Reviewed by George Shaw
Having been a regular visitor to Thanet, since before I can remember, I feel somewhat smug – even by my own standards – now that this far south eastern corner on Kent is becoming achingly trendy among London’s art and foodie sets.
Originally it was the golden sandy beaches that populate this coast, and Margate’s famous fairground, with its addictive aromas of candy floss and deep fried donuts, which were the luring attraction then.
Later, in my strolling midfield days, Margate and Ramsgate became the Easter football tour destination of choice, because of their cheap hotels, sleazy pubs and glitzy nightclubs.Now, with children of my own who love the rock pools, sea caves and tacky amusement arcades, I have turned full circle.
One thing that is very different to the Thanet seaside resorts I knew and loved in the 1960s, is the extensive selection of first choice restaurants. The best, located where the “Garden of England” meets the sea, exploit the abundant quality meats, game, fish and seafood, to great effect.
One venue, popular with a curiously diverse and disparate clientele is The Minnis Bar & Restaurant, led by talented chef patron Jason Freedman.
The Minnis is open all day – every day, including Christmas. But don’t be fooled, this is not your typical ’all day’ eatery. Admittedly, bar food, light snacks afternoon teas are available. You can also go retro with beach picnics, or whelks and jellied eels from its very own seafood kiosk. However, The Minnis’s fine dining compares favourably alongside the area’s best in Kent, and it is this that attracted me to the former seaside café.
The restaurant is located on the 32-mile long the Viking Coastal Trail, overlooking the sandy beach of Minnis Bay. Incidentally, Thanet holds more Blue Flag awards for its clean beaches than Devon and Cornwall combined. It also has far better weather.
Not only does The Minnis have a coastal view renowned for its spectacular sunsets looking across the ruins of the Roman fort at Reculver, the menu reflects the cuisine introduced by those Latin invaders of 2,000 years ago. The kitchen employs their very same techniques for curing, drying, smoking and pickling to reproduce the unique flavours that such ancient culinary crafts bring to the table. These skills are now used to produce their own Salt Beef, Corned Beef with Dripping, Smoked Pancetta, Home Cured Streaky Bacon, Sweet Cured Air Dried Pork Loin, Smoked Pastrami and Salami.
Extending the Roman theme, Jason has also opened a new tapas restaurant, ‘A Taste of the Med’ on his first floor, which was previously reserved for exclusive private dining.
But we ate downstairs in the original restaurant.
I started with the home cured Loch Dart salmon and a house smoked haddock, whilst my present wife enjoyed the Parmesan and cream omelette. The salmon was very good, with a delicately smokiness which is only achieved if you are in control of the whole process – nothing was too overpowering. They omelette was also a treat – light and fluffy but rich with a dash of cream and again this controlled smokiness of the haddock that has a long flavour. Both were excellent.
The mains were equally rewarding. I opted for the wild venison with peppered local greens. Succulent, slow cooked chunks of meat with a rich peppery sauce. The greens had a real kick to them too, with a creamy butternut squash to temper the fire. This whole ensemble balance perfectly: hearty, satisfying and very moreish. Missus chose the slow cooked shoulder of Kentish lamb with boulangere potatoes. This was fine, but preferred my choice.
For pud, the Minnis Platter, was the standout selection of the day’s desserts. It is comprised five little treats. The salted caramel and Kentish toffee apple cheesecake was somewhat devoid of the toffee apple but was scrumptious, nonetheless. A superlative chocolate ale cake with Muscovado and malt cream was matched by a mango and passion fruit fool. Among the ice creams and sorbets, the strawberry was declared the unanimous winner.
The Kentish cheese board made for a fitting finale. Three cheeses; Kentish Blue, Kentish Cobble and Ashmore, were in prime condition and had been allowed to come up to room temperature, to reveal their complex and subtle flavours.
With innovative and interesting cooking of this quality, I expect to be making the trip down the A2 for some time to come.
Dinner of 4 courses, for two with wine and service c£80.
The Minnis Bar & Restaurant
The Parade, Birchington, Kent CT7 9QP