So you’ve heard of supperclubs and a pop-ups, but how about a moveable restaurant? Ever been to one of those? No, us neither, until Margate’s Xiringuito (pronounced ‘chi-rin-gito’ and so called after Catalonia’s seasonal beach bars), opened this June.
It’s a surreal sight, set-back a minute’s walk from the Kentish seafront in an abandoned car park in the shadow of Dreamland, Margate’s recently reopened pleasure park. Xiringuito is a next-level marquée, designed by award-winning architect Asif Khan with a mobile kitchen inside. There’s no Banksy having a laugh in the background, in some kind of warped Dismaland mark II, this is a serious restaurant by serious talent, designed to migrate with the seasons.
Liverpudlian school friends Conor Sheehan and chef Jackson Berg have been working their way round the London food and drink scene for the past five years. Between them, they’ve worked at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, St. John Bread & Wine, the Soho House group, Quality Chop House, Hoi Polloi and most recently Bistrotheque, where Jackson was head chef, before deciding to go it alone this summer.
Inside the giant tent, with its stark chipboard flooring and scaffolding inside the canvas, colourful chairs surround white, clothless tables. There’s a bar, an ice-cream hatch to the outside, and, in better weather, tables spilling out onto the steaming tarmac.
The menus, which change daily, are equally eccentric and colourful, with specially commissioned artwork by illustrator John Booth, inspired by the Turner Contemporary, which standing out on the Margate skyline, reflecting light from the golden sands and lapping water below.
Homemade potato crisps come out first – a familiar beachside, salty crunch and an ideal vehicle for scooping up a lightly whipped Isle of Avalon cheese and mounds of sauerkraut. That and a Campari spritz, with a juicy green olive bobbing amongst the ice, gave just cause for the giant seagulls to linger nearby, eyeballing for our scraps.
A starter of chicken liver parfait – creamy, deeply savoury and grown-up, sandwiched between a donut and served with pickled endive and red cabbage – suddenly felt playful. Indeed the whole vibe of Xiringuito makes sense for its setting: it’s familiar and seasidey but also contemporary. Skate wing for main, naturally pulled apart thanks to the gentlest of cooking, while ’nduja butter, nest of salty samphire, breadcrumbs and a wedge of lemon dialled everything up to 11.
A side of heritage tomatoes topped with sour cream, pomegranate molasses, dill and yet more crumbs were nearly as fought over as the accompanying bowl of chips, aïoli and seaweed powder. Bold flavours and textures are what make simple cookery work – and Jackson delivers in buckets (and spades) here.
Like carby punctuation marks, the dinner finished with another donut, this time stuffed with a peanut-butter ice-cream, that tasted as naughty as if I’d dunked my finger straight into a pot of smooth, with freeze-dried strawberries and a biscuit crumb as delicate and golden as the sand a few hundred yards away. Cracking work by pastry chef Julia Howe – it’s trendy, but it delivers.
Here is exceptional cooking, in an underrated corner of the country, with a seriously good-value set lunch menu at as little as £15 for three courses. Manchester or Bristol are rumoured to be the next stop for this restaurant when its time in Margate comes to a close in September. Watch this space.
Written by Laura Rowe, July 2016
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