and back at Deal’s virtually unspoilt shoreline (shame about the ugly flat block just by Deal Castle), it’s a light, airy room, lovely to sit in whatever the weather. That’s the good bit. Sadly, the service can be slapdash and slow, and the food is average at best. If you want fish and chips, a fry-up or a sandwich this is fine, but you can get better close by (The Black Douglas on the seafront has elevated breakfast to an art form and also does fine sandwiches, soup, salad and cakes). It’s such a missed opportunity: this could have been a restaurant that people drove miles for, drawing visitors into the town. As it is, you go there mainly for the view.

 

Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 4

Viking Bay in Broadstairs, Sunday Oct 5. It’s autumn and the crowds are long gone, but the sun is shining and people are still in the sea. The food festival was full of great stalls, things to try and things to eat and drink, from artisan chocolate to posh marshmallows, curry to churros and great trout or lamb rolls from our favourite Broadstairs restaurant, the glorious Wyatt & Jones.

Self-preservation

Today, I’m in a pickle. Or three, actually. Jars from Poundland in Deal, veg from the garden, and in an hour I’ve got supplies that will last in the fridge till Christmas. These are our family favourites, great with a glazed ham or poached salmon or just on sandwiches, and all recipes culled from the BBC’s Good Food website: crunchy courgette pickle, sweet cucumber pickle with ginger, spiced sweet and sour beetroot.

Autumn mists

 

It felt like the start of autumn today: a low, grey sky with a soft mist rising up from the sea, yet still warm enough for short sleeves. Went for an early morning walk at the old Hoverport in Pegwell Bay, which was abandoned in 1987 and now offers a bleakly beautiful post-industrial landscape slowly being over-run by wildness once more.

The markings for the car park are still there, as are the approach markings for the hovercrafts themselves, but wild roses covered in bright orange hips now push through the asphalt, along with ripening blackberry brambles, bright hawthorns, wild fennel and tall grasses.

Meanwhile the sea is slowly reclaiming the concrete, eroding it to form new rock pools as the tide goes out and covering it with seaweed. We saw a solitary dog-walker away in the distance, a huge rat running between rocks at the water’s edge, and lots of birds. But if it wasn’t for the low hum of traffic from the A256, you could easily believe you were the last people on earth.

Afterwards, it felt good to return the cheerful clatter of the Viking Ship Cafe in the car park above for a steaming coffee and a bacon butty. Picked a few heads of fennel seeds while I was down there – they might add some bite to a runner bean soup later.

RG Scotts, Junk Deluxe, and the world in the palm of my hand

When we first take friends to Scott’s Furniture Mart in Margate, we expect two things. First a gasp of surprise as the new visitor enters the low-key front doorway and  takes in just how much stuff is packed into this ’emporium of everything antique, old-fashioned and unusual’. Then we  usually lose them in the maze of furniture, fixtures and fittings which rambles over three floors of an old Ice Works on Bath Place as well as spilling out into  a yard in Grotto Hill behind it.

Whatever you’re interested in, from wicker baskets to huge wardrobes, you’ll find it somewhere in this dusty Aladdin’s cave, and it’s easy to lose hours going through its hidden treasures. Film and TV designers use this place to source period pieces all the time, and they ship all over the world.

Make sure you don’t miss the stairs right at the back of the shop leading down into Junk Deluxe, where the lovely Ben and Hayley sell stylish vintage pieces gleaned from their regular trips to Europe. They prefer to keep their prices low and their turnover high, so there’s always something new to see there. In the past we’ve bought everything from a huge dining table to a haberdasher’s cabinet, big glass bell  jars to the life-like casts of hands that now reach out from a wall holding my handbag. But this Saturday we didn’t need to take advantage of their cheerful delivery service to get our purchases home. They sold us the world – or at least some pretty glass marbles with maps of the world on them – for 50p each.

Home grown

Early September veg haul

We were on the waiting list for an allotment in Hackney for over a decade. Here, we’ve finally got space to grow our own fruit and veg, and cliche though it is – it all really does taste better. This is today’s crop: particularly pleased with the purple and yellow French beans, and the five cucumbers that have ripened this week alone. But if anyone has ideas of things to do with runner beans, please share!

Danish Collectables

We were over in Margate today, one of my favourite places for vintage shopping. Or just browsing and salivating, in the case of Danish Collectables.  At 7 Broad St in the Old Town, this small shop is run by Flemming Moberg in partnership with his brother, who is based in Denmark but makes regular runs over to Kent with new stock, using the van to make deliveries around the south-east while he’s here. Flemming is the kind of person I can talk to forever, an obsessive who loves what he does and is happy to chat about every piece in his shop in detail, even when it’s patently obvious – in my case – that all I’ll be buying is a coffee from the Old Town’s best cafe, the Greedy Cow.

Right now he has 12 original Arne Jacobsen Butterfly chairs, newly covered in  butter-soft tan aniline leather. They’re £495 each, and I’d buy the whole set tomorrow if I had the money, along with the gorgeous rosewood rosewood desk (£795 – you’d pay double in London) and a whole assortment of beautifully designed and comfortable armchairs. It’s easy to miss this narrow gem of a shop because it only has a tiny window, but if you’re interested in Scandinavian design, it’s an ever-changing treasure trove of beautiful vintage furniture, glassware and pottery.