A Secret Foodie Heaven
on the Kent Coast
Broadstairs may be known to some as the location of the 39 Steps in John Buchan’s novel of the same name or as one of the many locations that Charles Dickens chose to write about (in this case Bleak House). But today it might well be known as a foodie location on the coast within striking distance of London and if you’re not within striking distance there are plenty of places to stay. So, no excuses.
I came down to attend the Broadstairs Food Festival now in its eighth year it is well and truly established as a significant foodie event in the Kent calendar. The crowds turned out in their droves to sample, buy and in some cases make food on the cliff top above the town with the splendid backdrop of Viking Beach below. The weather was on their side and it made for a great day out for the whole family.
On my journey down from London I drove through Kent, the garden of England. The fields of arable land stretched out before me peppered with the odd tractor working the land. I checked into Bay Tree House one of those old school B & B’s that offers a sea view, warm welcome and dinner in the evening if you like. The views from my first floor bedroom over the esplanade were Turneresque. It’s a couple of minutes walk from Bleak House that Dickens rented in the summer months to write and bring his family on holiday.
My first dip in the culinary soup of this town was to be lunch at Wyatt & Jones, with its great view over Viking Bay, the curved jewel in Broadstairs Victorian seaside armory. The beach huts in distance and a brilliant sun made it hard to believe it was October.
Wyatt & Jones has an open kitchen and is laid out over a couple of levels with windows affording that great view. Head chef Craig was clearly on form. As an appetiser (I don’t think the expression amuse bouche has made it to this part of Kent) of venison parcel with a little sauce was a good start. A broad slice of crab tart was my starter proper was perfect. I don’t really know why more restaurants don’t do this – individual tarts are always pastry heavy this just tasted of filling.
One of the locations benefits is to people watch. It is heart warming to see how many families still make that very British pilgrimage for a day on the beach. Buckets and spades and jars of artisan food from the food festival passed my eyes like the conveyer belt on the Generation Game.
As it was Sunday and they have a selection of roast ‘specials’ I went for roast beef with a giant Yorkshire pudding. This was stupendous. Very tasty pink sirloin beef and gravy with horseradish and tiptop roast potatoes. A side of cauliflower cheese was perfect. A meal fit for a king (or at the very least a good nap afterwards)! But I wasn’t done yet, after a decent break I tucked into some rather good Oxford blue and some other British cheeses.
I am almost ashamed to say that the food was so good here I couldn’t resist a pudding as well and can confirm the poached pear and salted caramel mousse was a winner. Noticed by Michelin and no doubt on its way to stardom Wyatt & Jones do most things right. The service is relaxed and friendly, Emma who served me dealt with a few food spills, knocked glasses and other mishaps from a table of clumsy diners with aplomb.
Walking around the back streets of Broadstairs it’s fun to spot all the Dickens’ references, street names, shops; The Old Curiosity Shop and the literary links don’t stop there. In 1915 his six-year-old daughter who had just learnt to count properly influenced John Buchan. While in a convalescence home on the north foreland recovering from an ulcer she ventured down a flight of wooden stairs to the beach “There are 39 steps” she pronounced and so the title was born.
My supper was at Posillipo, an Italian of the old school with sea views. This family run small chain of eateries is long established and produces good food and keeps a worthy cellar. My pizza and house red was the perfect end to a great day.
Following my breakfast at The Bay Tree of poached eggs to order and locally supplied sausages and bacon I went for a guided tour of Broadstairs with a Kent ‘Greeter’ Richard Gaillard who along with other volunteers can show you points of interest in the locale. There’s nothing like having local knowledge to hand and Richard was great. I learned that there is a folk festival every August, the many pubs play a big part in hosting live acts and the community come out in strength to enjoy the music as well as many travelling specifically to see acts.
A little know historical gem that Richard took me to was The Crampton Tower Museum. Thomas Crampton was one of those unstoppable Victorian engineers who seemed to have invented everything of use at the time. He put his name to the Crampton locomotive, a telegraph system and designed a boring machine to dig a channel tunnel (one of the earlier attempts). He worked with Marc Brunel, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s father. The museum has lots of working models and information about this extraordinary man who clearly made his mark on Broadstairs.
There is also a railway museum with a couple of spectacular model railways for kids (and their dads) to indulge in and a curious grade II listed ‘beehive’ water reservoir built in 1859. Now empty of water it is used in conjunction with the railway museum. With a community play centre it has much to offer. Richard was engaging company and clearly loves the place he lives in. Not a guide as such but full of information and can steer you to a decent lunch, dinner or pint of beer.
Continental Corner Delicatessen was where I enjoyed a little pick me up light lunch of a mozzarella Panini and a cup of Earl Grey tea. Clearly popular with the locals and visitors alike it is welcoming, warm and the food is good. They have a very tempting cheese and cold meat counter if you felt the need to take something away.
I found the Viking Beach (which is one of seven in Broadstairs) an invigorating place to be in the autumn. When the tide is out you can walk for miles and make it round to Botany Bay but be careful as it comes in quickly so always ask a local for advice. It’s perfect for kids to run about and explore the rock pools or in the winter months take the dog for a stroll. It is so quintessentially British as you look up and see the Georgian and Victorian houses and shelters perched on the cliff it’s not hard to imagine why it was (and still is) so popular.
Albarño is a tapas bar and restaurant that is so good it requires booking at the weekends whatever time of year it is and is packed any day of the week in the summer months. It’s small with only 22 covers including space at the bar maybe 25 at a push. On the wet and windy night I visited it started to fill up early on when most other restaurants were empty. Harden’s guide is a fan as are the people at Michelin and not forgetting the 2016 Good Food Guide published by Waitrose who’s main concern is where you eat when you’re not cooking their food.
This tiny place has been making waves in the outpost of Broadstairs for good reason. The food is bursting with flavour the smoked haddock croquettes with horseradish aioli were crisp and fresh. The truffled goat’s curd with honey and sultanas was supreme, really moreish. The lamb and pork meatballs had a spicy punch. There’s a great wine and sherry list as well my Alta Vega 2010 was £27 – good value and a brilliant wine.
Alison the waitress was checking everybody was happy with the kitchen’s efforts while politely trying not to crow too much about the recent rugby world cup. She’s South African with just a hint of her accent after 16 years she still has a loyalty to the motherland. This is a smooth well-run machine that chef Stephen Dray has under control. He knows what people want and delivers. No dish was above £8 all were fantastic. I implore you to visit, as this place is exceptional even more so when learn that Stephen is British.
The ox cheek, black beans and turnip was a perfect balance of flavours with the turnip cutting through the sweet ox cheek and capers and dried ham bringing up the rear. Another staple of tapas is the tortilla – here is no exception, moist not greasy and filling. Beware of this menu though as you will want to order a lot, take it easy as you get full quickly!
Broadstairs is a classic British seaside resort that hasn’t changed much over the years. This is due in some part to its geography, you would be hard pushed to change the roads in the town they are small, narrow and charming. No new shopping centres here. The beach is perfect for a bucket and spade day as well as a good walk. The food (once only fish and chip shops and sea food stalls) has raised the bar to such a level that I think Broadstairs can now be known as a foodie destination in its own right. Go out of season and the place is yours (well nearly I might be there too) it’s relaxing and invigorating in equal measure. Let’s keep this to ourselves, as it’s one of Kent’s great secrets?