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”.
One local restaurant in particular that I have to highlight is Little Ships they have been especially creative during Lockdown. The restaurant is in a great location overlooking Ramsgate Royal Harbour and during the Christmas period for example their take away options included melting raclette and roasted potatoes, fresh brioche doughnuts and mulled wine.
Well aren’t we lucky here in Ramsgate. After a period of pop up hosting, the Ravensgate Arms now has a permanent restaurant upstairs. It’s open Wednesday to Saturday in the evenings and for lunch over the weekend. The restaurant has a lot going for it, Luke Crittenden (former head chef of Polpetto in London) has put together an excellent menu that includes a delicious selection of small plates that are perfect for sharing. His desserts I believe are made by his brother Ben (Chef/Owner of the acclaimed STARK restaurant in Broadstairs) and the drinks list isn’t just a decent selection of wine, it’s full of Ravensgate Arms craft beers and Cocktails. Arya at the Ravensgate Arms is a real treat.
We started with some nibbles, tasty warm sour dough bread and anchovies with seaweed tartar sauce. The anchovies cooked in squid ink tempura batter don’t at first glance appear particularly appetising, resembling black burnt chips, but when combined with the moreish seaweed tartar sauce are just fabulous (please don’t ever take them off the menu), on my next visit I won’t be sharing them.
The small plates include some luxury ingredients like the wagyu beef and lobster, we ordered & enjoyed both, but the standout dishes for me were the ones with the less flashy ingredients. The beautifully chilled Chicken Liver Parfait with sweet corn and chilli (ensure you keep some of the sourdough bread to go with it). The refreshing Mackerel, Gooseberry, Cucumber, Miso and my favourite the beautifully presented Crispy pig’s head with smoked Apple puree. There are some larger plates on the menu too, but I loved being able to try lots of different dishes, we ordered six small plates for two people to share which was something of a feast. We also kept room for a light dessert of Yoghurt Pannacotta with raspberries and meringue.
I do like the Crittenden brothers using their Game of Thrones obsession to name Restaurants. So can we expect “Ned” to open in Margate next, followed by “The Lannisters” in a grand country house just outside Canterbury? 😉
Wishing them all the best in their seaside town ventures, as we all know “Winter is coming”.
UPDATE October 2019 – Ayra has been awarded a Michelin bib gourmand.
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.
UPDATE October 2018 – Fordwich Arms awarded a Michelin Star.
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 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.
UPDATE October 2019 – STARK has been awarded a Michelin Star and following refurbishment is now only 10 covers.
Tucked away in the basement of the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate you will find the 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 reasonably priced set lunch and set dinner 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.
If you love the Empire Room you should also try their sister restaurant Little Ships. It’s in a great spot overlooking Ramsgate Royal Harbour, perfect for people watching, it’s a bit pricier than surrounding restaurants/bars but the portions are generous and the quality of the ingredents make it well worth a visit or two.
UPDATE October 2019 New Head Chef is Ross Barden (ex Sands Hotel, Margate). Craig Mather is now Executive Head Chef and is often seen at the stove in Little Ships .
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.