The Gannet has fond memories of travelling by train through Kent for lunch, but most of them concern meals in Paris and Brussels. With the exception of The West House, Graham Garrett’s lovely restaurant-with-rooms in the picture-postcard village of Biddenden, and Stephen Harris’s much-lauded The Sportsman, in Seasalter, which he disarmingly describes as a “grotty rundown pub by the sea”, the Garden of England has never been high on my list of gastronomic destinations.
Until my recent trip to Margate, that is. Behind the town’s endearingly scruffy seafront is the Old Town, an absorbing warren of bookshops, cafés, galleries and restaurants that has led to Margate being dubbed Shoreditch-on-Sea. It is also home to Angela’s, one of the finest places to eat fish in Kent. Or in Britain, for that matter.
It is a small restaurant with a deep dedication to sustainability, not just for its locally caught, MSC-certified fish, but for every aspect of the business: the marbled tables, for example, are made from recycled plastic bags, while any food waste is composted and used to grow vegetables.
If this sounds a bit hipster-preachy, it isn’t: the welcome is warm and genuine, and the menu is full of joy. My Dover sole was the star: using a powerful Harrison charcoal oven (made in nearby Ramsgate), chef Rob Cooper treats a fish like a steak, roasting it until nearly cooked, then resting it for 15 minutes or so.
There is no need for impatience, however. Start with a few Whitstable oysters, then maybe some sparklingly fresh crab on toast and a fistful of smoked pink prawns, then perhaps a bowl of hake with shellfish bisque: fish, scallops and mussels nestled in a profoundly flavoursome, rust‑coloured soup.
By now, that sole will be perfectly rested, its sublime, sweet flesh no longer clinging to the bone. Anointed with hollandaise and a dab of salsa verde (or “green sauce”, as the chalkboard menu patriotically describes it), it was as fine a mouthful of fish as I have eaten.
A short walk through the Old Town leads you to Bottega Caruso, whose owners are equally proud of their ingredients’ provenance: the difference is that many of them hail from Campania, personally imported by Caruso’s owners, including the crimson jars of superb San Marzano tomatoes that fill the shelves, handmade cheeses and sensational cured meats.
Draw up a chair in the distinctly homely dining room and feast on squid with chickpeas and squash, or pappardelle alla genovese, featuring a slow-cooked ragù made with beef shin, pork belly, herbs and white wine, then take away a few choice morsels (and a bottle of wine) for dinner. As both Caruso and Angela’s amply demonstrate, Margate has great soul, as well as great sole.