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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Coco Latino – 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 1/6/18 : Coco Latino is now open only on Friday and Saturday evenings as a Bar.

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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

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.

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.

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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