Hello foodie world!

Welcome to the No Expert food blog.   Our reviews cover some of the Worlds Top Restaurants, along with other interesting places, 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”.

We are also happy to review Food and Wine products, but suppliers should be aware that our reviews are independent and are our honest opinion. We will only publish reviews on products that we consider to be good and worthy of a recommendation.  Email us if you wish to make arrangements for a product review.

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The Empire Room at the Royal Harbour Hotel

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. For pre-dinner drinks there is also a small bar area that amusingly is decorated with “bounced” cheques from Claridge’s in London! (I kid you not). This place has the look and feel of a special occasion venue but surprisingly with its set lunch (£15 for 3 courses including a glass of wine) and set dinner menus (£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. Its new 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 the 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.

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The Sportsman – Always a treat

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.

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Taste of Launceston Place

For a special occasion meal I have only a handful of London restaurants on my list. They’re high end and totally reliable, Launceston Place on a quiet backstreet in Kensington is one of them. It’s not a brash trendy restaurant and is all the better for it. It’s fairly low key, simply and tastefully decorated. It has a small bar area, two smallish dining rooms and a private dining area. The service is impeccable and friendly. The Head Chef Tim Allan during his tenure has seen the restaurant gain both a Michelin star and 4 AA Rosettes. We have been here several times over the space of 6 years before and after the aforementioned awards and Launceston Place has always been excellent. I am sure the team will keep up the good work when Tim Allan moves on to The Wild Rabbit in the Cotswolds in a few weeks time.

On this visit we had originally planned to have the Market Menu but the huge slightly daunting wine list and the tempting Tasting Menu changed my mind. I can rarely resist menus with matching wines and Launceston Place’s new Sommelier Piotr Pietras choose some stunning ones to match 5 of the 7 courses that made up our Tasting Menu.

We started with some excellent bread, two tasty canapés and a beautiful Tomato Consommé with goats cheese and micro basil. Our next course was Duck Egg with slow cooked bacon and pea cappuccino which was just full of flavour, this was served with a stunning Pinot Gris (2013 Lismore Vineyard, Ata Rangi, Martinborough, New Zealand). Next was the Glazed Duck Breast with smoked eel, beetroot, foie gras, walnuts, endive and cherry also served with a white wine (2004 Clos du Papillon, Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, France). The forth course was our absolute favorite, a stunning Scallop dish, with glazed Chicken wing, truffle cassonade and apple blossom, perfectly matched with a beautiful Riesling (Heymann-Löwenstein, Uhlen R, Schieferformation “Roth Lay”, Mosel, Germany). Then for the main course we had Salt Marsh Lamb with white polenta and parmesan, Morteau sausage and carmalised cauliflower matched with an elegant full bodied Roija (2003 Reserva Viña Bosconia, Bodegas Raúl López de Heredia, Rioja, Spain)

The Lamb course may have looked small and delicate but it had big flavours especially the tiny slices of Morteau sausage. It was very filling, so much so that we had to sadly bypass the cheese course to leave room for dessert. The first dessert was Amalfi Lemon served in various ways including as granita and ice cream, a very refreshing and tasty palette cleanser. The next dessert was Raspberries with custard, arlette aerated white chocolate and coconut. Aerated white chocolate is a fantastic ingredient to include in a dessert, loved it. The matching wine for this was a Rudera Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2010 from  Stellenbosch, South Africa. We then finished the meal with a small selection of Petits Fours.

After our delicious lazy 3 hour lunch we strolled down to the nearest tube station Gloucester Road and used our train journey home to have a little nap. We took the slow train from Victoria Station as it’s nearer to the restaurant, so our return trip took 2 hours but the high speed train from St Pancras does the trip to Ramsgate in an hour and 20 mins making day trips to London for lunch an expensive but fairly easy option :-)

UPDATE: October 2016, Launceston Place no longer has  a Michelin Star.

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Flavours by Kumar

I have been eating regularly at Flavours by Kumar for months now and just realized that although it is included it in the No Expert – Where to Eat and Drink in Ramsgate Guide it does not have a more in-depth review in its own right; which it most definitely merits.

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.

A recent Guardian article 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.

UPDATE October 2015 – Flavours by Kumar have won the 2015 Tiffin Cup, a contest to find the UKs best South Asian Restaurant.

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Kyoto Sushi and Grill

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. Our visit was within days of the opening and the new owners are still working on tweaking the menu, possibly adding some Japanese flavored ice creams.

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.

UPDATE May 2015 – Have eaten here numerous times now and it just keeps getting better. Its popular too, so best to book especially at weekends. They also now do Ice Cream, we had some Green Tea Ice Cream and Sesame Seed Ice Cream on a recent visit plus they have a range of Mochi desserts as well.

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Vinylhead Cafe – The Coolest Cafe in Thanet

If approaching Addington Street from the coastal side, you will find the VinylHead Cafe at the far end of the street (it also extends into West Cliff Road). It is a Vinyl Shop 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 great coffee and really good homemade cakes. From Wednesday to Sunday they have what they call the Big Veg menu, which includes different types of Burritos and Salads. In the warmer weather you can also buy Taywell ice cream.

There is an attractive outside courtyard which is a real suntrap in the Summer.

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Weekend at The Albion House Hotel : Ramsgate

Despite the title of this post we were not actually staying at the newly opened Albion House Hotel. Although we did find ourselves spending a substantial part of the Weekend there. We started with Champagne Afternoon Tea on the Saturday and returned the next day for our Sunday Lunch.

The Hotel which is open to non residents is quite lovely, perched up on the East Cliff of Ramsgate. The building has been substantially renovated during its conversion to a luxury boutique hotel, it now combines Regency splendor with lots of innovative modern designer touches courtesy I believe of Fontaine Decorative a local company who source stunning French Furniture and Decorative items.

The Hotel is in preview mode at the moment. The plan is to concentrate on the Town Bar and the Hotel Rooms themselves before they make full use of the Dining room. They also have some exciting plans for the Cellar.

Champagne Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is in the Town Bar.  Sandwiches, Tea and Champagne are served at your table. Cakes are laid out buffet style on the table by the window. It’s very much a case of eating as much as you want, as extra sandwiches are brought out on request. The Earl Grey Tea I ordered was particularly good, it’s from a company called Canton Tea and had a strong Vanilla flavour.

Sunday Lunch

The Sunday Lunch menu is pretty much as expected, a small selection of starters, a couple of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes for the main course with dessert options and/or cheese to complete the meal. Lunch and Dinner are served in the Dining Room located at the front of the Hotel. It’s an attractive room with beautiful large fire places and quite spectacular views of Ramsgate Royal Harbour – an ideal place to watch the sun set.

We ordered the Pork belly, scallops, apple puree & red vein sorrel and Wood pigeon breast with frisse & oak leaf salad. The Wood pigeon was served only slightly pink (so if you like it pink, best to say when ordering). We followed this with some nicely cooked Lime & jerk spiced sea bass, potato cake and samphire accompanied by a rather nice bottle of Albarino – the hotel has some excellent options on their wine list. Then for dessert we had Dark chocolate torte with white chocolate cream and raspberries and Vodka, lemon & lime posset with mixed berry compote, accompanied by a couple of glasses of Dessert Wine.

The Hotel is a real asset to the area and we look forward to returning soon as we still have to work our way through the bar snacks in the lovely Town Bar ;)

UPDATE : June 2015 – Had some decent platters from the Town Bar Menu, a meat and a fish one (see above picture). The menu also included Sliders and Salad options.

UPDATE: August 2015 – They have extended the Town Bar menu, there is now a daily brunch menu from 10:00 – 16:00.

UPDATE: July 2016 – The layout and menu structure has now changed, the Dining room and Town Bar are now called Townleys, a more casual menu is provided.

 

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The Bench – Wine and Tapas Bar by the Sea

I don’t know how long it really took to turn part of the amusement arcade in Ramsgate Harbour Parade into a Wine and Tapas Bar, but as a casual observer The Bench just seemed to appear out of nowhere. One day the building was an empty shell, then the next day we spotted what I can only describe as an army of tradesmen and a couple of days later there was a new dining destination in Ramsgate. It was an impressive feat.

The Bench is certainly different and it’s serious about Wine. Currently there are about 40 plus wines to try. From the wall of Wine Dispensers you can buy Wine in 3 measures – a taster, a half glass or a full glass, it’s a fabulous way to try out different Wines. You get an electronic loyalty card to put money on, then you use the card to operate the Wine Dispensers, basically it’s self service Wine. There is a bar too so you do have the human touch if you want Beer, Spirits or Cocktails. To accompany the Wine you have a good selection of Tapas. We ordered six Tapas dishes between two, including classics like Potato Bravas and Spanish Omelette. We also had a really lovely and incredibly light Manchego Cheese Tart. We tried two fish dishes and one meat one. The Dorada (Sea Bream with crisp Serrano Ham, tomato and borlotti bean cassoulet) and Pescado Piperade (Red and Yellow Pepper Fricasee with fresh caught fish of the day and a dill and tarragon dressing) showed that there was some pretty sophisticated cooking going on in the kitchen. The Chef is described as Michelin trained.

The place is quite large so it will be interesting to see how the Kitchen and Front of House cope when it gets busy. Although the self service nature of the Wine service should help.

The Bench Wine and Tapas Bar is a real asset for Ramsgate. It’s well worth a visit, although the costs will mount up as its certainly easy to get carried away and try lots of different wines. I have my Bench Wine Loyalty Card  now so I’m all set for the next time.

The Bench is open 7 days a week from 11:00 a.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays they will be open until 2:00 a.m. There is lots of outside seating and they also have Wine Tastings every second Wednesday Evening.

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Rocksalt – Saved by the cooking

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.

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Chez Bruce – as good as ever

If there is a secret formula for what makes a good restaurant then Chez Bruce mastered it years ago.  We have eaten lunch here numerious times, it’s surprisingly good value (currently £35 for 3 courses). Definitely one of London’s best Michelin Restaurant deals.

On this visit I started with some stunning fish cakes with just a hint of saffron and my companion had a Spanish chilled Tomato soup called Salmorejo, this was so beautifully spiced he felt that it had spoilt him for other soups. For main course I chose the Confit Rabbit with coco beans, pepper relish, cherry tomatoes and Provençal sauce, a nice rustic dish of comfort food and he went for the Wild Brill with Roast Scallops, both dishes were of the usual high standard.  Then we had an extra cheese course prior to our dessert – The Chez Bruce Cheese boards are not to be missed. The dessert, which we hardly had room for after this feast, was an Apricot and Almond Tart and a Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble.  I would also recommend asking the friendly Sommelier to select glasses of wine to match your dishes as they have a good range by the glass (most for less than £10.00). Another nice touch here is the lovely home made shortbread that comes with the surprisingly reasonable bill. We are already looking forward to our next visit ;)

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East Coast Dining Room : Tankerton-on-Sea near Whitstable

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.

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Forts – don’t tell everyone

Like most food bloggers we write posts to tell readers about the places we find because we want to share the experience, especially if the restaurant or cafe is a good one. Sometimes though you find these amazing places in the most unlikely of areas that are just so good that you are conflicted – “If too many people get to know about how good it is, we might not be able to get a table”. However praise where praise is due. Forts is pretty special.  We first passed it on a Winters day when it was closed and looking more shabby than chic. The surrounding area was particularly run down and the streets were full of litter, it looked grim.   Cliftonville needs a very sunny day indeed to look anything close to good. So finally a few months later after a visit to the nearby farmers market we thought we would see what all the fuss was about (lots of people we follow on Twitter etc had spoken very highly of this unassuming cafe).

Even with its Formica tables and the best of British sauces and condiments taking center stage, it’s very much a foodie enclave. I would be very surprised if any of its customers had just wandered in expecting a bog standard Full English All Day Breakfast.  The menu changes regularly and does include the ubiquitous Full English along with several brunch type dishes. We ordered the Mackerel with Bubble and Squeak and the Scrambled Eggs with spicy Brindisa Chorizo. Both were fabulous dishes with the quality of the cooking and the ingredients shining through. We also treated ourselves to some Rhubarb Spritzers which were delicious and very refreshing.  Normally we wouldn’t order desserts for brunch but there is something about the place that encourages you to try more, so we had some of their lovely creamy stem ginger ice cream.

I suspect we could have had anything on the menu and loved it. The next table ordered burgers and when they arrived they looked amazing. Here’s hoping we can still get a table the next time we’re in the area!

UPDATE – September 2016 :  Forts has been sold and will be re-opening under new management.

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