The Fordwich Arms – Pub Fine Dining

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.

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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Royal Victoria Pavilion, Ramsgate

Like a lot of Ramsgate residents I had mixed feelings when I first heard that Wetherspoons had bought the lease on the Royal Victoria Pavilion and that they intended to convert it into a super pub. My view was that something had to be done to save the Pavilion which like so much of the stunning architecture in Ramsgate was being left to fall into wreck and ruin, but could the town support the largest Wetherspoon pub in the UK?

Now I have to say that I am impressed with the end result, the building has been sympathetically restored to it’s former glory. It’s stunning and has certainly revitalised the Harbour Parade area of Ramsgate. The other bars and cafes around it seem busy too, whether they stay that way I can’t say, but it does look like more visitor’s are being attracted to the area.

We went there on a lovely sunny day just two weeks after the official opening and grabbed a table on the upper terrace, which undoubtedly has the best view of any Wetherspoon pub in the UK. We ordered breakfast using the Wetherspoon Order & Pay App and friends we met there did it the old fashioned way by ordering at the bar. The online order ironically arrived first in less than 10 minutes. The other order had to be chased so there were still some teething problems, the staff are lovely though, friendly and helpful. Food and drink options are exactly what you’d expect at any Wetherspoon pub, it’s inexpensive, you get what you pay for. The view is free though and that’s what will draw me back.

Trip to Broadstairs – Converted to The Chapel

While exploring Broadstairs, we spotted a rather run down building with a plaque telling us it was a Chapel build in 1601, only today it looks more like a second hand bookshop, then we spotted a sign advertising coffee and a familiar menu in the window. The menu was identical to The Lifeboat pub we had been so pleased to find in Margate.  On entering through the rather uninviting door, we walked past the boxes of Cider and Barrels of real Ale, to speak to the barman. Turns out  The Chapel is owned by the same people who run The Lifeboat.

The Chapel has a dual roll – it is now both a pub and a second hand book shop. You can read the books while sipping your  Ale, Cider, Wine and Coffee. You can also order some of the interesting pies, puddings and cheeses. There are benches in the main part of the building and in the mezzanine area. There are also two separate rooms with tables and chairs. We only had time for a quick drink, but knowing how good the food is, we will be back.

UPDATE : March 2014, we returned for Cider and Suet Pudding and can confirm that the food at The Chapel is just as good as its sibling The Lifeboat in Margate.

 

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Trip to Margate – Saved by The Lifeboat

The sun was shining on Boxing Day so it was perfect weather for a coastal walk along the Viking Trail, starting at Ramsgate and finishing in Margate. We had not planned to eat out, but after the 5 mile plus walk we were seriously hungry. When we arrived in Margate we found there were very few places open – ok we could have checked in advance and planned better, but sometimes it’s the unplanned days that work out the best. There were a couple of places that were full of people that we could have gone too, but they looked like the sort of places that were busy because they were open rather than for any other reason, which was why we were saved by The Lifeboat. It is an award winning pub, and I can see why  –  the food, drink and service were pretty special. We were well looked after by the lady who was literally manning The Lifeboat on her own.

The menu focuses on Pies, Puddings and Cheese, all great accompaniments to the Ale and Cider they specialize in. We tried a Pear Cider  (Perry) and a wonderful Spiced Cider from Dudda’s Tun and ordered a Chicken and Bacon suet pudding and a Chicken, Brie and Cranberry Pie, both were served with lovely creamy smooth mash and a tasty gravy.  This was perfect food for a wintery day.

The Lifeboat is well worth making a trip to Margate for, I certainly want to try some of the other pies and puddings on the menu.

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Where to Eat and Drink – Ramsgate & Minster

Updated July 2018

RAMSGATE

Ramsgate is a historic seaside town with beautiful sandy beaches and one of the largest marinas on the English south coast. It has the only Harbour in the United Kingdom that has been awarded the right to call itself a Royal Harbour. It also boasts some quite stunning Architecture.

The Map below shows the locations of the recommended Restaurants, Cafes and Bars described below :-

Kyoto Sushi and Grill

A seriously good Japanese Restaurant. The best Sushi and Sashimi in Thanet.

Flavours by Kumar

A modern India Restaurant in Effingham Street that produces some beautifully spiced dishes. Good set lunch deals that even include an amuse-bouche. OK wine list and friendly staff. Ignore the decor, this is a great find. Owned by the former head chef of the acclaimed Ambrette in Margate.

Townleys at Albion House

A good option for an upmarket brunch or Afternoon Tea. The Townleys seasonal menu can be served in the snug, the restaurant and the stylish bar.

For more on the the Albion House Boutique Hotel see earlier post titled Weekend at The Albion House Hotel.

The Italianate Glasshouse – Tea Garden

Hidden away in a corner of King George VI Park, you will find the stunning Italianate Glasshouse, the owners operate a small cafe serving Cream Teas, Cakes and Scones at the weekends. The opening times are weather dependant, typically open on weekends and bank holidays from May to September/October. A very picturesque spot.

The Hive

A little out of the way in George Street. This is a pleasant quiet spot for a quality brunch or lunch. They also serve a nice selection of cup cakes and brownies baked on the premises.

26 Harbour Street

A cafe bar that does an excellent brunch. The bar area is at the front and there is a cosier seating area at the back.

Vinylhead

A stylish Cafe, Bar and Record Shop. They are licensed and occasionally have live music and Open Mic on weekends. They serve good coffee and really excellent homemade cakes. For more substantial food check out the kitchen menu. They also have a lovely sheltered courtyard with a stunning mirror mosaic.

The Falstaff

A boutique hotel in Addington Street with a restaurant, a casual dining area called the Addington Street Kitchen and a bar. They also have a garden area at the back that is open to non residents.

Queen Charlotte

A quirky pub in Addington Street that is famous for its live music performances.

The Empire Room at the Royal Harbour Hotel

An inviting restaurant which captures the essence of an archetypal gentlemens club in the glory days of the British Empire. Excellent Set Lunch and Set Dinner menus. They also do Afternoon Teas.

Coco Latino

A great place to people watch with a perfect view of the marina and lots of outside seating. They do a small selection of Tapas dishes and other snacks. They also serve beers, cocktails, wines, spirits and the best hot chocolate in the area. (Winter opening Friday evening and Saturday only).

Archive Homestore & Kitchen

A lovely spot to stop for a light lunch or coffee and cake. There is outside seating and a communal table on the ground floor and more tables and seating upstairs where you have stunning views of the harbour.

The Arch Bar

An attractive comfortable and popular bar located under the Arches overlooking the Harbour. Has lots of outside seating. Serves Food including substantial seafood platters that are ideal for sharing.

Ship Shape

Built into the Arches, this is a popular place with both harbour workers and tourists. It’s very reasonably priced and serves one of the best full English breakfasts in Ramsgate. It’s much bigger than it looks and if you’re lucky you can grab one of the outside tables and get a good view of the harbour.

Sorbetto

Rmsgate Ice Cream Parlour. The ice cream is made in a small artisan factory below the parlour.  You can order the ice cream to take away or you can choose to sit in the air conditioned parlour or outside overlooking the harbour. They serve generous portions of quality Italian gelato as well as hot and cold drinks, toasties and sandwiches.

Royal Harbour Brasserie

An interesting place with fabulous views of the Harbour, the Marina, the English Channel and France. Generally delivers some pretty decent fish and seafood dishes and does good Sunday roasts. Best Lobster around (if it’s on the Menu).

The Belle Vue Tavern

A popular pub with a large and very attractive beer garden in Pegwell Bay. The sea views from the garden are stunning. It is also known as “The balcony of Kent”.

The Ravensgate Arms

A cool pub that focuses on craft beers and ciders, they also tend to have really interesting pop up restaurants upstairs. I have been to two very different ones so far which were both excellent in their own ways.

Garden Terrace Cafe

A friendly outdoor cafe located in a beautiful garden on the West Cliff Arcade, with stunning views of the harbour.  Good for soft drinks, ice cream and basic food (mainly salads). You can also bring your own bottle to drink with your food. Last time I was there they did not even charge corkage. It’s a little gem. Very good service. Open only in the Summer months.

Royal Victoria Pavilion

This is the largest Wetherspoon pub in the UK. The food and drinks range is pretty much what you would expect to find in a Wetherspoon. The building and the view are what that makes this place special and well worth a visit.

MINSTER

Minster is a small village just west of Ramsgate.

The Corner House

This excellent restaurant is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

For information on places to Eat and Drink in nearby towns and villages, see:-

For other activities in the area, see:-

and for more about Ramsgate go to the Visit Ramsgate web site.

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Detroit – Spirits

Met up at short notice with a friend for drinks in Covent Garden. Where to eat?

  • Passed by Dishoom, looked interesting but my friend was not a fan of Indian food.
  • Next door was Jamie’s Italian (part of the Jamie Oliver chain – I am wary of celebrity chef chains following our Abode experience), plus it had a huge queue outside – No Way.
  • Thought we would try the new Hawksmoor in Seven Dials just 3 days after it opened, on a walk in – No Chance.

Getting desperate. I vaguely remembered an OK basement cocktail bar I had been to years ago. Did it still exist? Could I find it?. Yes Detroit was still there. So we wandered down into the cosy bar with its alcove tables, and ordered cocktails and bar snacks.

It all worked out in the end, seriously good chips and rather nice cocktails. I would highly recommend the Strawberry and Cream cocktail. I had a few of them, but at £6.85 each they did not break the bank.  Nice atmosphere, with friendly staff and unobtrusive music – could actually have a conversation!  Next time I won’t leave it quite so long before I return to Detroit.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.1

Service 6

Ambience 5.8

Detroit on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION
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The Mayflower Inn versus La Lanterna

So why a historic gastropub versus a traditional Italian Trattoria.  The reason is Open House London or Open City as it is now called, an event that allows for free access to some very interesting places. We had a tour of Sands Film Studios in Rotherhithe, an amazing place that among other things provided costumes for films ranging from Little Dorrit to Pride and Prejudice.  The studios are directly opposite The Mayflower Inn, so that popular scenic pub seemed an ideal location for dinner.

The Mayflower is a great pub with a floating deck area right on the river. Great for drinks that is, it used to do good food too – maybe it still does!  However when we saw the price on the chalk board for Fish and Chips, we just could not justify it – £21.00 (see picture). So we headed up river to Shad Thames, and went to La Lanterna, which is a “real” Italian Trattoria, with genuinely friendly and hospitable Italian staff. In style this place is almost the antithesis of the modern Italian restaurants typified by Zucca and the River Cafe.

We chose a bottle of my favorite Italian white wine (Gavi de Gavi), and I ordered Antipasto misto all’italiana (mixed appetisers) at £7.20 ( this dish was for one, but could have fed four). I followed this with fish from their specials board – Halibut with Scallops and Langoustine (not cheap at £21 either, but a lot more than just fish and chips).  This dish was nicely cooked and served with a tasty citrus sauce and a side order of vegetables, it  was also a huge portion.  Way too big for me, so  the waiter kindly offered to box the piece of halibut I left for take away.

There was absolutely no room for dessert so I just had coffee.  This was followed by a complementary liqueur (we were offered a choice of Amaretto, Sambuca, Baileys or Limoncello) –  a very nice way to end the evening.

La Lanterna also has an attractive inner courtyard for eating al fresco (in the summer).

Marks out of 10 for La Lanterna

Food 5.8

Service 7

Ambience 6.8

La Lanterna on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION

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The Mayflower Inn – NoExpert Food Blog – London, UK

La Lanterna – NoExpert Food Blog – London, UK

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Cross Keys – and angry words

The Cross Keys is a historic pub in the heart of Chelsea. It has a couple of lovely rooms that can be hired out and a separate  restaurant at the back with a retractable roof to let in the sunshine.  We dropped in for Sunday lunch, not realising that the pub had changed ownership earlier this year.

The service itself was a bit patchy, with the bread and one dip arriving first, then a second dip coming  just as the main courses arrived. I am pretty sure the rather loud argument we heard from the serving area did not help the ambience!

The bread with fresh pesto dip and olive oil was a good start, but the menu selection was not very exciting,  none of the starters grabbed our attention, nor did the desserts. So we ended up just having main courses, specifically  the Lamb Cutlets and the Wagyu beef burger with Truffle fries which at £16.00 has to be one of the most expensive burgers I have ever had. The Truffle fries were nice, but the burger was very ordinary, and served with way too much Kos lettuce. At that price I was expecting something a bit more  sophisticated, like the “frenchie” burger served at Bar Boulud for example.

So maybe on my next visit I will just stick to drinks and bar snacks and avoid disappointment.

Marks out of 10

Food 4.2

Service 4.5

Ambience 4.7

Cross Keys on Urbanspoon

UPDATE – November 2012: Restaurant is now closed. See article about Squatters taking up residence for some background information.

LOCATION INFORMATION
Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – London, UK

The Sportsman – Fresh from the garden

The Sportsman in Whitstable is a destination restaurant, well a Michelin starred gastro pub with quite a reputation.  Do not even think about going there to eat without an advance reservation.

They pride themselves on their fresh ingredients. Everything is either from the garden out back or from nearby, its all about provenance here.  On the whole the pride is justified as the ingredients especially the fish and vegetables are really fresh and the cooking shows them off.

We treated ourselves to some Pol Roger Champagne and started on the tasting menu (something you need to pre book or alternatively you can order from the dishes on the blackboard by the bar). We started with some pork scratchings, and to quote “Steve” the chef, the Sportsman is a pub after all.  They were nothing like typical pub pork scratchings, they were delicious, as was the mustard, herring and soda bread they were served with.

We had a very nice salad (Salmagundy, which apparently means a salad made out of available ingredients), but the standout courses were the dover sole with seaweed butter and the turbot with smoked roe sauce.  Our conclusion was that the meal started well and that the fish dishes were excellent, but that the quality dipped with the 2nd lamb dish (some mash would have been nice) and the desserts (can chefs get over popping candy please).

We enjoyed the meal but I must say I wasn’t as wowed by it as some other reviewers.

Oh and we finished off the day with a nice jug of Pimms at Miles Cafe Culture in Ramsgate in case you were wondering.

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Dog & Fox – less is more

The Dog & Fox is a well known and long standing Youngs Pub in the heart of Wimbledon Village, with a separate restaurant.  Their web site highlights the chefs Pacific Rim influences (interesting), but shows a very British Pub style food menu (not so interesting).

The entrance via the Pub, past the bouncer, is off-putting, but fortunately there is also a side entrance that takes you directly to the restaurant. The room is warm and nicely decorated.

On our visit, I found there were more negatives than positives here:-

1. All the prices on the menu had been tippexed out (an indication of  a recent and unjustified price increase in my opinion  – £19.30 for a lamb chop!  – see review for Coq d’Argent, where my excellent  3 course lunch in a vastly superior venue cost less).

2. The Salsa and Relishes provided with some of the dishes were really OTT.  The Salsa I had with my Thai Chicken cakes (Chicken Rissoles) for example consisted of a small bowl containing huge chunks of tomatoes with red onion and chilli – I could not eat it, it just killed my taste buds. One of my companions had the burger which was nicely cooked, but accompanied by another completely OTT Relish containing way too much garlic or horseradish. It was so strong you could not tell what it was. The Smoked Haddock was cooked ok as well, but would have been better if the accompanying egg had not been hard boiled.

Basically this was a missed opportunity. The Restaurant has a good room, it’s in an excellent location. It just needs to get it’s act together and be more like a restaurant and less like a bar food area. In it’s current incarnation I do not think it even qualifies as a gastropub!

Marks out of 10

Food 3

Service 3

Ambience 4

Dog & Fox on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Magdalen – Friendly neighbourhood restaurant

The Magdelen has quite a pedigree. With links to some of the countries top Restaurants and Gastropubs. The reviews on its website are superb. On the whole we found it to be a friendly neighbourhood restaurant that provides good tasty food, but perhaps not meriting all the superlatives in the reviews.



I would certainly happily make a return visit.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6

Ambience 6 (although it was a bit drafty)

Magdalen on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION

Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – London, UK