An unexpected thing happened to me in Margate when I visited Dreamland last December, the wonderfully restored amusement park on the seafront. I met secret-squirrel Guardian food journalist Marina O’Loughlin. No-one is meant to know what she looks like, as she keeps her identity top secret. I was chatting to my friend S, and a lady wandered over with her pal. S introduced me, and I did a double-take, probably with my mouth slightly open. I asked her an inane question about toasted sandwiches. I’m sure she probably didn’t want her cover blown, especially not to a food blogger! But she was very nice. I have been a fan of her writing for ages. Her reviews are really rude and very, very funny. And there she was standing in front of me, looking quite like Nancy Dell’Olio. Er, actually, no that’s bullshit! She’s Scottish though. That’s all I’m saying.
Anyway, Margate is quite the place to be these days. A large dose of grit, a dash of stately grandeur – it has everything that I love. Fairground rides and arcades. A huge golden sweep of a beach. Bric-a-brac shops galore. The Shell Grotto. Cosy pubs. The Turner Contemporary gallery. A good handful of hipsters have made themselves a home here too, and there are quite a number of boutiques selling things like hand-foraged perfumes and expensive pebbles. Still, it all blends together quite nicely – you can have your fish n chips, a stroll on the beach and then go and stroke some Scandi tea towels, costing £3000, then go for a pint.
Here’s a handful of places that I’d recommend you go and fill your face and quench your thirst in…
Dining out at Hantverk & Found is not unlike having supper inside a very small thimble. This must be one of the titchiest restaurants I have ever crept into! Our downstairs table was so close to our neighbours’ that I could have lazily stretched my hand out and helped myself to their wine. The lack of space was only really ever a problem when the aforementioned couple started to have quite a boozy argument and you could HEAR EVERY WORD. Yikes. Something to do with a sister’s dreadful and abusive behaviour at a wedding. Oops.
Anyway, the food here is to die for. I’m not exaggerating. It is the tastiest, freshest seafood served paired with the most kick-ass gutsy flavours. Chorizo! Chilli! Smoke! And so on. Every mouthful was a flavour bomb. And I don’t even usually like things like chowder, but the one I ate here made me get emotional, it was that good.
Word of advice – the menu is chalked onto the upstairs wall, so take a photo of it if you’re seated in the thimble’s downstairs level, to peruse at leisure. You don’t want to make the blonde lady at the back angry by walking past her table more than once…
The downstairs thimble area, where my husband is sporting a fetching pair of living ear muffs:
Crab served with fiery chorizo sausage and toasted sourdough bread. Amazing, just amazing:
Juicy prawns that had been smoked, served with a fiery harrissa dip and coriander. I could eat this every day of my life:
Buttery lemon sole with potatoes and brown shrimp. The fish had a melting texture with a yummy caramelised buttery-ness:
This chowder – super-fresh mussels cooked with winter veg in a light creamy broth and dotted with small chunks of smoky haddock. Just divine. Salty, sweet and warming.
Affogato made with milk ice cream and espresso. As good as it looks:
Brownie with milk ice cream. Not oversweet, a bit ‘milk chocolate’ for my dark-choc-obsessed palate, but very delicious nonetheless:
Snug, tiny pub serving a heady selection of local ales, perries, ciders and wine. Very informal – dogs loll in the corners and people chat and read the paper. You choose your tipple and the bar staff go and get it from a selection of taps and nozzles in the back. I tried a cider that was flavoured with toffee (I usually think things like this sound disgusting, but the barwoman hypnotised me) and we watched the world go by from the window. The food sounds great – hearty, unfussy grub such as local smoked mackerel, cheeses and steamed puddings. I notice the pub has won a lot of awards, and I’m not surprised. I’m amazed at how few pubs keep it simple – this place shows you what more pubs should be aiming for.
Looking a tad chintzy from the outside, the Riz’s interior has a sort of nightclub feel, with horrific and amusing ceiling lights that change colour while you eat. The colour scheme is like a 1980’s yacht interior, or the set of Dynasty. This is how every curry house should look – I love the drama of it! The owner is utterly charismatic – he sweeps grandly around the room wearing a beautiful turban, eyeing you like a hawk, interrogating about your menu choices in a gruff voice. When I asked him for a card for the restaurant (I collect them), he answered crossly: “I am not a posh man!” before thrusting a takeaway menu at me. The food is amazing – there is some very serious cooking going on here. The menu is Sri Lankan, and although it bears a lot of similarities to Indian cookery, there is a whole world of dishes that I have yet to get my head around.
‘Chicken 65’ – a spicy pepper-crusted chicken, juicy and delicious. It’s apparently known as the 65th item in many street restaurants in Tamil Nadu:
Centre left: Kothu special Idiappam – vegetables scrambled with eggs and cooked with string hoppers, which are like vermicelli noodles. Left: Ceylon chicken curry, which BLEW my mind – one of the most aromatic and flavoursome curries of my life. I wanted to lick the bowl, but had to make do scooping up the sauce with some Sri Lankan Veechu Kodumai Roti bread:
Dosa pancake: crisp and comforting with a soft filling of spicy potato, with zingy chutneys on the side:
I have forgotten what this dish was – but we definitely enjoyed it. There were some cheeky rice idli dumplings poking out amid a tumble of spicy veg:
Even though I was about to explode after all that food, I couldn’t resist a Gulub Jamun – a reduced milk dumpling fried in brown sugar and soaked in sugar syrup. Take THAT, diabetes:
The Margate weekend away was for my husband’s birthday treat, so I splurged on a two-night-stay at The Reading Rooms (note: WITHOUT our children, yeeeaah!), which is a very beautiful bed and breakfast in a converted Georgian townhouse. The breakfasts are particularly noteworthy. The best thing is that you have breakfast brought to your room, so you won’t have to endure any awkward hungover conversations with strangers at the breakfast table. Liam and Louise who own the B&B pay mega attention to detail, so your breakfast is basically going to be perfect. We actually amused ourselves trying to find one single thing that might be slightly off kilter. Nope, not one single thing was done half arsed, it was all delicious!
Tea and florentines on arrival – so thoughtful and yummy!
Breakfast day 1 – it NEVER happens like this at our house!
Breakfast day 2:
After service like this, you never ever want to go home. I might have to sell my kidney so that we can return! Ha.
We ran out of time, but next time I come to Margate I want to go here – The Mad Hatter opens one day a week, the owner is always dressed in theatrical costume and he has built some kind of shrine to Lady Diana and other royals in his tearoom…
If you’re hungry at Dreamland amusement park, you can get calorific dude food at various stalls – pizza, pulled pork, burgers, Thai curries and so on. But all I wanted was a toasted cheese sandwich. I’d lasted all of 4-and-a-half minutes in the queue for the rollercoaster before having a panic attack (I hate all fair rides that leave the ground, but was challenging myself to go on just ONE ride that wasn’t a Dodgem) then I had to make a hasty exit. What a dick! To calm myself down again, all I wanted was molten cheese. There was no name on the toastie van, and enormous wheels of Cheddar blocked the view. The man making the sandwiches hardly spoke a word of English, but he understood my need for hot carbs and delivered the most beautiful toastie into my shaking hands. The cheese was so strong it made my mouth ache. Raaaarrrrr!
I can’t resist showing you my other photos of Dreamland, the place is so magical. It’s so exciting to see rides and arcade games from the 1950’s and beyond, all restored and working beautifully.
Roller disco that plays groovy tunes such as Elvis!
YES! A whole alley of lovingly-restored pinball machines. Heaven.
I was so excited to find a Rolling Stones one!
Look at Cher!
Finally, a few other Margate pix – a miscellaneous bunch of sights that caught my eye:
I was sorely tempted by this: