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.

UPDATE October 2018 – Fordwich Arms awarded a Michelin Star.

STARK – good things come in small packages

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.

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. 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.

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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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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.

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.

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Flavours by Kumar

I have been eating regularly at Flavours by Kumar for a while  now and just realised 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.

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.

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