Archive for the ‘Kent’ Category

Rocksalt – Saved by the cooking

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

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.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.7

Service 4

Ambience 6

View 8

Rocksalt on Urbanspoon

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The Restaurant @ East Kent College – a Game of two halves

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

We booked a table for the Game Night in The Restaurant at East Kent College. The event was sponsored by Godmersham Game and was an excellent showcase for their Game with the Venison dishes being a particular highlight. Not having been to this type of venue before, where the guests are Guinea Pigs for the catering students, we were not sure what to expect. The front of house were well mannered and enthusiastic if occasionally a little nervous.

The evening started really well despite accessing the Restaurant via a lift that would have been at home in a dilapidated Tower Block and a Dining Room that had all the ambiance of a Cruise Liner Restaurant. We did not see much of the view over Viking bay as it was a bit hazy but I suspect the sea view would have enhanced the Cruise Liner vibe.  The room was full and I understand from a conversation with one of the waiters that this was the largest number of tables they had catered for.

We started with some good canapes, Venison Liver Paté, Bunny Burger Sliders with pickled carrot relish, Peppered Venison Carpaccio and ordered a decent bottle of wine from the bar. We were actually not expecting to see a huge amount of finesse in the food and it was lovely to find out we were wrong when our starter, Mosaic of Game with Sweet Wine Jelly, Celeriac Remoulade & Toasted Brioche arrived.  The dish was beautifully presented on the plate, full of flavour and nicely enhanced by the inclusion of the sweet wine jelly.

The next course of Venison Pasty with Piccalilli was equally good.

The palate cleansing pre dessert Gin and Tonic Granita with a lovely chocolate and toffee brittle was also well received.

Unfortunately what happened next was the equivalent of a football team scoring an own goal. The team of waiters came in to the room resplendent in their white gloves looking very much the part for the delivery of what should have been the highlight of the evening. The main course of Sous Vide Pheasant Supreme with a Confit Potato & Bacon Terrine, Roasted Butternut Squash & Sauce Financiére. However our table was missed and all the staff disappeared back into the kitchen. I had to go to the bar and wait until someone came out, to advise them of the omission which was quickly corrected and apologized for. This incident really shows the importance of always having someone overseeing the room not just to catch this kind of problem but also to spot opportunities to up-sell drinks.

We found the partridge to be the weakest dish. Being a little tough and dry, the accompaniments were fine though.

The Tasting Plate of Chocolate & Berries dessert looked better than it tasted and not all of the Petit Fours were quite right. The colouring of the macaroons was off and the caramel encased chocolates were overly sweet and way too runny. However these are just our constructive criticisms, as on the whole we were very impressed by what East Kent College delivered and most definitely look forward to returning for other such events. I should also mention the cost which at £24 for 5 courses, Canapes and Petit Fours is incredible value.

Please forgive our Football analogies as we could not resist especially since our fellow dinners included the owners of Margate Football Club. So here is our score ;)

Marks out of 10

Food -  First Half 6.5  - Second Half 4.5

Service 5.5

Ambience 4

 

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Salt – British Tapas in Canterbury

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Pleased to have found Salt in Canterbury, it’s nice to go somewhere that manages not only to serve good British food using quality ingredients, but also manages to stand out by being just a little bit different. Salt does this by avoiding a structured menu and instead focuses on Small Plates designed for sharing. It’s basically British Tapas and it works. Although ironically I belatedly worked out that eating the dishes we tried in a more conventional order would have enhanced our experience.  We should have had my favorite dish of the meal first (Scallops with Blood Orange Salsa salad enhanced by adding some really fresh pea shoots) and perhaps even ordered a plate each.  The Scallops were a perfect starter and would not have been out of place in a high end restaurant.  Another dish we ordered and ended up saving for the end of the meal was the Almond and Goats Cheese balls with Rhubarb dip, a cheese course all by itself.

We also ordered and enjoyed the Rolled Lamb Shoulder with Anchovy Tarte-Fine and the Duck Leg Meatballs with Chilli Jam and a side order of crushed Jersey Royals. Only one dish, the Spring Onion and Garlic Potato Cakes with Poached Duck Egg was a little under seasoned for our taste, something that could easily be rectified by having some rock salt and pepper on the table, but that is a minor criticism.

We left already planning to return to try a couple of the other Small Plates next time.  The wine list is also small but the bottle of Riesling we had was nicely chilled and a good accompaniment to our meal. The service was just right, with our waitress clearly explaining the concept of the restaurant and estimating just how many plates we would need (5 plus a side was just right for 2 people).

Marks out of 10

Food 6.3

Service 6

Ambience 6

Salt on Urbanspoon

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No Expert does Deal

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

On a beautiful sunny spring day we headed for the sea side town of Deal, the recent winner of the Telegraph’s High Street of the Year award.

We had already done a bit of research so had our lunch and afternoon tea spots picked out.

Digging the – Allotment Cafe

For lunch we headed for the Allotment Cafe, somewhere you would  be lucky to find in passing. It’s tucked away in the back room of a High Street shop. It is a pleasant spot with a wall decorated with foodie goodies and a small outside seating area.

We shared a Mezze and a cheese plater. The food like the Cafe name suggests is very ingredient focused. The Salads were fresh and tasty, the Olives in the Mezze were huge and succulent and the sweet pickle and pear served with the Cheese was a treat. We would definitely recommended this place.

Delighted with the – Keep House Tea Room

With its own little light museum, this new Tea Room opposite Deal Castle is a bit special. The room is modern, stylish, and quirky.

They do a range of Teas and Tisanes (Herbal Infusions), which are served in pretty China cups. It’s a lovely spot for Afternoon Tea, especially on a sunny afternoon with the light streaming in. We had a pot of Peppermint Tea and a piece of their delicious Dutch Apple Cake and Rhubarb and Custard Cake, both of which were delightfully light and moist. There are also several nice extra touches like the tiny almond biscuits and chocolate cake delivered unbidden with the Tea and the packs of Fizzers included in with the bill.

Other treats

We also popped into the No Name Shop, for some bread and cheese – their Walnut Bread is excellent.

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GB Pizza – UFK

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

GB Pizza in Margate is a trendy Pizza parlour that focuses on producing quality thin based pizza. It is only a few doors down from Domino Pizza and the contrast could not be more marked. The tables are refectory style but if your lucky you can also grab a window seat with a sea view. We shared a chorizo and chilli pizza which was super hot and absolutely delicious. They also import Gelupo Ice Cream from London, which again reflects their approach to quality. The staff were efficient with a friendly laid back manner. Food is ordered at the counter and delivered to the table.

GB Pizza are going places, more specifically they are opening a branch in Exmouth Market in foodie Clerkenwell in London, where they will fit right in. So they are reversing the ‘DFL – Down from London’ trend to be ‘UFK – Up from Kent’. I really hope they expand within Kent though, I would love to have a local branch – please come to Ramsgate.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.3

Service 6

Ambience 6

GB Pizza Co on Urbanspoon

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The Empire Room – Majestic

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The newly opened Empire Room is a majestic and photogenic restaurant located in the basement of the rather lovely Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate. The decor is stunning, it very much achieves the Gentlemans club atmosphere it is seeking to emulate. It screams special occasion venue rather than hotel restaurant. It has a decent wine list and friendly attentive staff. The food is very much in keeping with a hotel restaurant though, it’s all a little too safe for my taste, but it’s new and it will be interesting to see how the menu evolves.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.7

Service 6.5

Ambience 7.2

The Empire Room on Urbanspoon

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The Sportsman in Seasalter – forgetting about the weather

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

The weather is pretty extreme at the moment around the south coast of England and Seasalter near Whitstable was certainly a bit damp on our visit.  The sheep in the marsh lands nearby looked like they were swimming rather than grazing.

The Sportsman which is a 15 minute taxi ride or a one hour plus walk from Whitstable station, was a cosy refuge and the perfect finish to our culinary tour of the area.  The tempting offer of a glass of Pol Roger Champagne on arrival was just too good to turn down – our favorite champagne beautifully chilled.  It was also good to see that since our last visit they had added a shorter tasting menu, which unlike their normal tasting menu, did not have to be pre ordered.  At £45 this Tasting Menu option is excellent value for the caliber of food served here.

We ordered this new Tasting Menu and selected a reasonably priced bottle of Gavi di Gavi Vignetti Lugarara Giustiana 2010 (another personal favorite) to accompany it.

A delicious selection of bread arrived first, quickly followed by an amuse bouche in an eggshell.  Then we had two Whitstable Oysters, prepared in two different ways – both were quite lovely, we were off to a good start. Next we had a beautiful looking dish described as Pot Roast Red Cabbage with Stewed Apple and Fresh Cheese. This turned out to be our favorite course, the cabbage was really flavorsome and beautifully enhanced by the apple and cheese. The fish course came next, Roast cod with a really moreish Bouillabaisse and olive tapenade. The previous two courses in particular emphasizing why The Sportsman has a Michelin Star. The meat course came next, a Roast Rack of Lamb with a particularly good mint sauce, leaving us with just enough room for the dessert. The dessert which followed some palette cleansing Ice Lollies was another high point, it consisted of one half of a Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart, served with Tangerine Ice Cream. A lot of Tangerines must have gone into that Ice Cream as the flavour was intense. The sharpness nicely countering the rich salted caramel in the Tart.

After this lovely lunch and fully prepared for the weather (or so we thought), we decided to walk along the beach back to Whitstable. We ended up cutting inland before we got there, as the heavens opened up and we got a little damp to say the least. I would recommend The Sportsman for a special lunch but would suggest avoiding any temptation to walk too far along the beach in the Winter.

It is also well worth allowing yourself some time to explore the rather gentrified seaside town of Whitstable, especially the Harbour area and the unique one off shops on Harbour Street.

Marks out of 10 for The Sportsman

Food 7.5

Service 7

Ambience 7

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

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Trip to Broadstairs – Converted to The Chapel

Monday, December 30th, 2013

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

Friday, December 27th, 2013

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.

The Lifeboat on Urbanspoon

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Christmas, Chocolate & Harbour Views

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Chocolate and Christmas are synonymous, which is why the opening of the Chocolate Lounge in Ramsgate Royal Harbour is particularly fortuitous. Just as the sun was setting over the Harbour we took a stroll down to the Marina where the yachts and boats were lit up with Christmas lights, to check out this new addition to Ramsgate’s culinary scene.  Clareys Chocolate lounge is built into the Arches. It is a spacious room complete with comfortable sofas and Chandeliers. They serve a selection of Chocolate goodies including Handmade Artisan Chocolate and “Cake Pops” (truffle cakes on a stick dipped in chocolate) an interesting new trend and a fun alternative to cupcakes. They also do a selection of more traditional Cakes, serve Afternoon Tea and organize chocolate related activities. They have a late license, so you can add some alcohol to your coffee or hot chocolate well into the early hours too or you can book their mobile bar and tour the harbour.

This is an excellent use of the arch space and is possibly the only chocolate lounge in Thanet.  If there is an other please let me know.  Regardless I will be returning to this one to chill out and indulge in more chocolate goodness. Does White Chocolate and Cranberry count as one of my five a day?  Yeah I think it does!

Wishing all our readers a Very Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year.

UPDATE 27/12/13 : Returned to try the Hot Chocolate with marshmallows and cream and the Cake Pops, see new pictures above.

The hot chocolate was simply delicious, it’s the best one I have tasted.  The Cake Pops were very good too, you can buy them to eat in or to take away.

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Wyatt & Jones – Good Food & View

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

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.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.8

Service 6.7

Ambience 6

View 7.5 (when you have the right table)

Wyatt and Jones on Urbanspoon

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Friday, December 6th, 2013

What’s coming Next?

Christmas is on its way, so it’s time to organise the restaurants we are going to visit over the course of the next few weeks.

This year for a change and as a precursor to moving to Kent permanently, we are focusing on that area. We have a trip planned to what is probably the most famous Kent restaurant of them all (at least in the gourmet category) - The Sportsman a rather special Michelin starred restaurant located in an unassuming pub on the outskirts of Whitstable.

The other places on our list are less well known, they include favorites like Age & Sons and the Caboose Cafe plus we have plans to try the beautifully located Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs, with its stunning views of Viking Bay (or at least they were stunning until the recent floods).  I sampled Wyatt & Jones food earlier this year at the popular Broadstairs Food Festival so am looking forward to seeing what the kitchen can produce, especially since they bake their own breads, smoke their own fish and butcher their own meats.

We are also keen to check out The Empire Room which is due to open soon in the Royal Harbour Hotel, Ramsgate.

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