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Archive for the ‘Pubs and Gastropubs’ Category

Some time ago, in a far away dentist’s waiting room, I was flicking through a copy of The Rooters Gazette and happened upon an article examining deliberately-hidden towns and villages across the British Isles. Apparently, back in ye day, we all existed as individual tribes that seldom ventured more than a mile from our birthplaces.  On the upside you were unlikely to be frustrated by tourists asking questions in unfathomable tongues, the downside, however, was the high chance of marrying a relative. The article went on to contend that there were still a handful of Narnia-esque places that don’t exist on modern maps for no good reason other than the inhabitants wishing it that way.  And so it was that on a crisp October morning we were magically transported to Crundale (see, you’d never heard of it had you?). At the heart of this fantastical village was ‘The Compasses Inn’, a perfectly imagined pub that had previously only existed in my dreams. Plenty of local beers, an intelligent and reasonable wine list plus a massive garden for the kids. Smiley face. Having dribbled over our menus for ten minutes we chose a crab cannelloni with bisque & a game terrine with spiced pear chutney (both £6.95). To follow we went for ox-cheek bap with horseradish mayonnaise and dripping chips (£9.95) and kedgeree with smoked haddock fillet, poached duck egg and curry ketchup (£11ish). It was only the devil’s little helper, beetroot, that meant we didn’t order all 25 dishes on offer (should we have had the time or elasticated trousers required). All of our picks were perfectly cooked, balanced and presented. I wept a little. Surely the desserts (apple creme brulee & sticky toffee pudding) couldn’t cut it too? Nobody is that good. Ahem. Step forward Rob Taylor. A whisking, pickling and braising alchemist of the highest order. He’s amazing. He’s invincible. He is the King of Crundale. When you do go and pay your respects all I can tell you is that the village is located on the North Downs, about halfway between Ashford and Canterbury, and is populated by 150 of the most tight-lipped people you’ll ever meet.  
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At times it can be hard to love Margate. A walk through the High Street will leave you questioning the relationship and a quick spin round Morrison’s will have you preparing your “It’s not you it’s me” speech by the time you’ve paid for your WKD and Mayfair lights. I don’t want to feel like this, it just happens. To reaffirm my passion I make regular visits to the old town, trot along the harbour arm or maybe just noodle around Ron Scott’s for an hour until I’ve remembered what it is that we have together. I’ve often thought how helpful it would be to have a decent pub to sit in whilst I nursed my heart back to full strength. As I stepped over the Lifeboat’s threshold I realised that this might be just that. The orphaned furniture made me think that I’d stumbled back onto Mr Scott’s premises but the roaring open hearth ensured I’d be going nowhere soon. This really is no ordinary boozer. Julian is no ordinary landlord. He is essentially a joyful eccentric who’s made a local all about local. Julian’s utopia hosts beer from every brewery in Kent, stocks 14 varieties of Kentish cider, and even pours local wine courtesy of a vineyard in Barsole. He keeps a handful of interesting soft drinks but definitely no ice. This is a pub for everyone. On our visit we nestled amongst alcoholics, pensioners, artists and students, all of who were treated quite perfectly by the charming barman. He helpfully came over and sat with us to discuss the various local foods on offer that evening. Dressed crab (Fruits de Mer, Broadstairs), pies (Victory News, Broadstairs) sausages  (a secret location in Ramsgate – grilled in a sandwich maker thingy on the bar) and cheeses courtesy of every maker across Kent. You get to choose one from many types of chutney to accompany your snack (which they insist on spooning out to avoid any cross-contamination) and all orders arrive with chunks of bread (Aquini’s, Margate). All are served up at little more than cost price.  On this trip we polished off a dressed crab, a mixed game pie and a sausage in bread. With two rounds of drinks we just about made it past twenty pounds. You’d pay that for the crab with a couple of drinks in most places and that’s without the option of playing Monopoly. It truly is an extraordinary place that will only get busier with the publishing of the excellent Discover Thanet guidebook and the opening of the much-needed Turner Contemporary. With only days remaining I’d suggest you man the Lifeboat while you still can and see for yourself why Tracey Emin famously said; “Julian, I’ll never stop loving you”.

1 Market St, Margate, Kent, CT9 1EU.

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I’m not yet sure what brought my writing to such an abrupt standstill in September but hopefully the next 400 words will help me find out. Could it have been laziness? Well, I catch the 05.54 during the week and just about get home for bath time so it’s not that. Perhaps there’s no time? Not that either. It might be called High Speed but I’m still the daily recipient of almost three hours of opportunity. Then it must be a lack of subjects? I’ve four unwritten reviews waving regularly at me from my MacBook that would vehemently disagree. I clicked open the one titled The Three Mariners and was instantly transported back to the pilgrimage we’d made one Sunday in November. A truly divine experience. The diner’s Holy Trinity of great food, excellent service & good value was bestowed upon the entire congregation ensuring we left as two happy disciples. It seemed only right to make a follow-up visit to ensure relevant preaching. The superb staff and the delightful dining room both greeted us warmly on our return. The lunch menu contained ten starters, eight mains and seven desserts, so if you are of an indecisive nature then this could become your own personal hell. It also only offered up one solitary dish that I wouldn’t have happily ordered and enjoyed (beetroot is the Devil’s work after all.) The remarkable list has an equal balance of fish and meat, champions local produce (the fish is lovingly supplied by Fruits de Mer of Broadstairs) and represents excellent value for money. We patiently spent a good while observing dishes go past and seeking the staff’s advice before we finally dived in. Mrs G loved the blini of gravalax – a stack of salmon on a crumpet-sized blini (£5.50) and I was enamoured with the local skate cheeks in lemon, garlic and parsley (£5.50). Both were perfectly constructed and tasted fantastic. Next up was roast breast of corn-fed chicken with sage & onion stuffing, roast pots and veg (£12.50). There was far too much cabbage on the plate for my wife’s liking and only a few of the other veggies. A small problem that was smothered by the enormous and perfect Yorkshire pudding (50p extra). The honey glazed confit duck was stunning and was complemented perfectly by the sweet red cabbage and mash. The extra Yorkie I’d ordered left little space for manoeuvre but the slight inconvenience was well worth it. By the time our brilliant waitress returned with the dessert selection I’d decided to abstain – a tough decision with seven stunners calling my name from the next room. My beautiful companion picked what would have been my last choice, the passion fruit pavlova with lime ice cream (£5.50), probably worried that I’d have a second wind. Having removed the pattern from the dessert plate we paid the bill, said our ‘thank yous’ and then grabbed a menu. “Why do you want that?’ asked our waitress. ‘I’m writing a review,” I chirped. “I wish we’d have known”. I’ve no idea what more they could have done, aside from cut the food up and put it in our mouths. As we stepped out of the darkness into the sunshine I knew that I had to write. I needed to get to my desk. I started to run. No idea where I was going. It took me 40 days and 40 nights to return but now I’m back. The Thanet Gannet is resurrected. Hallelujah!

2 Church Road, Oare, Faversham, Kent, ME13 0QA, 01795 533 633.

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“We’re running low on gas”, quipped Bex as if starring in a low budget horror movie.

A bead of sweat ran down my wrinkled brow. Paul continued the theme happily occupying the back seat oblivious to the evaporating fuel. Bats flapped, owls hooted and we bounced across the Kent countryside aboard the ‘Hairdresser’ (aka my Suzuki Vitara). We were travelling in this boneshaker because Mrs G had taken the family wagon to a baby-shower leaving my newlywed Northern guests and me in a jalopy that only usually sees sunny days at the beach. Being Broadstairs biggest clown (with car) I ’d forgotten where the pub was but luckily my glamorous assistant Bex pulled me from the lion’s mouth with the aid of her magnificent iPhone, shepherding us in with minutes to spare. It’s not my first visit to The Fitzwalter Arms so I knew roughly what to expect. A lovely little pub with a homely dining room on the side. A short menu full of local produce, plus the added thrill of an open fire that drained the damp and chill from the squally August evening. The atmosphere is quite relaxed and the informal yet knowledgeable service put us totally at ease. Bex chose courgette salad with chilli, garlic and a courgette flower fritter (£5.50), Paul tried the smoked mackerel and horseradish on rye bread with apples and beetroot (£7.50) and I went for the red mullet soup with saffron aioli (£6.50). Everybody was happy with his or her choice. I absolutely adored my soup, Bex’s fritter filled the plate and Paul even sung the praises of the Devil’s work (beetroot). The mains were equally as impressive. Love’s not-so-young dream adored their roast free-range chicken leg, chanterelles and thyme (£13.50) and I, under advice, opted for the confit pork belly, crackling and apple sauce (£14.50). What good advice too, as I am now one of the chosen few that have gnawed on the world’s best crackling. Hallelujah! It must also have been around this time that the food Gods decided to pop into the kitchen and tinker with some chocolate and stuff. Now it may have taken them somewhat longer than you’d expect, what with them being deities and all, but when it did eventually arrive my hot chocolate pudding, coffee ice cream and Earl Grey sauce (£6.00) almost moved my mountain. A fitting end to a heavenly meal. We happily paid the bill, bundled into the roofless rattletrap and set off into the foreboding night. The sky was lit with stars, the air chilled with howls and Paul frozen from lack of heater in the back. All the time the far away silhouette of Richborough power station guided us home like a derelict lighthouse. I knew that once alongside it the desperately needed petrol station was only metres away. The little jeep jerked its way along Sandwich road and was running on fumes by the time we eventually passed the monument to more prosperous times. Sadly, the petrol stations were done for the evening, as were we. We coasted, powerless, to a standstill:

“We’ve run completely low on gas”, I informed Bex as I reached into the back for the petrol can. I walked off into the darkness not knowing what lay ahead…

I’ve always said that you should treat every meal as your last and as I stand here now, carving my review into a tree, I’m rather glad that I chose The Fitzwalter Arms for what may have been mine.

The Street, Goodnestone, Kent, CT3 1PJ, 01304 840303.

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Being born just outside of London I’m not used to fields full of animals, fresh air and most certainly not farm shops. The short journey to Quex Barn had all of these things plus a great little restaurant at the end of it. We visited on the Saturday morning after New Year, and as I looked up at the enticing blackboard menu I could see my first resolution, only 24 hours old, already fading from view. The options aren’t vast but include kippers with egg and toast (£4.95), sausage, egg or bacon sandwiches (£3) and most importantly the English breakfast in either large (£5.95) or small (£4.95). I was instantly drawn to the large as it offered almost twice the food for an extra pound. Job done. In return for my hard earned I received 2 sausages, 2 rashers, 2 eggs, black pudding, beans, tomatoes and 2 slices of giant toast. Not the cheapest breakfast in Thanet but certainly among the best. All of the produce was top notch, perfectly cooked and well presented. The black pudding was a bit overdone for my taste and we waited 10 minutes more than I would have liked for its arrival, which, on a positive note, kept my weight loss regime on track for just that little while longer. The coffee was great; the waitresses friendly and the fresh orange juice so good that my wife is still mentioning it a week later. It was a busy mix of seemingly content couples and happy families all munching away whilst bathing in warm natural light. The chickens running past the window even brought a smile from Thanet’s most fickle of diners, Tilly, my 18 month old, is a big fan of our feathered friends and will undoubtedly be adding them to her amusing animal impersonation repertoire in days to come. On our way out we all waddled round the shop purchasing a fresh loaf, some free range eggs and a few other bits that would save us doing battle with the Saturday morning supermarket crowd. I’ll return shortly to try out the evening menu but in the meantime if people sarcastically ask, “Were you born in a barn?” I can answer, “I wish.

Quex Park Estate, Birchington, Kent, CT7 0BB, 01843 846103.

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Where would you go in Thanet this weekend if cash and calories weren’t an issue? I’d head down to Posillipo’s in Broadstairs on Friday evening for chilled beers, a pizza that could flatten a tenor and a large helping of Neapolitan charm. Saturday morning would be spent reading the papers at Peens whilst I made one of Thanet’s finest breakfasts disappear. Magic. Off to Ramsgate around 1ish to try and solve the amazing Eddie Gilbert’s conundrum.  Batter or no batter?  What a dilemma. What a decision. What a place. Still no closer to answering this gastronomic riddle I’d cast off in search of my beloved curry – fat nostrils leading me Margatewards. Everybody has his or her favourite spice girl and mine is The Indian Princess. She’s a little too modern for some and a little too expensive for others but I’ll take her as is.  On Sunday I’d probably treat myself to a lie in but would rise just in time to order lunch at Age and Sons. I’d spend the afternoon grazing on local produce in an informal setting, happily pickling myself on their remarkable wine list. I’ll leave Sunday night free, however, as there are 13 other Thanet restaurants nominated in the 2009 Kent Restaurant awards that could do with my custom. I won’t be able to visit them all in one evening, so maybe you could instead.

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If I had a restaurant I’ve no idea what I’d call it.  I’d spend weeks pondering puns, metaphors and alliteration to eventually end up naming it The Restaurant. I think this must be what these guys did, hopefully saving their creativity for the kitchen instead.  So last week i decided to go along and try out one of Broadstairs latest openings. Restaurant 54 promises a great deal from the outset. It’s website quotes Shaw and professes to offer up “the freshest of local ingredients, brought together with a creative twist”. I’d certainly agree with the latter but i sadly found few examples of local produce being used in the two courses i undertook.  This is a real shame as provenance and food miles are the current food buzz words and to not make the most of this seems somewhat short-sighted. Surely we could consume Kent crab and pork rather than that of Cornwall and Devon and remain happy patrons? The dishes i ate were of a very good standard and I particularly enjoyed the homemade spiced piccalilli that accompanied my potted Devon pork. The batter on my rather posh fish and chips was worthy of high praise and clung to the prawn, scallop, haddock and monkfish admirably. My dining companions, on the whole, had an enjoyable meal but there were a few niggles that I’d like to see ironed out. Firstly the music. I find music in restaurants annoying at the best of times. I was also under the belief that all traces of Level 42 had been burnt by one of the previous Labour governments. It would appear, however, that a solitary CD survived and is alive, well and tormenting diners in Broadstairs. i think you know what to do with it. Next up is the front of house that I found a bit cold, slow and at times jobsworthy (although they did manage to deal with all of our off-piste requests). I was also a little let down by the crab which was presented badly but tasted excellent, a side salad that was no more than a few leaves and the rather paltry portion of sea bass. My biggest issue though, is the price. I don’t think that the food is over priced as what I ate was worth the money i paid for it, but i do worry about the future of their business,  £15-20 for a main is a little on the lumpy side for Broadstairs and maybe the lack of customers on a Saturday lunchtime in a summer of recession helped to prove my point. They do, to be fair, offer a very good value set lunch menu and i do genuinely hope they decide to address these issues as they have the makings of a decent restaurant, and as Shaw himself said ” If there was nothing wrong in the world there wouldn’t be anything for us to do.” So, sadly it’s 54 out of 100. For now.

54 Albion St, Broadstairs, Kent, 01843 867150.

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