The arrival of The Turner Gallery and the revival of Dreamland, a vintage-style theme park, have helped put the seaside town of Margate, in the far southeast of England, back on the tourist map. So, too, have a fresh new crop of boutique b&bs, cafes and restaurants, their owners and customers drawn to the area’s sandy beaches and beautifully faded (for now, at least) Georgian architecture.
The Turner Contemporary gallery
Most visitors to Margate make their way to the Turner Contemporary gallery. After a browse through its latest exhibition, enjoy afternoon tea in the on-site cafe – either inside or, on a good day, out on the terrace where tables have harbour views. The cafe is also a good breakfast venue.
Try the Turner Hash – Kentish sausage with chorizo, bacon, a fried egg and a splash of Worcestershire sauce on top of potato. Or wait until lunchtime and go for a buffalo mozzarella, blood orange and chicory salad with tapenade toasts. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the café also stays open for dinner: three courses are a reasonable £19.95. turnercontemporary.org
The Reading Rooms
One of the first boutique-style b&bs to open on the North Kent Coast, and one which has made great use of the fine Georgian buildings that dominate this area, The Reading Rooms has been open for seven years now but is still the place to stay in town.
In Hawley Square, just back from the old town but within strolling distance of all the main attractions (and The Ambrette, the town’s famous fine-dining Indian restaurant) its three bedrooms pair ‘rough luxe’ styling (think fabulous beds and designer bathroom fittings but artfully distressed walls) with gloriously high ceilings and beautiful wooden floors. Breakfasts are equally special, ranging from a full English to ciabatta and bacon sandwiches or slices of toast spread with cream cheese, honey and cinnamon. And don’t miss the gourmet hot chocolate. thereadingroomsmargate.co.uk
The Greedy Cow
For a seriously good sourdough toastie make a beeline to The Greedy Cow. Available from noon onwards (only breakfasts are served in the mornings), we like the chorizo version, laced with fresh orange. Or go for a Gents Burger, made with black pudding, sausage, bacon, cheddar, chutney and beetroot and served with fennel coleslaw. Eat in the upstairs café or ask for your order to go. If you prefer pizza, head around the corner instead, to GB PIzza, for out-standing wood-fired pizzas. thegreedycow.com; greatbritishpizza.com
Hantverk & Found
A tiny eating spot with an even curiouser name Hantverk & Found is set within a gallery of the same name. Lovers of seafood, as well as art, will appreciate that this is a great option for lunch or dinner, with razor clams, squid and Rye Bay scallops often making it onto their prix fixe menus.
Be sure to try the clams in dashi miso if it’s one of the options when you visit. Veggie dishes – such as purple sprouting broccoli with truffle-poached egg – are good too, and with a head chef who used to work at Moro, make sure you book ahead. hantverk-found.co.uk
Read our full review of Hantverk & Found here
Venture out of the old town towards Cliff Terrace (opposite the old Lido) and you’ll find a row of unexpected cool shops and cafes. Among them is Roost, a rotisserie chicken shop with a funky urban feel. Order an on-trend bone broth shot or play it safe with a quarter of a roast chicken marinated in a special rub from Brogdale Butchers in nearby Faversham, plus a side dish (try the Asian style slaw with coriander and mint) and your choice of sauce (barbecue, aioli…).
Once you’ve finished, browse the other shops and galleries along the street, including art shop, Plinth, and stylish fragrance store, Haeckels (which also sells a delicious seaweed tea made from locally foraged seaweed and sold in gorgeous glass jars). roostrestaurant.com
Also on Cliff Terrace is Fort Café. A great place for a ‘proper’ welsh rarebit (albeit on local sourdough) or a smoked mackerel bubble and squeak, it has an authentic seaside cafe feel to it with original leather banquette seats and ‘70s-style Formica tables but attracts a trendy crowd. fortscafe.co.uk
No trip to the coast is complete without an ice cream. And in Margate the freshly churned gelato from Melt competes with Morelli’s at Dreamland as the best in town. Flavours range from peaches and cream to rhubarb and custard, peanut butter jelly and Turkish delight but they change all the time so no two days’ offering is the same. Find their parlour under the Sands Hotel, right on the seafront. meltgelato.com
The Two Halves
Craft beer bars continue to open up in Margate and The Two Halves is the newest. With its prime spot on the seafront it’s often busy and might take some time to make your way to the bar here but it’s a great place to try locals brews from breweries such as Canterbury Ales, Gadds and Shepherd Neame. @TheTwoHalvesAle
The Old Kent Market
The Old Kent Market is a newly opened food emporium just across the road from the Turner Contemporary (you can’t miss it – it’s painted bright red). Inside you’re greeted by a full-size red bus that’s home to a cafe but don’t jump on the first foodie offering you see. Venture further inside and you’ll find stalls selling freshly made sushi, pulled pork and takeaway pies plus local breads baked daily on site and locally grown fruit and veg. theoldkentmarket.com
Along the harbour arm, beside a row of galleries and bars (The Lighthouse Bar is among them and another prime spot to grab a glass of wine looking out to sea), Be Beached is a casual place but everything is sourced locally and the menu is particularly good for veggies with dishes such as cauliflower gratin with sun-dried tomatoes, leek and Kentish cheese crumble or a winning mac n’’ cheese with sundried tomatoes. bebeached.co.uk
And one to catch while you can…
Opening beside Dreamland this month, and staying in town for the summer, will be Conor Sheehan and Jackson Berg’s moveable restaurant Xiringuito. Expect British dishes with an international influence (curried soft shell crab burger anyone?), a snappy wine list, quality cocktails, and an ice cream menu. xiringuito.co.uk
Words and pictures by Leanne Bracey, June 2016
Extend your trip to Kent by visiting some of the best Kent restaurants in the area…