21 The Parade, Margate
Block Brexit’ reads a sign in a window, halfway up Arlington House, the brutally beguiling tower block that glowers over Margate Sands. A couple of floors down, two European flags add their gold-starred support. But on ground level, it’s a whole different story. ‘Leave Means Leave’ cries an indignant bumper sticker. ‘Stop The Brexit Betrayal’ growls another.
Angela’s of Margate, a small, unassuming seafood restaurant that seats 16 at the front and another ten behind the spartan open kitchen
Welcome, then, to Margate, a place where the hip meets the hip replacement, an old-fashioned, slightly shabby working-class seaside resort, increasingly colonised by tribes of liberal-leaning Londoners in search of cheapish property and a slug of sea air. It’s the last gasp of winter, the sky a mortuary-slab grey, and the bingo halls are shuttered, the arcades bereft of beeps. But there’s life in The Mechanical Elephant (the local Wetherspoons) and in the vintage shops of the Old Town. And life too, in Angela’s of Margate, a small, unassuming seafood restaurant that seats 16 at the front and another ten behind the spartan open kitchen. There’s a purity and simplicity about the place, owned by Lee Coad and his partner Charlotte Forsdike, not just the bare walls, water served in old milk bottles and tables made from recycled plastic bags, but the menu too, scrawled on blackboards, a paean to locally caught, entirely sustainable fish.
That purity, though, never becomes puritanical, and those ecological credentials are never forced down your maw. This is a place to eat, drink and be merry.
Zeren brings his own wine, a rather startling Californian white that shows how subtle oak can be and we eat a silken, mildly salted gurnard brandade. And a dozen Whitstable natives, luscious, subtle and discreet. Along with another dozen Whitstable rocks, bigger, bolder, more packed with cool muscular brine. Whole prawns, the old-fashioned pink ones, wear a kippery smoke, but not so much as to overwhelm the innate sweetness of this modest crustacean. We devour them whole, head and all. Pickled herring is a little less exciting, perfectly firm and fresh, yet it lacks vinegary bite. It offers a stroke when I want a smack. No place for good manners here.
Yet this is a lunch that starts strong and grows stronger still. Head chef Rob Cooper sure knows his way around a fish. Potatoes too, Harrison oven-roasted Great Gatsby potatoes, as good as you’d find at home. A plump wodge of hake is gloriously fresh and gloriously cooked, sitting in a shellfish bisque that manages to be both delicate and intense, with a nudge of Spanish and a good ooof of French. There’s a whole scallop in there, and a fistful of mussels, a plateful of gleeful piscine abundance. It could be the poster boy for a united Europe, although unlike Brexit, there’s swift resolution. The whole dish is dispatched within moments.
Then there’s the Dover sole. A mighty fish, elevated here to almighty status. Perhaps the best I’ve ever eaten, the texture firm, with a whisper of bounce, the flavour the very essence of marine vim. It comes with a salsa verde, but there’s no need for any embellishment. We pick the flesh off the bones. Coad later tells us they rest the fish for 15 minutes after cooking, as it were a piece of beef. Whatever they do, it’s magic. Fresh, locally caught fish, treated with reverence and adoration. .
They don’t serve espresso, so we wander round the corner to Bottega Caruso, an Italian trattoria that also sells the most incredible bottled tomatoes, picked on the slopes of Vesuvius. And wander back, past Dreamland, the rides in deepest hibernation. Our train, of course, is delayed. But for once, the vagaries of an ever fraying transport system disappear into a merry, well fed fog.
About £30 per head