East Coast Dining Room : Tankerton-on-Sea near Whitstable

All our past visits to the seaside town of Whitstable (aka Islington by the Sea) have been for the sole purpose of dining at The Sportsman that fabulous one star Michelin restaurant in Seasalter. This visit would have been the same if I hadn’t discovered that 5 weeks notice was not enough to get a booking there at this time of the year. So I instantly thought of The East Coast Dining Room, a Whitstable restaurant I had heard good things about. The Restaurant does not seem to be courting a Michelin Star, instead it comes across as one of these places that is quite content to be the good neighborhood restaurant that everyone would love to have on their doorstep. The restaurant is just a short walk from Whitstable train station (just one street back from the beach at Tankerton-on-Sea) and is fairly easy to spot with its attractive outside seating area and Ice Cream cart by the door. The cart on this occasion was advertising their amazing Gingerbeer Sorbet.

Inside there are two pleasant dining areas. After a warm welcome and efficient delivery of the Menus, we decided to go a la carte (although their ¬£30 Xmas menu did look really good). There was no need to order expensive bottled water, tap water flavoured with cucumber was swiftly brought to our table. If you haven’t tried cucumber water I would highly recommended it, it’s refreshing and apparently good for you too. The bread was then served with butter, salt and some really good olive oil (Planeta DOP Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil) that they also sell by the bottle.

For starters we had Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew with Cod Croquettes and Game Rillettes with Devils on Horseback. We both selected fish for our mains. I had a rather lovely Roast Monkfish dish with Corriander sauce, Grilled Aubergines and Pink Fir Potatoes and my companion choose the Mullet, with Bacon and Crab Chowder and Deep Fried Anchovies. We accompanied this with a half bottle of excellent Chablis. They have a good selection of wine including several options served in Carafes or by the glass. The dessert wine selection is also good, we choose Moscato d’Asti to accompany our desserts. My companion was very happy with the aforementioned Gingerbeer Sorbet with Lemon and Ginger Posset, a memorable dessert and I had a Chocolate and Pear Brownie served with Coffee Jellies that worked really well with the Brownie.

The service was friendly and professional. The Restaurant was just over half full on the Winters day we went for lunch, but I suspect that getting a table here in Summer is not so easy. Most of our fellow guests were Whitstable inhabitants who know a good thing when they see it. I think one of the best things you can say about a Restaurant is that you will be back, and we will be back, although not before squeezing in another visit to The Sportsman.

UPDATE : October 2018 – Restaurant now closed ūüôĀ

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The Bench – Wine and Tapas Bar by the Sea

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.

UPDATE – April 2018 : CLOSED

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Roux at Parliament Square – The return

This was my second visit to Roux at Parliament Square.¬† My previous visit here was not typical, in that it involved indulging in the tasting menu and matching wines in the Private Dining Room, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the set lunch menu held up. ¬£25.00 for 3 courses plus coffee and petit fours is an excellent deal for this sort of venue.¬† Booking via Top Table also enhanced the deal to included complementary glasses of champagne on arrival apparently – although when I reviewed my Top Table account later it said 3 courses with a bottle of filtered water, so we definitely got¬† the better deal ūüėČ

Ironically although the set menu looked quite inviting, we were seduced by the a la carte menu, so did not actually end up going down the cheaper route as planned.

Every dish we ordered was beautifully presented and the meal included all those little extra’s I love in a fine dining establishment, the selection of canap√©s, the amuse bouche, the pre dessert and the petit fours.¬† OK so it cost more than twice as much as the set menu, but at least the excellent range of reasonably priced wine by the glass (typically between ¬£5.00 and ¬£7.00 a glass) kept the price down.

The Restaurant does not as yet have a Michelin star, but I would be very surprised if that was not in the pipe line. Roux at Parliament Square certainly has all the ingredients.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.9

Service 6.8

Ambience 6.5

 

 

 

UPDATE Feb 2013 РMasterChef winner Steve Groves is now the head chef  Рsee article.

UPDATE Dec 2020 – Now closed

 

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Zucca – Cucina povera & BYOB : Bellissimo

Zucca has a very reasonable £10 corkage fee when you bring your own bottle.  Corkage fees can be excessive. Here is a useful list, to give you a rough idea of the typical charges:-

It’s not as good a deal as the one advertized by the Kitchen W8 (free corkage on a Sunday evening), but for a Saturday night a ¬£10 corkage fee is not too bad.¬† Especially in a restaurant with such a great reputation for food.

So armed with a rather nice bottle of Amerone (Masi Costasera Classico Amerone 2003), we headed off to Zucca (Bermonsey’s answer to The River Cafe), to choose some cucina povera to go with it.

It is almost a year now since my last visit, shortly after the Restaurant opened, and to say Zucca has been successful in that intervening period would be something of an understatement. It’s had rave reviews, is buzzing most nights and is firmly recognised as a “Foodies” destination restaurant.

The highlights for me had to be the pasta dishes.  The beautiful fennel and lemon flavoured tagliatelle was so refreshing and the veal and parmesan ravioli was delicious  Рwhy did I just order a starter size portion!  The pasta was just in a different class from the very ordinary and much more expensive pasta dish I had at Apsleys. The Brunet and Speck (goats cheese wrapped in ham) was also very good.

The only downside to bringing your own wine without knowing the menu in advance,  is that you are a bit restricted in your food choices.  We avoided the more interesting fish dishes which would not have worked with the Amerone and ordered the slow cooked pork in milk and the veal chop instead.  One thing that had not changed since my last visit was the limited selection of side orders.  My veal chop, lovely though it was,  would have really suited me better if accompanied by some potatoes rather that the spinach I barely touched.

We finished with the cheese course and a very nice piece of light and moist orange cake.

The service is not particularly polished. The staff were all very pleasant, but¬† not quite attentive enough to comfortably handle the two hour turn around on the table. That and our waitress must have missed watching Michel Roux’s Service ūüėČ pouring as she did a full measure of wine, rather that just enough to check that the wine was OK, something that is especially important in BYOB situations.

Zucca is not perfect, but they certainly know how to cook.

After dinner we headed down to Most Cafe bar under Tower bridge, it was busy and getting served at the overcrowded bar looked impossible (why do under staffed bars insist on doing cocktails?), so instead we made our way to the more laid back Draft House Pub. Instant friendly service and a free table. It has a good reputation for its food as well, so definitely worth a return visit to try that, see Cheese and Biscuits review for details.

Marks out of 10 for Zucca

Food 6.3

Service 4.9

Ambience 6.0

UPDATE : Zucca has closed.

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Koffmanns – Pigs trotters and french fries!

We chose Koffmans as our post Christmas treat.¬† Pierre Koffmann ran the legendary 3 Michelin star La Tante Claire restaurant at The Berkeley until¬† 2003, when he left to ‘go fishing’.¬† He is now very much back on the London food scene, and back at The Berkeley.

Our first impression on entering the restaurant proper was a good one, although the stairs that take you down to the basement dining room, past the small bar area, are an accident waiting to happen.

Koffmann’s signature dishes include scallops with squid ink, braised pig’s trotter with morels, and pistachio souffl√© with pistachio ice cream. So off course we made sure we ordered them. Indeed the waiter actually made a point of saying ‘and I presume you would like to order the Pigs Trotters’ – maybe the camera on the table gave it away.

We started with a tasty amuse bouche of rabbit pat√©, followed by a leak terrine with smoked haddock and the aforementioned scallops.¬† Then for main course as well as the trotter stuffed with sweet breads, we had the beef cheeks. Both dishes were served with lovely mashed potatoes and a winter vegetable selection of broccoli, red cabbage and also what I can only describe as a completely superfluous order of french fries. Perhaps they were included to give us something to criticize? Certainly there was nothing much to complain about with the rest of the meal, and it still seems strange to say it, but the vegetables in particular were a standout, so much flavour. The Beef cheeks portion was large, but so light that finishing it was not a problem.¬† Never having tried Pigs Trotters before,¬† Koffmanns was definitely the best place to start.¬† I’m not entirely sure what we expected, but having almost the full pigs leg complete with hoof on the plate was a¬† bit disconcerting, but proved to be delicious.¬† Pork crackling is not a personal favourite, due to earlier experiences where it has been more akin to chewing on a giants toenail. However this was not the case here as it was light, wafer thin and very, very tasty.

For dessert the pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream was quite stunning, on a par with the soufflé I tasted at The Ledbury a few weeks ago. The pear and almond tart however was really nothing special, although the pear sorbet that accompanied it was divine (a larger portion would have been nice).

We have always found that asking the Sommelier to match a glass of wine to each course makes the meal more interesting and as the wines by the glass were of a reasonable price (they ranged from £6 to £15) we knew we would not be too horrified by the final bill.

It is also always interesting to see where other chefs choose to eat in their own time. Gary Rhodes for example sat a few tables away from us, tucking into his pistachio soufflé.

Chefs who have worked in Pierre Koffmanns kitchen over the years include Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Eric Chavot, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Having eaten food produced by all of the above, we could certainly see Koffmanns influence.

UPDATE – Closed

 

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Roux at Parliament Square – Private dining

Had a lovely evening at Michel Roux Jnr’s new restaurant, even if it did mean battling my way through the crowds outside Westminster Abbey waiting for a glimpse of the Pope.¬† Roux at Parliament Square is just around the corner from the Abbey located in one of the most beautiful buildings in Westminster, a period building designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of London‚Äôs iconic Natural History Museum.

We started with drinks and canapes in the upstairs bar, then strolled down to the private dining room to indulge, we had pre ordered the 8 course tasting menu.

 

The Private dinning room is lovely and the service was unobtrusive, it was like being at a fabulous dinner party.

The food did not let us down either. The menu was well balanced. I liked the mixed style of modern and traditional french cuisine. The standout dishes for me were, the Brill with razor clam, mussel and shrimp  and the chocolate mousse, Caramel foam and banana sorbet with popping candy.

One of the advantages of being in the private dining room was that the matching wines were presented punctually by the Sommelier just prior to the food service. The  wines were all French and selected by Albert Roux. I especially enjoyed our second dessert wine, the Maury, Dom.Lafage, Landuedoc-Rousillion, 2008.

Our visit was on a Friday evening, which is actually a quiet day for the Restaurant. This Roux outpost is definitely worth a return visit.

UPDATE Dec 2020 Closed.