Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

STARK – good things come in small packages

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

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 Chittenden 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 Chittenden 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, which will be in 3 months time, can’t wait.

The Empire Room at the Royal Harbour Hotel

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

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

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

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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Flavours by Kumar

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

I have been eating regularly at Flavours by Kumar for months now and just realized 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.

A recent Guardian article 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.

UPDATE October 2015 – Flavours by Kumar have won the 2015 Tiffin Cup, a contest to find the UKs best South Asian Restaurant.

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Vinylhead Cafe – The Coolest Cafe in Thanet

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

If approaching Addington Street from the coastal side, you will find the VinylHead Cafe at the far end of the street (it also extends into West Cliff Road). It is a Vinyl Shop as well as a Cafe and has a fantastic ambience.  I actually think that it is the coolest cafe in Thanet. It attracts a lot of Artists and Musicians and at the weekend there are occasional Open Mic sessions and live music.

Vinylhead is licensed and serves good coffee and really excellent homemade cakes. For more substantial food check out the kitchen menu.

Another highlight is the attractive outside courtyard with its stylish seaside themed mosaic and huge cantilever parsol.

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Weekend at The Albion House Hotel : Ramsgate

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Despite the title of this post we were not actually staying at the newly opened Albion House Hotel. Although we did find ourselves spending a substantial part of the Weekend there. We started with Champagne Afternoon Tea on the Saturday and returned the next day for our Sunday Lunch.

The Hotel which is open to non residents is quite lovely, perched up on the East Cliff of Ramsgate. The building has been substantially renovated during its conversion to a luxury boutique hotel, it now combines Regency splendor with lots of innovative modern designer touches courtesy I believe of Fontaine Decorative a local company who source stunning French Furniture and Decorative items.

The Hotel is in preview mode at the moment. The plan is to concentrate on the Town Bar and the Hotel Rooms themselves before they make full use of the Dining room. They also have some exciting plans for the Cellar.

Champagne Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is in the Town Bar.  Sandwiches, Tea and Champagne are served at your table. Cakes are laid out buffet style on the table by the window. It’s very much a case of eating as much as you want, as extra sandwiches are brought out on request. The Earl Grey Tea I ordered was particularly good, it’s from a company called Canton Tea and had a strong Vanilla flavour.

Sunday Lunch

The Sunday Lunch menu is pretty much as expected, a small selection of starters, a couple of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes for the main course with dessert options and/or cheese to complete the meal. Lunch and Dinner are served in the Dining Room located at the front of the Hotel. It’s an attractive room with beautiful large fire places and quite spectacular views of Ramsgate Royal Harbour – an ideal place to watch the sun set.

We ordered the Pork belly, scallops, apple puree & red vein sorrel and Wood pigeon breast with frisse & oak leaf salad. The Wood pigeon was served only slightly pink (so if you like it pink, best to say when ordering). We followed this with some nicely cooked Lime & jerk spiced sea bass, potato cake and samphire accompanied by a rather nice bottle of Albarino – the hotel has some excellent options on their wine list. Then for dessert we had Dark chocolate torte with white chocolate cream and raspberries and Vodka, lemon & lime posset with mixed berry compote, accompanied by a couple of glasses of Dessert Wine.

The Hotel is a real asset to the area and we look forward to returning soon as we still have to work our way through the bar snacks in the lovely Town Bar ;)

UPDATE : June 2015 – Had some decent platters from the Town Bar Menu, a meat and a fish one (see above picture). The menu also included Sliders and Salad options.

UPDATE: August 2015 – They have extended the Town Bar menu, there is now a daily brunch menu from 10:00 – 16:00.

UPDATE: July 2016 – The layout and menu structure has now changed, the Dining room and Town Bar are now called Townleys, a more casual menu is provided.

 

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The Bench – Wine and Tapas Bar by the Sea

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

I don’t know how long it really took to turn part of the amusement arcade in Ramsgate Harbour Parade into a Wine and Tapas Bar, but as a casual observer The Bench just seemed to appear out of nowhere. One day the building was an empty shell, then the next day we spotted what I can only describe as an army of tradesmen and a couple of days later there was a new dining destination in Ramsgate. It was an impressive feat.

The Bench is certainly different and it’s serious about Wine. Currently there are about 40 plus wines to try. From the wall of Wine Dispensers you can buy Wine in 3 measures – a taster, a half glass or a full glass, it’s a fabulous way to try out different Wines. You get an electronic loyalty card to put money on, then you use the card to operate the Wine Dispensers, basically it’s self service Wine. There is a bar too so you do have the human touch if you want Beer, Spirits or Cocktails. To accompany the Wine you have a good selection of Tapas. We ordered six Tapas dishes between two, including classics like Potato Bravas and Spanish Omelette. We also had a really lovely and incredibly light Manchego Cheese Tart. We tried two fish dishes and one meat one. The Dorada (Sea Bream with crisp Serrano Ham, tomato and borlotti bean cassoulet) and Pescado Piperade (Red and Yellow Pepper Fricasee with fresh caught fish of the day and a dill and tarragon dressing) showed that there was some pretty sophisticated cooking going on in the kitchen. The Chef is described as Michelin trained.

The place is quite large so it will be interesting to see how the Kitchen and Front of House cope when it gets busy. Although the self service nature of the Wine service should help.

The Bench Wine and Tapas Bar is a real asset for Ramsgate. It’s well worth a visit, although the costs will mount up as its certainly easy to get carried away and try lots of different wines. I have my Bench Wine Loyalty Card  now so I’m all set for the next time.

The Bench is open 7 days a week from 11:00 a.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays they will be open until 2:00 a.m. There is lots of outside seating and they also have Wine Tastings every second Wednesday Evening.

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Rocksalt – Saved by the cooking

Monday, April 6th, 2015

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.

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The Corner House – Minster

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

The Corner House is a restaurant with rooms in the lovely village of Minster near Ramsgate. The head chef is Matt Sworder who worked in several London restaurants training with Gordon Ramsay (La Noisette), Anthony Demetre (Les Deux Salons) and Adam Byatt (Bistro Union) before returning home to his roots in Kent.

The Corner House, formally Mortons Fork has always had a good reputation locally, but with its re-branding, refurbishment and new chef, it has upped its game.  It has two dining areas with a bar and kitchen area in the middle. I liked the entrance where you walk in and see all the freshly baked bread. There is a real warmth to the place. The staff are friendly and efficient, nothing is too much trouble. The food is distinctly British and locally sourced.

The home made bread is really good and do eat your crusts as they are very tasty. We also found a couple of gems on the menu. The Beetroot cured Salmon, cucumber jelly and horseradish cream starter was excellent as was the Duck breast with spiced puy  lentils, peppers and pea shoots. A couple of the other dishes were more ordinary – the Venison Steak and Chips, and the Asparagus with Egg were pretty conventional, so on my next visit I will definitely try and go for the more exotic options.

Desserts were a highlight, we had a lovely white chocolate cheesecake and delicious home made Brown Bread Praline Ice Cream served in a Kilner Jar. You can see how much we enjoyed our desserts from the empty plate/jar in the photograph ;)

Marks out of 10

Food 6.2

Service 6

Ambience 6

UPDATE – March 2015 : The Corner House won the The Taste of Kent Best Restaurant in Kent Award 2015.

The Corner House on Urbanspoon

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Chez Bruce – as good as ever

Friday, February 6th, 2015

If there is a secret formula for what makes a good restaurant then Chez Bruce mastered it years ago.  We have eaten lunch here numerious times, it’s surprisingly good value (currently £35 for 3 courses). Definitely one of London’s best Michelin Restaurant deals.

On this visit I started with some stunning fish cakes with just a hint of saffron and my companion had a Spanish chilled Tomato soup called Salmorejo, this was so beautifully spiced he felt that it had spoilt him for other soups. For main course I chose the Confit Rabbit with coco beans, pepper relish, cherry tomatoes and Provençal sauce, a nice rustic dish of comfort food and he went for the Wild Brill with Roast Scallops, both dishes were of the usual high standard.  Then we had an extra cheese course prior to our dessert – The Chez Bruce Cheese boards are not to be missed. The dessert, which we hardly had room for after this feast, was an Apricot and Almond Tart and a Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble.  I would also recommend asking the friendly Sommelier to select glasses of wine to match your dishes as they have a good range by the glass (most for less than £10.00). Another nice touch here is the lovely home made shortbread that comes with the surprisingly reasonable bill. We are already looking forward to our next visit ;)

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Wyatt & Jones – Good Food & View

Monday, January 12th, 2015

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.

UPDATE : June 2015 – Have had lunch here now quite a few times, it is consistent. The bread in particular is a highlight. To avoid disappointment best to book your table in advance.

Wyatt and Jones on Urbanspoon

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Forts – don’t tell everyone

Monday, January 12th, 2015

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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