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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.