Dinner at the Turner Contemporary – Margate through the looking glass

As far as catering is concerned, Art Galleries have been upping their game for a while now. The Portrait at The National Gallery and Rex Whistlers at the Tate being long standing examples of successful Gallery Restaurants in London. So a visit to the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate gave us the chance to try this new gallery cafe, which offers Afternoon Tea by the Sea and is open for Dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.

I have to say it was with some trepidation that we headed for Margate, which is my least favourite Kent coastal town, one that still has a long way to go on its regeneration/gentrification process as our walk through the town testified. The shed like art gallery right on the harbour is not the most attractive of architectural structures in our view, its real charm is from the inside looking out, especially when the weather and lighting is as lovely as it was on our visit. The gallery is smaller than we expected with typically two or three exhibits per room, you can do the rounds easily in 15 minutes (OK maybe half an hour). The views from the Foyer when the light is right are nothing short of stunning.

So what about the Restaurant? or should I say Cafe? On Friday and Saturday evenings a white table clothed section is set up at the front of the gallery cafe consisting of about 8 tables. It seems a bit incongruous when you first enter, but as you are seated by the courteous and professional staff and offered your complementary glass of Prosecco, you soon find yourself relaxing in what is effectively half a glass box overlooking the beach. The tables are all fairly close together and the acoustics do mean that you can hear bits of conversations from the other diners, which is normally a negative for me. However it did not detract on our visit as most conversations were about the view and there was a very relaxed atmosphere as diners regularly got up to go to the window to take photographs. The horse’s galloping along the beach and the sunset being two of the more photogenic moments.

The menu which apparently changes ever week was simple but inviting. The service levels, presentation and quality of the dishes go far in the process of elevating the gallery cafe to a fine dining establishment. It’s not there yet, but it does have the potential.

We got off to a good start with a generous portion of home baked very light cake like focaccia bread. I then ordered the Scallops and Heirloom Tomatoes spiced with Cumin, which worked well. The Tomatoes nicely complimenting the Scallops. I followed this with the meat option – saddle of Lamb wrapped Pancetta, served with Pomme Puree, a tasty dish that I enjoyed with a nice large glass of Merlot.

My companion had the Carpaccio of Courgettes with Mozzarella and Basil which was ideal for the weather, light, simple and tasty. He followed this with the Turbot and Girolles Mushrooms in a red wine jus. We then went on to share a plate of British cheeses and the Passion Fruit Cheesecake dessert. There were some rough edges and missed opportunities here. The cheese plate for example was far from impressive and adding some withered grapes was a no no – if it’s not right don’t put it on the plate! The other missed opportunity is one that is not rectifiable. It is the location of the restaurant – no, not the fact it is in Margate, but the fact it is on the corner of the building and as such fails to provide the full panoramic view of the beach and harbour to all the diners.

We were very lucky on our visit with the weather, which added an extra element to the ambience but I do wonder if the fine dining aspect will survive through the winter months. I really hope it gets the support it deserves from the local residents.

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