Welcome to the No Expert food blog. Our reviews cover restaurants, cafes, products and food related events.The opinions on these pages are our own or those of our dining companions. We’re not food experts that can describe the ins and outs of cooking techniques and ingredients so don’t expect autopsies on every dish we’ve ever eaten. What we do know is what we like.
Not everyone will agree but we hope you might find our culinary experiences useful as some of these restaurants can be very expensive and maybe we will save you some time and money by avoiding the disappointing and recommending the very best.
No Expert has relocated to Kent, so you will now see us focusing on some of the excellent eating establishments and food related events in “The Garden of England”.
Having visited The Fordwich Arms a few times in the summer months, I rated it as a decent country pub. I was really pleased to hear that it had seriously raised it’s game on the food front especially after reading a glowing review in the Guardian. So we happily booked a table for lunch with high expectations.
Fine dining in a pub is very difficult to pull off. The Sportsman in Whitstable is one of the rare places that manages it. The Fordwich Arms is trying very hard. The excellent bread and theatrically presented amuse bouche which would be quite at home in a traditional fine dining restaurant somehow jarred in the pub setting. The smell from the wood fire, the rude customer at the bar listening to what sounded like racing results on his phone, and the draft from the door when it was left open a bit too long were off putting. Although these observations may seem petty in retrospect, they illustrate the differences between fine dining in a pub and fine dining in a restaurant.
The Fordwich Arms has an a la carte menu and a set lunch menu for £35 which was inviting enough to stick too rather than splashing out out on any of the a la carte options.
My starter of Smoked Trout, Oyster, Apple and Horseradish was beautifully presented and quite lovely, my companion had the Chicken liver Parfait, Red grape and Gingerbread which looked good with it’s grape scales, but was otherwise fairly ordinary. We both had the Chalk Farm Sika Venison, Plum, Pumpkin and Braised Sholder Crumble for our main course. It was tasty but nothing special. For dessert we ordered the rather delicious Fordwich Snickers. To accompany the meal we ordered some wine by the glass, but were disappointed with all four rather lacklustre wines.
Paying the bill was more pub than fine dining as after waiting a bit too long for table payment we joined the customers vying to order their pints at the Bar and paid there.
It’s early days for the Fordwich Arms new management and kitchen and we wish them well, the pub is in a lovely setting by the river. The town of Fordwich (the smallest in Britain) is worth visiting. You can go Canoeing with Canoe Wild or book a relaxing river trip with Fordwich River Tours for example (starts just outside the Fordwich Arms) and for the more energetic there’s pleasant country walks to Canterbury, Stodmarsh NNR and around Westbere lake.
STARK in Broadstairs is named after Game of Thrones Ned Stark (seriously) and like that show it’s not to be missed. It’s rare to find a restaurant of this calibre outside London, it can genuinely give that other Kent gem The Sportman in Whitstable a run for it’s money. The tiny 12 cover restaurant which is open only in the evenings Wednesday to Saturday, is run by husband and wife team Ben and Sophie Crittenden and although the food could easily grace a more sophisticated venue, the location in a former sandwich bar is comfortably casual.
The focus is entirely on a well thought out, well structured six course tasting menu with excellent ingredients and matching wines. The menu changes on a regular basis to showcase the talents of Chef Ben Crittenden formally of The West House a Michelin starred Restaurant in Biddenden.
All the dishes we had were very good, tasty and beautifully presented. Personal favourites being the pork, miso and sweet corn dish and the chocolate, coffee and buttermilk dessert. The matching wines were all very good too, although the Cotes du Rhone was a less successful pairing, as it’s always going to be difficult to match a wine with a soup dish.
Getting a booking at STARK might be a challenge, following a very positive review in the Guardian and The Good Food Guide naming Ben as the guides “chef to watch” so best to plan ahead. This is a destination restaurant and I’m thrilled that it’s on my doorstep. I certainly made sure I didn’t leave the Restaurant before I made my next booking.
My return visit confirmed Starks consistency, with another delicious tasting menu and good quality wines.
Tucked away in the basement of the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate you will find the beautifully decorated Empire Room restaurant, which captures the essence of an archetypal gentlemens club in the glory days of the British Empire. The restaurant has the look and feel of a special occasion venue but surprisingly with its set lunch (£17.95 for 3 courses) and set dinner (£22 for 3 courses) you won’t need to spend a fortune to have a lovely meal here.
The Empire Room certainly isn’t your average sea side town hotel dining room. The chef is well known in the area, he is Michelin-trained chef, Craig Mather the former head chef at the highly acclaimed and sadly missed fish restaurant Eddie Gilbert’s (one of his Eddie Gilbert dishes was Jay Rayner’s starter of the year a few years ago – which is praise indeed). Craig has for the past few years also been a Chef lecturer at East Kent College. So after reading about him taking over at the Empire Room Restaurant, we decided to go there for lunch. The set menu option is incredible value for money and we enjoyed some beautifully presented dishes along with a complimentary glass of house wine. The menu is seasonal and the highlight for me was the Fennel and Beetroot marinated Salmon with Potato mousse, a tasty and refreshing dish that was a perfect for the warm summer weather, as was the excellent ice cream served with biscuit crumb.
The restaurant has definitely upped its game since my last visit a few years back and is a great addition to the burgeoning Ramsgate dining scene.
The Empire room is normally accessed directly from its entrance on Nelson Crescent, but the hotel manager kindly let us exit via the hotel itself, which has a cosy lounge, attractive breakfast room and stunning sea views.
Having a birthday near Christmas is a bit of a pain to say the least. However I have found a sort of solution. Arrange to get treated to lunch at the world famous destination (at least with foodies) that is The Sportsman – the self styled “Grotty pub by the Sea” located in bleak Seasalter on the outskirts of Whitstable. (15 mins by cab from Whitstable train station).
We went for a short stroll along the sea defense path and then down to the stark but photogenic beach to work up our appetite before lunch. Muddy boots and jeans are more at home in The Sportsman than party frocks and stilettos
It cheered me up to see that 10 days before Christmas there was no over the top Christmas tat dominating the room nor were you forced to order from a double the price (because it’s Xmas) boring Turkey and Christmas pud menu.
The Sportsman is a pub, albeit one with a long standing Michelin Star. Locals do pop in for a pint, but on the whole it’s all about the simple, tasty, locally sourced food. The wine list is good too, with a nice selection of reasonably prices bottles and several decent wines by the glass at a fraction of the price you’d pay in London. They are well known for their tasting menus of which they have two, the smaller one that you can order on the day and the eight course one that has to be pre booked. Visits to The Sportsman always have to be planned well in advance (6-8 weeks typically) if you want a table.
We had pre ordered the eight course tasting menu and chose a half bottle of Chablis to accompany the first half of our meal. The simple yet tasty appetizers set the tone and included an interesting eel & egg dish served in the shell. The first course was three Whitstable Oysters beautifully presented in tray of shells, one of the high points of the meal. The second course was also a real treat, consisting of very tasty baked celeriac with stewed Apple and creme fraiche. The third course was The Sportsman‘s signature dish of Slip Sole grilled in seaweed butter. That was followed by Roast Partridge with rosehip syrup and bread sauce and a Braised Brill dish with some beautiful smoked roe sauce. We then ordered a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir to go with the meat course entitled “Sirloin of retired dairy cow with tarragon” – a delicious dish that was surprisingly dominated by a really tasty piece of baked carrot! Vegetables at The Sportsman are always amazing. After a well needed gap, we moved on to dessert. The first dessert was a pear sorbet lolly – a fabulous palette cleanser. Then the star of the show was a heavenly Bramley Apple Soufflé served with salt caramel ice cream.
It’s a real treat to have a such a quality establishment with such good food, excellent service and comfortable ambience on our doorstep.
The blossoming Ramsgate dining scene has another welcome addition for lovers of Japanese food. It’s the Kyoto Sushi and Grill, which is located in the High Street just opposite Argos making it fairly easy to find.
We were a party of five with the majority new to Japanese cuisine, so I ordered for the group to ensure that we were able to try lots of different menu items, indeed we had a veritable feast of Japanese goodies.
We started with some Edamame and two different types of Gyôza (steamed and fried) and moved on to the Ika Kaarage, deep fried baby squid with wasabi mayo and lemon grass. This was followed by lots of lovely dishes with the highlights being the beautiful melt in your mouth Tuna Tataki, a tasty Sea Bass dish, a lovely light Prawn Tempura and much to everyone’s surprise the Scallop Sashimi. We also had a Teriyaki dish and a selection of Sushi, our favorite being the Dragon Rolls. All of this accompanied by lovely hot Saki that went down very smoothly. We also had the opportunity to try some Takara Sierra Cold Saki, an American innovation in sake brewing that is only 12% proof.
I have eaten in several Japanese restaurants over the years in Tokyo, New York, Philadelphia and London so am not a complete novice, but I would recommend that you let your waitress guide you as some items on the menu will only be available if the restaurant has managed to source suitable fresh fish. The restaurant also does set lunches and Bento Boxes which are a good introduction to Japanese food.
The restaurant is tucked away in a side street in Ramsgate (2 Effingham Street). It is in a converted pub that still looks like a pub when you enter, but don’t judge this place by the decor, this is not your average Indian Restaurant. The owner and Head Chef, is Anil Kumar, he is the former Head Chef of the acclaimed Ambrette Restaurant in Margate. He also worked at The Cinnamon Club in London, and in restaurants in Dubai, Jordan and India.
We go for the set lunch which is amazing value. You start with a welcome drink usually a mango juice concoction. Then a small amuse bouche, which is a mouthful of deliciousness. They have a nice selection of starters, the Masala Dosa is a work of Art, and I highly recommend the Squid dish. Next there is a small complimentary cup of spicy soup. There is also a good few main courses to choose from. We have tried several of them, the highlight for me is the Goan Fish Curry, it is served with rice and warm freshly made naan bread.
The service is good and there is a small selection of wine.
The restaurant is well regarded, it won a Tiffin Cup award to find the UKs best South Asian Restaurant and has been favourably covered in the national press, see Guardian article which described the food at Flavours by Kumar as some of the tastiest Indian Food in the South East of England and they are so right. If you are in the area, this is a treat not to be missed.
If approaching Addington Street from the coastal side, you will find the VinylHead Cafe at the far end of the street. It is a Vinyl Store as well as a Cafe and has a fantastic ambience. I actually think that it is the coolest cafe in Thanet. It attracts a lot of Artists and Musicians and at the weekend there are occasional Open Mic sessions and live music.
Vinylhead is licensed and serves good coffee and really excellent homemade cakes. For more substantial food check out the kitchen menu.
Another highlight is the attractive outside courtyard with its stylish seaside themed mosaic and huge cantilever parsol.
Le Weekend is an annual event held in the lovely historic town of Sandwich. usually around about the first weekend in June. It’s quite amazing – the sleepy town of Sandwich wakes up and is full of people. The shops and cafes spill out onto the street, it’s all very continental, especially when the weather is as good as it was on our visit.
The highlight of Le Weekend for me is the French market, which is the real deal, full of French produce sold by French people. I bumped into some Ramsgate friends who were also visiting the Market. They have a house in France and are very familiar with French Markets, they were suitably impressed commenting that it was actually a lot better than many Markets in France. Praise indeed!
I could not resist the wonderful aroma and bought the most succulent and tasty garlic prawns I have ever had from one of the vendors.
The Cafes in town were pretty full, but I managed to get a seat in the wonderful NoName Deli (which is not just there for Le Weekend). I ordered some of their excellent coffee and a piece of Normandy Tart and did a bit of people watching.
Other activities that occur over Le Weekend include Live Music and a Medieval Fayre.
It was a lovely day out and so nice to hear all the French accents, like being on holiday for the day. I must remember not to miss “Le Weekend” next year, although I do think they have missed a trick not calling the event “La Baguette” 🙂
We are always wary of Restaurants with good views and Mark Sargeant‘s fashionable Rocksalt Restaurant in its purposely designed building overlooking Folkestone Harbour is certainly a Restaurant with a good view.
We had a beautiful sunny day for our first visit to Folkestone and had a lovely time exploring the stunning Lower Leas Coastal Park before we headed round the corner to the regenerated Harbour and made our way past the kitchen viewing area into the Restaurant. When Rocksalt first opened in 2011 it received several negative reviews that complained about both the food and the service – more recent reviews highlighted improvements in both these areas. Although it did not start of well for us, in that no one was there to greet us on arrival, leaving the barman to find a waitress who could take us to our table. The staff also seemed rather cold and brusk, with a few notable exceptions. Then just after we sat down we heard shouting from the direction of the kitchen, it might just have been noisy guests but it was off putting. Thankfully after this rocky start the pitch perfect food which was Rocksalts saving grace arrived. We settled down to enjoy a nice bottle of wine and some delicious seafood in the well designed surroundings. There are lots of cleverly positioned mirrors and wall height glass windows designed to open and effectively convert the entire restaurant into one big terrace.
When you can see the fishing boats bringing in their catches right out side the Restaurant it seems foolish not to order sea food (there are meat dishes on the menu but we made a point of ignoring them). We started with a scallop dish from the catch of the day menu, it was a tasty dish with 3 medium sized scallops and a lot of black pudding and creamy potatoes. We also ordered the Dressed Crab, the Harissa sauce served with it had been criticized in the early reviews for being underpowering then in later reviews for being overpowering. Now the tweaking of the dish seemed to have worked as it was just right, with the sauce effectively enhancing the tasty and very fresh crab meat. We followed the starters with a stunning Pan-Fried Fillet of John Dory with Smoked Bacon and a lovely Fillet of Cod with Cockles and Sea Aster served with mashed potatoes. We ordered Carrots and Jersey Royals side dishes, they tasted like they were fresh from the garden and were perfectly cooked with an earthy taste that went well with the meal. We also had a couple of good desserts. A Cold Chocolate and Sea Buckthorn Fondant and some Gypsy Tart, a famous Kent sweet I am keen to try again. Apparently it’s a school dinner staple. It was certainly way better than any school dessert I have ever had. We accompanied our desserts with a couple of glasses of nicely chilled dessert wine. Sadly there were only 3 dessert wine options to choose from.
Rocksalt also has a very attractive bar on its upper floor. Our visit was off season and the restaurant and bar were reasonably full. I am sure Rocksalt gets really busy in the Summer as service gripes aside it is a real asset to the culinary scene here in Kent.
At the weekend when there is no set menu Rocksalt has prices that match its designer surroundings, so it’s very easy to run up a hefty bill, especially when you have to add side orders to complete the meals. Nearby there is a less expensive option “The Smokehouse”, a rather smart looking Fish and Chip shop/casual Restaurant that is also co-owned by Mark Sargeant. It’s not that cheap for the area though, as we noticed it advertising Skate Balls for £7.50, the same price as the Sunday lunch at the nearby Grand Burstin Hotel, an eye sore that looked like a relic from the eighties, but cost aside I know where I would rather spend my £7.50. So keep up the regeneration Folkestone and show what UK seaside towns can really do in the 21st century.
All our past visits to the seaside town of Whitstable (aka Islington by the Sea) have been for the sole purpose of dining at The Sportsman that fabulous one star Michelin restaurant in Seasalter. This visit would have been the same if I hadn’t discovered that 5 weeks notice was not enough to get a booking there at this time of the year. So I instantly thought of The East Coast Dining Room, a Whitstable restaurant I had heard good things about. The Restaurant does not seem to be courting a Michelin Star, instead it comes across as one of these places that is quite content to be the good neighborhood restaurant that everyone would love to have on their doorstep. The restaurant is just a short walk from Whitstable train station (just one street back from the beach at Tankerton-on-Sea) and is fairly easy to spot with its attractive outside seating area and Ice Cream cart by the door. The cart on this occasion was advertising their amazing Gingerbeer Sorbet.
Inside there are two pleasant dining areas. After a warm welcome and efficient delivery of the Menus, we decided to go a la carte (although their £30 Xmas menu did look really good). There was no need to order expensive bottled water, tap water flavoured with cucumber was swiftly brought to our table. If you haven’t tried cucumber water I would highly recommended it, it’s refreshing and apparently good for you too. The bread was then served with butter, salt and some really good olive oil (Planeta DOP Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil) that they also sell by the bottle.
For starters we had Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew with Cod Croquettes and Game Rillettes with Devils on Horseback. We both selected fish for our mains. I had a rather lovely Roast Monkfish dish with Corriander sauce, Grilled Aubergines and Pink Fir Potatoes and my companion choose the Mullet, with Bacon and Crab Chowder and Deep Fried Anchovies. We accompanied this with a half bottle of excellent Chablis. They have a good selection of wine including several options served in Carafes or by the glass. The dessert wine selection is also good, we choose Moscato d’Asti to accompany our desserts. My companion was very happy with the aforementioned Gingerbeer Sorbet with Lemon and Ginger Posset, a memorable dessert and I had a Chocolate and Pear Brownie served with Coffee Jellies that worked really well with the Brownie.
The service was friendly and professional. The Restaurant was just over half full on the Winters day we went for lunch, but I suspect that getting a table here in Summer is not so easy. Most of our fellow guests were Whitstable inhabitants who know a good thing when they see it. I think one of the best things you can say about a Restaurant is that you will be back, and we will be back, although not before squeezing in another visit to The Sportsman.
When a restaurant advertises that they make their own bread, smoke their own fish and butcher their own meat, I go in with great expectations. When a restaurant has a beautiful view I tend to lower my expectations on food quality, as there does seem to be a unwritten rule that says the better the view the more mediocre the food is. Wyatt & Jones fortunately break that rule – there is nothing mediocre about their food, its quality shines through. First we had some of their lovely home made bread – I would recommend the walnut and cranberry but don’t have too much and spoil your appetite for the rest of the meal. My companion then ordered Beef cheeks with mustard mash and kale, it was a lovely balanced dish, the mustard in the mash being a beautiful accompaniment for the beef cheeks. The portion was large enough to enable me to eat quite a bit of this dish, along with the haddock, bubble and squeak and duck egg that I ordered. Haddock with bubble and squeak is a delicious classic brunch dish and Wyatt & Jones do it well. We accompanied the food with a couple of glasses of pretty decent wine. Then to finish we ordered a couple of desserts, a pear and almond bake topped with Rum & Raisin Ice Cream and a Caramelized banana with salted caramel mousse – the caramel based dessert was so moreish that I was loath to share.
The service was excellent too, attentive and friendly. The decor and open kitchen are stylish and modern with a degree of warmth that emphasizes that this is a one off restaurant and not a stylized chain restaurant. Come the Summer I suspect getting a table here is going to be difficult but I will look forward to popping in off season for a relaxing brunch. This is Modern British food at its best in a beautiful location.
The Corner House is a restaurant with rooms in the lovely village of Minster near Ramsgate. The head chef is Matt Sworder who worked in several London restaurants training with Gordon Ramsay (La Noisette), Anthony Demetre (Les Deux Salons) and Adam Byatt (Bistro Union) before returning home to his roots in Kent.
The Corner House, formally Mortons Fork has always had a good reputation locally, but with its re-branding, refurbishment and new chef, it has upped its game. It has two dining areas with a bar and kitchen area in the middle. I liked the entrance where you walk in and see all the freshly baked bread. There is a real warmth to the place. The staff are friendly and efficient, nothing is too much trouble. The food is distinctly British and locally sourced.
The home made bread is really good. We also found a couple of gems on the menu. The Beetroot cured Salmon, cucumber jelly and horseradish cream starter was excellent as was the Duck breast with spiced puy lentils, peppers and pea shoots. A couple of the other dishes were more ordinary – the Venison Steak and Chips, and the Asparagus with Egg were pretty conventional, so on my next visit I will definitely try and go for the more exotic options.
Desserts were a highlight, we had a lovely white chocolate cheesecake and delicious home made Brown Bread Praline Ice Cream served in a Kilner Jar. You can see how much we enjoyed our desserts from the empty plate/jar in the photograph 😉