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Where to eat in Whitstable, Kent

First-rate seafood is a given, but on the Kent coast you’ll find Michelin stars and craft beer too. Whitstable's ready supply of oysters once sated the appetites of the Roman Empire, and it continues to innovate today with modern bistros and bars.

Published 2 Aug 2020, 08:00 BST
Wheelers Oyster Bar has been serving up seafood in Whitstable since 1856.

Wheelers Oyster Bar has been serving up seafood in Whitstable since 1856.

Photograph by Alamy

The charismatic Kent coastline is changing fast, with the seaside towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Folkestone all welcoming smart new bars, cafes and restaurants. Yet first to the party was Whitstable, whose ready supply of oysters once sated the appetites of the Roman Empire — and continues to be enjoyed by visitors, generations of whom have flocked here from London and beyond for their shellfish fix. In recent years, innovative chefs, artisans and entrepreneurs have all made their mark, bringing fresh ideas to the table. 

A pivotal moment was the 1999 opening of The Sportsman just outside town. With a focus on local ingredients, chef Stephen Harris has turned this former hunting lodge into a lauded restaurant, which — having held a Michelin star since 2008 — put Whitstable on the culinary map. Book ahead for the chance to try Harris’s tasting menus, which are shaped by what’s grown on the doorstep and might include marsh-reared lamb, native oysters, slip sole, seaweed butter and homemade salt, as well as local game.

Monte Enebro, tropea onion and radicchio at Samphire.

Photograph by Karuna Clayton

Back in town, foraged food and traditional techniques — smoking, preserving and fermentation — are all on the menu at Samphire, which founder George Begg describes as a “modern Kentish bistro”. St John-trained chef Billy Stock and his team offer brunch staples such as kedgeree and house-smoked salmon, daily specials and a fish pie, while the wine list charts Kent’s oenological coming of age with sparkling whites from Gusbourne and pét-nats (naturally sparkling wines) from Westwell. 

Whitstable's ready supply of oysters once sated the appetites of the Roman Empire — and the town continues to be enjoyed by visitors today. 

Photograph by Alamy

A short hop away you’ll find Grain & Hearth bakery. Since launching last year, Adam and Carmen Pagor have become local favourites for their naturally leavened sourdough. The bakery does a fine line in pastries, sandwiches and toasties and hosts patisserie workshops, but it’s the heritage-grain loaves and baguettes that really draw the crowds. Combine with a pungent takeaway from nearby The Cheese Box for a first-rate beach picnic.

Of course, Whitstable’s stock in trade is oysters. The pretty working harbour is lined with shellfish vendors and the summer oyster festival brings thousands to the Kent coast. An enduring presence is the pastel pink-fronted Wheelers Oyster Bar, which has been serving up seafood since 1856. It’s unlicensed, so pick up a bottle from The Offy, opposite, before claiming a sought-after seat in the pint-sized oyster parlour and choosing from a menu whose highlights include lobster lasagne and melt-in-the-mouth crab and prawn tarts alongside, of course, oysters. The larger, cultivated rock oysters are available year-round, while Whitstable’s minerally, briny natives are in season during any month with an ‘r’ in its name.

Another traditional seaside staple comes wrapped in paper down the road at VC Jones. No doubt attracted by the smell of Kentish potatoes fried in beef dripping, there’s often a queue at this family-owned chippie, which continues to serve time-honoured favourites — including cod, plaice, haddock and battered sausage. Time it right and take your catch to the beach as the sun sets over the Isle of Sheppey.

How to do it

Trains run from London St Pancras and London Victoria to Whitstable. The Front Rooms, a charming B&B close to the coast, has doubles from £120 a night, including breakfast. 

Published in Issue 9 (summer 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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