When I visited the (very good) independent restaurant Pint Shop in Cambridge a few months back, I wished ruefully that there were something like it near me. I've just seen from an industry publication that the folks behind it have plans to roll it out (as those folk say) into a mini chain in other affluent towns and cities. Smart move.
I often swap tales of this kind of woe with my friend who lives in Broadstairs, one of Kent's seaside towns that have lots of property for not too much money and lovely beaches. City evacuees are on to its appeal but though the money's arriving, the middle-class infrastructure of delis and restaurants is a little slower.
So praise be for Wyatt & Jones, she says, a smart but unshowy all-day restaurant tucked away on a side street near Viking Bay's lovely curved beach. York Gate, built in 1540, reaches across the narrow street and W&J has three fronts staggered down the hill. Its uncluttered interior won't win any prizes for innovation but in a town of dreary chains and Kingsmill'n'marg tea shops, it's a breath of fresh air.
Mr Wyatt is in evidence when we arrive, wrangling a party of 25 walkers who've come over from Margate for a slap-up lunch – the hill setting requires three levels, but it's all one long room, with vistas of the sea for almost all. (Ms Jones comes by later to return my phone from the stockroom where they kindly revived it after a long, socketless train journey.)
They've been open for 15 months and the menu and staff have the look of knowing what works. That's not to say W&J does standard issue. At lunch, starters include ox tongue with pickles, and lamb shoulder on apple sourdough toast. The three-course set lunch at £18 is a steal and there's enough variety here (and plenty of swish veggie dishes) to make repeated visits fun.
Provenance, of course, is a feature. The family business boasts of using Kentish beers, wines and juices and only local fishermen and butchers. The "for two" baked Tunworth cheese with salad and apricot chutney is a very fine starter, and we add a half pint of hefty prawns with a punchy home-made garlic mayo. The brown bread and butter that comes with is also home made, and door-stop size.
The soft cheese is absolutely on the money in ripeness and moltenness (is that a word? It should be). The chutney (which I almost always cast aside) is a genuine embellishment – it adds a grace note of sweetness to the tangy cheese.
My seaside chum has lamb shoulder – not the one on toast, this one comes with chips, grilled tomatoes and an anchovy and caper dressing. The chips are of the chunky variety and – sodium police look away now – encrusted with flakes of Maldon salt. The lamb is no trembling half-measure, it's almost muttony and while the sauce is scant, it is packed with those complementary deeply savoury flavours. Sadly, my choice of salt cod fishcake with cauliflower purée, broad beans and a poached egg is a bit of a dud. It's as if the fish has been mugged by a bullying gang of potatoes, only a few flecks seem to be visible. It's all oddly underseasoned too. It's not an unpleasantness, just filler, really.
A Whitstable coffee and caramel tart with vanilla ice-cream looks like the sexiest thing with surf in the background since Daniel Craig as Bond walked out of the sea, but it suffers from something he doesn't, a flabby bottom. Chum says the starter of crab tart she had on another occasion had a perfect crisp, thin pastry base so they can do it. Off day, perhaps?
I'm more than happy to forgive. Almost everything's been good and the vibes are so positive it's a surprise not to see genuine hallowed light from behind a stained-glass panel. A note about useful details. Breakfast, which features joys such as kippers with mustard butter, the "Wyatt full English" and the "Jones half English", looks fab. Ditto Sunday roasts. For children, there are scaled-down grown-up dishes, so much more imaginative than pasta pesto or fish fingers.
And finally, if you don't want something from an all-Kent beer list, the most expensive wine on a good, balanced list is £40. Keenly priced and hugely welcoming, W&J deserves to stick around. Now, who's going to do something like this in my corner of London, please?
Wyatt & Jones, 23-27 Harbour Street, Broadstairs, Kent. Tel: 01843 865126. Price £64 for two with soft drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
This delicious Italian restaurant allowed me into the kitchen to cook in aid of Action Against Hunger. I already respected chefs, but wow, hard work!
Spicy sausage soft enough to eat with a spoon – at the above they wrap a potato-enriched dough around and fry. Pillows of joy as a result.
Clever wine and food entrepreneur Zeren Wilson today hosts the first of a series of events to make us fall back in love with Turkish food. I'm in…
A third branch of the Bombay-inspired cafés opens in London's King's Cross. The bacon naan is worth a detour for but please, Kensington next, guys.Reuse content