Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

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.

Return to top page

Chez Bruce – as good as ever

Thursday, January 1st, 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 ;)

Return to top page

The Sportsman : Seasalter near Whitstable

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Whitstable is a popular historic seaside town that is about 40 mins from London and 30 mins from our new home in Ramsgate. On arrival at Whitstable station you can order a taxi for the 15 minute journey to The Sportsman in Seasalter. The taxi office is right next to the station and they have lots of cars on call, or you can head into Whitstable itself, explore the shops and harbour, then do the beach walk to Seasalter which takes approximately an hour and half.   On a beautiful sunny Winter day, like the one we had for our visit, its worth arriving early at the restaurant to give yourself enough time to walk on the beach at Seasalter. Bring your binoculars and watch the birds and seals off the Isle of Sheppey.

The Sportsman is one of only a handful of pubs with a Michelin star. They keep it simple and use very local ingredients, i.e. meat from the surrounding marsh lands, fish and oysters from the Thames Estuary and vegetables from their rather extensive Kitchen garden.

There are blackboards by the bar where you choose the dishes you want, or you can go for a tasting menu. There are two, a larger one you pre book and a 5 course one you can order on the day. We like the little extras so we had the 5 course tasting menu. The tasting menu doesn’t change much, so if you go often you’ll probably appreciate the blackboard options.

We started with a glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne, which was a good accompaniment to our first few dishes. A lovely selection of bread was served with home-churned butter and Seasalter seasalt followed by the amuse-bouche which consisted of an egg shell filled with yoke, cream and smoked eel. Then we had a stunning cod and crab bisque and two of the famous Whitstable oysters cleverly presented in a box of seashells. Next came our favorite course a delightful red cabbage dish, we ordered some Chablis to drink with this and our main course of Monkshill Farm Lamb with Mint Sauce which was a sort of miniature Sunday lunch, as it is served with one roast potato, a sliver of onion and one floret of cauliflower. Pre desert was a quince lollypop in cake milk. Then with our dessert wine we had half a chocolate and salted caramel tart with vanilla ice cream – the tart was very rich, I for one couldn’t have managed a full one, although my companion thought he could :)

The Sportsman has a lovely casual ambience and an excellent wine list.

Please also note that this is a very popular restaurant and booking is essential. Typically you would need to book between 4 and 6 weeks in advance to get a table.

Marks out of 10 for The Sportsman

Food 7.2

Service 7

Ambience 7

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Return to top page

 

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

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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.

Return to top page

Prawn and Pig pop up on the Ramsgate Riviera

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

It’s always sad when a much loved Restaurant closes. So we welcomed the chance to re visit some of dishes from the sadly missed Eddie Gilbert’s at Craig Mather and Gareth Olivers 2 Day pop up in The Mariners Ramsgate. So of course we had to order the playful Eddie Gilbert signature dish of Soft Boiled Duck Egg and Smoked Eel Soldiers (Jay Rayner’s starter of the year a few years back), it was just as I remembered it. The menu was Tapas in both food style and plate size. It included some lovely Cured Ham and Cheese Croquettes which along with the Squid, Chorizo, Pork Belly and warm weather made for a very Spanish vibe. The waitress recommended 4 dishes per person so we pretty much ordered all the dishes on the menu which was an excellent approach especially when accompanied by a nicely chilled bottle of Prosecco.

Our favorite dishes were the aforementioned croquettes and the House Soused Mackerel with warm Shallots, Potato and Water Cress. Shame this was just a pop up as it would be great to be able to have this Mediterranean style food on a more regular basis especially when Ramsgate manages so well on a warm sunny day to look very much like one of the better resorts on the Med with its stunning Marina, impressive Architecture and almost cosmopolitan atmosphere enhanced by the local language schools and increasing number of foreign tourists.

Hopefully after the success of this pop up we will see more of this type of event. In the meantime there are the excellent Gala Dinners organized at East Kent College where Craig and Gareth are Chef Lecturer’s to look forward too.

Return to top page

MEAT American BBQ pop up in Margate

Friday, May 9th, 2014

In case you missed it, the people from Margate Smokehouse have opened a pop up restaurant inside The Glass Jar on Marine Drive in Margate. It’s called MEAT American BBQ and they invited us to check it out. It’s hidden away at the back of the bar and easy to miss.

The menu covers lots of classic BBQ dishes like Chicken wings with blue cheese dip and Pork Babyback Ribs served with a lovely sticky BBQ sauce. Highlights for us included Beef Brisket served in a brioche bun and their Mac n Cheese Lollipop with BBQ sauce. We had excellent service from John the Chef and the friendly bar staff at The Glass Jar.

If you time it right you can also catch one of the free live music events hosted by The Glass Jar.

The Ambrette – Margate : Kent Restaurant of the Year 2013

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

We booked Sunday lunch at The Ambrette in Margate. It won Restaurant of the Year in 2013 in the Taste of Kent awards and was just pipped to the post in this years awards by Rocksalt in Folkstone.

I have never been much of a fan of Margate, but I have to say it is starting to grow on me, helped very much by its burgeoning food scene. We decided to explore Margate before lunch, there was actually quite a lot to see, we managed to fit in a visit to the monthy Cliftonville farmers market, a brief trip to the Turner Contemporary Gallery and wandered around the old town which has lots of interesting shops, cafes and architecture. Margate has really embraced the art scene and there are retro shops everywhere.

The Ambrette is in the old town, just round the corner from the stunning Tudor House. The Ambrette has quite the reputation. Dev Biswal is famous for his spicing and is planning to open 4 more restaurants in Kent, which is very good news indeed. The hype is definitely justified, this is somewhere you feel you could order anything from the menu and not be disappointed. I have been to quite a few high end Indian restaurants and when it comes to food and service The Ambrette can hold its own. The room and ambience is less inviting, OK there is no flock wallpaper but instead the tables and decor would not be out of place in a bland Italian restaurant. This place is special however and it really would not take much to elevate it.

We had a delicious amuse bouche where my only complaint was that it was served on a cocktail stick rather than having a small spoon which would have ensured that I got every drop of the beautiful sauce off the plate.

We started with the Crab and beetroot cake, locally grown sea purslane  and Crab riata and the Dosai with gently spiced potatoes, mustard and onions and Coconut chutney. The flavour of the crab and potatoes were both enhanced by the accompaniments and spicing. We were then presented with tiny tasting cups containing a delicious broccoli and pepper soup.

For main course we ordered the Kentish Mutton and pearl barley biryani, served with Masala potatoes, Kashmiri style sauce of cinnamon and saffron and the Claresse (fresh water catfish) with locally grown sea beet, served with kedgeree, sauce of coconut, ginger and mustard, again beautifully judged.

Dessert was also a triumph. Chocolate Samosas are a match made in heaven, and the delicate rose flavoured vanilla crème brulee was perfect.

Matching wines with Indian food can be difficult but not so here as the spicing does not kill your taste buds. Our bottle of Chablis was not lost, its fruity flavour complimented all the dishes.

We enjoyed this meal so much we have already booked our table for an event they are holding in May called The Ambrette Tapas Experiment which should be fun and will give us the chance to taste even more of their food.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.1

Service 6

Ambience 4.8

Ambrette on Urbanspoon

Return to top page

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

 

Return to top page

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).

UPDATE – September 2016 : Salt is now closed.

Return to top page

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 : Now Poppys Kitchen

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 :CLOSED

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.

Return to top page

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

Return to top page

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

Return to top page