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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Chequers Kitchen Restaurant & Cooking School – A Foodie Oasis between Sandwich and Deal

Chequers Restaurant is located in a former pub near the Royal Cinque Golf Course. The pub has been turned into a rather lovely Restaurant and Cookery school. We first spotted it while walking from Sandwich to Deal. Our original intention was to time our walk so we could have lunch in Deal. However with at least an 1 hour or so left to walk to Deal we started to spot the signs for Chequers – 1 mile away, then 1/2 mile away. So we thought we would check it out. Wow, what a treat for a couple of foodies to find in the middle of nowhere, it was like spotting an Oasis in the Desert. We have popped in for lunch a couple of times now and its always been a delight.  Lots of locally sourced food influenced by Chef Pieter van Zyl’s South African background.

On our last visit we ordered 3 small dishes to share. Beautiful Tempura prawns with Chef Pieter’s sweet chilli sauce (I keep ordering them when I visit because they are so good), Spanish Omelette and really tasty Cape Malay pickled fish along with warm homemade bread. The Chef also gave us a taster of Vichyssoise which was perfect for a warm day. Then for dessert we ordered ice cream. Not just any ice cream, it was Taywell ice cream. Their Honeycomb ice cream is seriously good.

Chequers do lots of interesting events and cookery demonstrations so it’s well worth checking out their web site –www.chequersrestaurant.com.

UPDATE Sept 2015 – Focus now on Cooking School and only doing food now for special events. Bar is still open, so it’s a nice place to stop for a drink or some ice cream.

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Chocolate & Harbour Views

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.

UPDATE 1/07/15 : The Chocolate Lounge has been rebranded as Coco Latino and has a stronger focus on the Bar. They also sell as selection of savory dishes, including a small selection of very tasty Tapas.

UPDATE 1/10/15 : There are plans afoot to recreate the Chocolate Lounge in the upstairs part of the premises, so looking forward to that.

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Dining by the sea

Spent the weekend in Ramsgate. It’s only 1 hour and 20 minutes from London on the High Speed Train, so visiting this seaside town over a weekend is well worth doing, especially if you manage to eat as well as we did.

Caboose Cafe – NOW Rosebud Cafe and Winebar – closed 2017

We had a lovely breakfast at Caboose Cafe, a relatively new Cafe Bar, just off the High Street. The Eggs Benedict and the Eggs Royal were delicious and very reasonably priced at £4.95  – that alone says we’re not in London anymore.

The quality of the food and coffee was commendable, this Cafe is a great find, it’s certainly not your typical Ramsgate all day breakfast venue. In the evenings there is a Mexican Cantina menu and even the odd live event, they are working on bringing quality acts to Caboose, with a view to helping make Ramsgate a destination for touring bands and comedians.

UPDATE: 2016 –  Change of management, the Mexican menu is no more, now called Rosebud Cafe and Winebar.

UPDATE June 2017 – CLOSED

Marks out of 10

Food 6.9

Service 6.9

Ambience 6

Royal Harbour Brasserie

We also made a return visit to the Royal Harbour Brasserie, braving the blustery winds to walk out to the end of the Harbour Arm where the restaurant is located. It’s so worth the trip, not just for the warm welcome at the Restaurant or the above average food, but for the spectacular views out to sea and inland to Ramsgate Marina, what a location to watch the sunset! We arrived just a bit too early to sample their evening menu, and instead had to choose from a  more limited one. The Wine list was also rather basic. First we shared a Assiette of house nibbles, this would have been a pretty substantial starter for one (a steal at £5 and more than enough for 2 people).  Then after that excellent start, we tucked into our main courses,  I had a large fillet of sea bass with bisque sauce and perfectly cooked new potatoes, and my companion had a suitably autumnal venison stew, both dishes arrived on “Alan Partridge” sized big plates.  We had not realized how hungry we were until we miraculously managed to clear them.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6

Ambience 6

View 8

Age and Sons – closed 2014

On the Sunday we decided to go to Age & Sons for lunch, as this is a restaurant we have always liked for its reliable cooking and pleasant ambience.  The restaurant was awarded a Bib Goumand in 2009 and it just seems to keep getting better and better. Sunday lunch is served in the attractive main restaurant area on the top floor (they have a French kitchen style area on the ground flour and a Cocktail bar in the basement). I had a beautiful piece of Venison and lovely creamy dauphinoise potatoes and my companion really enjoyed his Pork Belly, braised cheek & fritter with black pudding puree & garlic mashed potato.  We finished our meal by sharing a cheese board served with some rather moreish home made biscuits.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.2

Service 7

Ambience 7

All three of the venues we visited are ones that we would highly recommend, especially Age & Sons, which has grown into a gem of a restaurant that any town or city would be proud off.

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A Wong – Seriously Cool

Dim Sum has always seemed to me to be more suited to cold wintery weather, lots of stodgy dumplings etc. My experience with it has been limited to really conventional venues like the New World in Chinatown – not that there is anything really wrong with the New World, which has its own old world charm.  I also was very much of the view that you just don’t bother ordering dessert in a Chinese Restaurant unless you’re a fan of lychees.  A Wong however blew my misconceptions out of the water.

I had read most of the reviews, the glowing and the not so glowing, so I knew to expect something a bit different. Ken Hom raves about this place in his tweets, so I also had pretty high expectations on the food front.

I did a walk-in on a sunny lunch time (it’s best to book though, just in case you’re not as lucky as I was).  The service was spot on, my menu arrived just after I had settled into my seat.  I ordered a nice glass of Rosé, some tap water and four Dim Sum dishes.   Dim Sum is just a small part of the menu, which also includes a tasting menu that will have to wait for another visit.

One of the things that really hit me about Andrew Wong’s restaurant was just how “Cool” it was in every sense of the word – the ambiance, the service, the clientele, and the beautifully presented food.  I am sure the weather helped – it was nice to see that some diners had also chosen to eat outside in the small cordoned off section of the pavement that I had passed by many times and never seen used.

The dishes I ordered seemed just right for a summers day. I started with a quail egg croquette puff, it was hard to eat with chop sticks, but I managed – nice runny egg, crispy seaweed and a refreshing ginger dip.  Then shortly after I finished that my beautifully presented Chinese chive pot sticker dumpling arrived, it was light and surprisingly refreshing. The next two dishes were more substantial. Crab, Seafood and Beancurd Cannelloni with Pickled Cockles – the Pickled Cockles adding just the right amount of kick to the Cannelloni and the Sesame buttered Smoked Chicken, a dish that is perhaps not to everyone taste, consisting of strips of smokey chicken and cucumber.

The dessert menu was so inviting I seriously struggled to choose from 3 of the 4 dessert options on offer:-

  • Snowball Meringue, lychee granite, mango puree and lime sorbet
  • Tobacco soaked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel
  • Coconut ice cream, glutinous dumpling, apple, pandan jelly and peanut cream

I eventually choose the Coconut Ice cream dish – which was nothing like I expected based on its description. It arrived in a martini glass topped with candy floss.   It was lovely, I had to use my fingers to eat the candy floss, and all the ingredients just worked beautifully together.  The people at the next table had ordered the other two desserts listed, so I also had the chance to see how spectacular they were as well.  Amazing, much to my surprise I had finished my meal with a superb dessert – in a Chinese Restaurant!

The best thing I think any diner can say about a Restaurant is that they will be back, and I will be back.

UPDATE : August 2013 –  popped in for the excellent value Set Lunch, had the Dim Sum basket and Scotch Beef Rump fried noddles with a glass of wine for £12.95, then I just had to go for a dessert. This time I ordered the Snow ball meringue, lychee granite, mango puree and lime sorbet, it was very light and really refreshing.  I have added some more pictures from this visit.

UPDATE: September 2013 – A Wong have been awarded a Bib Gourmand – “Michelin Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value”.

UPDATE: October 2017 – A Wong have been awarded a Michelin Star.

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Scooter Caffè AKA Scooterworks Bar and Cafe

The phrase “hidden gem” tends to be overused and misused, but I really believe it applies to the Scooter Caffè. Tucked away in Lower Marsh Street, behind Waterloo station, this is a great find. From the outside especially it still looks like the Vesper Repair shop it used to be.  I just loved the quirky eclectic decor, old mismatched chairs, sewing machine tables, Vesper scooter permanently parked by the bar and the laid back bohemian atmosphere. There seemed to be only one member of staff on my visit and she was able to cope admirably with the steady flow of customers, as almost everyone happily returned their empty glasses and plates to the bar prior to leaving.  The background music (1920’s salon music?) also added to the ambiance.

The clientele on my visit were a mixed bunch, trendy hipster types and the odd local worker in the know. It’s a great venue to relax and people watch. This place definitely has its regulars too, like the girl in the vintage dress struggling to control her two lovely little dogs as she ordered, the older women poet, expounding her philosophy to her camera man companion, and the Apple Mac users making the most of the free wi-fi (FYI the password is stuck on the bar).

There is also a larger yet still cosy bar in the basement, which is probably used more in the evenings, a small Patio at the back next to the railway arches, and a bench and table outside on Lower Marsh Street itself.  This place reminded me of the kind of venue you used to be able to find in Greenwich Village, NYC in the days before it got too touristy.

The coffee served from the classic red Gaggia coffee machine is excellent, indeed the aroma of freshly ground coffee is the first thing that hits you as you walk in. There is also a small selection of cakes available, I had a lovely piece of Lemon Drizzle cake and if you want something more substantial you can even bring your own food to eat on the premises.

While doing a bit of research I also discovered the cafe featured in the third Bourne film (must have blinked and missed that bit), that Johnny Depp has dropped in for a drink and that Ethan Hawke is a regular when he’s in the area.

They also have a new sister cafe in Oval (Cable Cafe) which I will need to investigate, especially since it’s so near to Oval Farmers Market – I rather like the idea of buying some bread and cheese or Galeta cookies at the market and chilling out in the cafe with a cup of coffee or something a bit more alcholic.

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La Gelatiera, Artisan Ice Cream Parlour – what’s not to like?

This is a first for No Expert – a post on an Ice Cream Parlour!

I have actually been to lots of Ice Cream Parlours all over the world, including some memorable ones in Italy, Spain, North and South America, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark – my favorite Ice Cream surprisingly was Goats Milk Ice Cream sold by a street vendor in Kiev of all places, but that’s another story. So why visit La Gelatiera? which is tucked away in a side street close to Covent Garden. Main reason, it’s serious Ice Cream – seriously good. It’s also kind of nice to know that their Ice Cream is rich in vitamins and protein but low in fat (on average 6% – 8% for gelato and 0% for sorbet).

I tried two flavours today:-

Basil and Chilli Gelato – I first had Basil Ice Cream at the rather good Waterside Restaurant in Eastbourne, so the bench mark for me on this was set pretty high. La Gelatiera breached it – WOW – that little kick of chilli is amazing.

Banana Sorbet – so creamy, so much banana flavour, more conventional but no less of a winner than the Basil and Chilli.

I will most definitely be back to try some more flavours.

The Parlour has a modern trendy feel to it, it is quite small and has a glass floor in one corner that enables you to peak into the “laboratory” where the Ice Cream is made. There is seating for about 8 – 10 people inside and a few seats outside. It also specializes in Coffee from Artisan Roasters and has a nice looking selection of Cakes and Pastries.  You can even have Ice Cream with your Cake, so what’s not to like?

Made a return visit on a Saturday evening to try some more flavours.

Mint and Chocolate Gelato – Very refreshing, could really taste the fresh mint, plus lots of shards of dark chocolate.

Popcorn, Caramel and Chilli Gelato – Another winner, creamy with soft caramelized popcorn and a touch of chilli

Hazelnut Gelato – a more conventional flavour, but still very nice.

I would also recommend the Matcha Tea Gelato – very refreshing.

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Royal Harbour Brasserie – How dramatic

Locations for a new cafe/restaurant opening don’t come much more dramatic than the newly opened Royal Harbour Brasserie on the extreme tip of Ramsgate Royal Harbour. On a freezing but sunny day there can’t be many venues with views to rival this one with sea on both sides and views of Ramsgate’s Victorian skyline.

As the cafe has just newly opened the menu has been limited. A wise move in order to judge its popularity with the local and visiting clientele. While I was there it had a good turn around of customers and the venue had a cosy atmosphere. The decor has a nautical feel without going over the top. A nice touch was the hessian sacking used to upholster some of the seating.

As a lone diner, I was not in a position to try more than one item on the menu, so I settled for the big breakfast which while not the cheapest in Ramsgate (£6.00) was better than the average with a nice runny egg and savory sausages.

On my way out I was struck by some quirky touches like the toilet signage. Sounds dreadful but I was amused.

The Chef Patron of Royal Harbour Brasserie is Adrian Mowl, formally of the Turner Contempory Gallery Cafe, Adrian has cooked for a few VIPs, like the Queen when she visited the aforementioned gallery and he was also executive chef in the London Olympic Village 2012 catering for the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.  Wonder if they would get a kick out of braving the elements trying to get to this remote outpost when the weather gets interesting!

We certainly plan to return again to do a more comprehensive review in the Summer, where hopefully we can take advantage of the large outdoor terrace with great views of the Harbour, the Marina, the English Channel and even France.

UPDATE 2013 – See post titled Dining by the Sea

UPDATE 2014 – We have been to the Royal Harbour Brasserie several times now for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and have found that the Food and Service has been fairly consistent, the event type menus are a bit dull, but in general the Fish and Sea Food dishes are good.  Personal favorites are Smoked haddock with bubble and squeak, beurre blanc, and poached egg and caviar,  Scallops with chorizo, Fried duck egg and brown shrimps in shrimp butter on granary toast.

I would also say that if you find that they have Lobster on the menu, that  it’s not to be missed. The Lobsters I have eaten here were full of meat and beautifully cooked and presented.

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La Trompette – treating ourselves in Chiswick

Made a return visit after a gap of a couple of years to La Trompette in Chiswick.  The area was livelier than I remembered, lots more interesting shops and restaurants.

The weather was good so the full length windows were open to effectively extend the restaurant into the outside space.

We had a very relaxing meal, with good food and friendly service in very pleasant surroundings. This is very much the sort of place where you can enjoy indulging in the wine list and taking your time over the cheese board.

Out of all the Nigel Platts-Martins restaurants we have been too, this one is actually our least favorite, not that there is anything wrong with it. It is still a very good restaurant, it’s just that  The Glasshouse, Chez Bruce and The Ledbury are better. So if you are in the area this would be a real treat, but I still prefer to make the trip out to Wandsworth for Chez Bruce or Notting Hill for The Ledbury.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.9

Service  7

Ambience 7

La Trompette on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

UPDATE: April 2013 – La Trompette has been refurbished since our last visit, it now has a more spacious dining room, private dining facilities and a new kitchen. There is also a new Head Chef – Rob Weston.

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

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Bistro Bruno Loubet @ The Zetter

Bruno Loubet’s restaurant at The Zetter has had some excellent reviews. Indeed it was voted 3rd Best Restaurant in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards, just behind The Ledbury and The Fat Duck.  That seemed a bit odd to me I have to admit, as this is a very different type of restaurant to the fine dining establishments I have just mentioned.  Bistro Bruno Loubets is a “proper” bistro that serves good homely french food. It’s not fine dining, nor is it trying to be.

We visited on a Monday lunch time and were on the whole surrounded by affluent dinners enjoying business lunches.   The tables are very close together, so you can not help but overhear conversations. I picked up a least one investment tip 😉

The staff are friendly and efficient, you could probably even manage a one hour turn around if you needed to here.

For starters I had a snails, meatballs and mushroom dish, a bit wintry for the lovely spring weather, but very tasty all the same. My companion had the Beetroot ravioli, which was lighter and more suited to the climate, it was accompanied by a fresh rocket salad. For main course he ordered the braised oxtail stuffed with cabbage and I had roast rabbit crumbed with almond and “forgotten” winter vegetables, that included atomic red carrots and some type of root vegetable I did not recognise.

We moved on to dessert, I had a very light Tarte Tatin with cinnamon ice cream and my companion ordered the white chocolate and passion fruit mousse with raspberry sauce. We accompanied this with a small and reasonably priced bottle of Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure 2007.

We then went on to explore the surrounding area.  In the same square you have The Modern Pantry which  looked inviting and the rather interesting building opposite is the Priory Church of St John which is part of the Museum of the order of St Johns.  The Zetter has also expanded into the square with its sister venue The Zetter Town House. which has a small rather quirky cocktail bar.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6.5

Ambience 5.8

Bistrot Bruno Loubet on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Art of Tapas – Hola!

It’s happened to me a few times, in that when I am not really looking I end up stumbling across something a bit special.

I was wandering through Tachbrook Street on a non market day, so it was pretty empty and I spotted Art of Tapas with its Miro inspired signage.  There were only two customers sitting by the counter, so after checking the menu a few times I thought yeah, I’ll give it a try.

The place has several “arty” touches – the specially designed kind of perching table outside with glass holders, the really “cute” hug me cushion, and as an extra bonus (which I am afraid could not be guaranteed on any other visit) one of the customers who was obviously a professional opera singer giving an informal audition to his companion – a stunning rendition of ava maria.

Off course I wasn’t there for the bonus entertainment, I wanted to try the food.   All the “arty” touches in the world would be not make me want to return to any restaurant.  However I will most definitely return to Art of Tapas, the food was very good.  I ordered a Spanish Omelette and a dish of Octopus legs, Chorizo and warm white bean salad.  The omelette was tasty,  light and fluffy, served with what at first seemed to be a bit too much lettuce and mayo.  However the lettuce was so fresh, I actually cleaned my plate.  The Octopus dish was also good, the beans nice and soft and the Octopus legs were perfect, not in the least bit chewy. Definitely much better than a similar dish I had a while back at Art of Tapas’s nearest geographical rival Goya.

The restaurant has only been open one month, and there are plans to have more seating outside for the summer, which will be great. I only hope that when this place gets busy (which I am sure it will) that they can continue to deliver food and service of the level I experienced on my first visit.  I also liked that when I asked for a glass of tap water, I got a large jug of iced water.

They have an excellent BYO Wine policy too,  £3.00 for one person, £5.00 for two or free if you add your wine to their Sangria – Nice!

Marks out of 10

Food 6.2

Service 6

Ambience 5

UPDATE :  June 2013 – Outdoor seating is now provided.

Art of Tapas on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Rokka Ramsgate – a fish out of water!

While doing a spot of Whale watching recently (a 45 foot Sperm Whale was beached at Pegwell Bay close to Ramsgate) I had the chance to try out Rokka.  A restaurant bar situated on Ramsgates Victorian Harbour front. Its modern styling does clash somewhat with its surroundings and on first appearance seems to be all style over substance.  However on having lunch there I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by its friendly and welcoming staff and also the very tasty seafood pasta dish I had (No whales were harmed in the making of this dish). I also enjoyed a lovely dessert of Baklava with cream.

Rokka is out of place in Ramsgate Harbour, a bit of a fish out of water itself, but it is definately worth watching.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.8

Service 6

Ambience 5.5 (in the daytime)

Rokka on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION
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