You’ve heard of Margate. Everybody’s heard of Margate.
But what about its quieter, quainter neighbour, Deal? Just a few miles along the spectacular Kentish coastline, this little seaside town is giving Margs a run for its money as the new staycation for London’s movers and shakers.
Just like Margate, the town has changed in recent years as visitors flock to its antiques shops, independent boutiques and a new breed of fancy restaurants. What used to be down-at-heel now feels rather swish and there’s plenty to do on a weekend break. Plus, it’s only 80 minutes by train from St Pancras.
For somewhere to stay, book yourself into The Rose, a newly refurbished pub/boutique hotel on the high street. Owners Alex Bagner and Christopher Hicks have overhauled this former dodgy boozer into a chic, highly Instagrammable bolthole. The bedrooms are decorated in bright hues and have an eclectic mix of Victorian and mid-century furniture, while vintage bathroom suites with organic toiletries are perfect for a relaxing getaway.
Downstairs, the restaurant is winning plaudits for its food. The veggie-friendly menu majors on local ingredients and nice touches are made in-house: a standout dish was hake served win creamy dhal, as well as smoked duck with chicory. Cocktails, including some made with locally-foraged ingredients, are chalked up on a board behind the bar daily.
To start the day you can choose from a simple menu featuring dishes such as a Scandi breakfast plate with smoked salmon and pickles, roasted mushrooms on toast, and a hearty bacon bap, all washed down with Climpson & Sons coffee. Breakfast is included in the room rate but is also available a la carte to non-guests.
Saturday mornings in Deal are a lively affair: the weekly farmers’ market has so far managed to avoid total gentrification and is a pleasing mix of bric-à-brac and stalls selling handmade pasta. Spend some time browsing in Mileage for antique homewares, or head to Smuggler’s Records, an independent record label that became a shop, for vinyls.
Elsewhere, Dunlin & Diver focuses on clothing, gifts and homeware made by local artisans, while Hoxton Store and Will & Yates stock beautiful art and interiors pieces.
Deal also has a number of independent art galleries including Don’t Walk Walk, which has a more punk aesthetic. And despite the town having no cinema, the new Kent Museum of the Moving Image is also worth a visit, if only to ogle the original poster art.
There is no shortage of places to grab the makings of a picnic for lunch: French deli No Name Shop or Filberts Foods sell all manner of delicious local products to fuel you for an afternoon’s walk along the seafront. The cheese fridge at Filberts is the stuff of dreams.
Deal’s pier, an impressively brash concrete structure, is set to get a new occupier in 2019 in the shape of a revamped cafe. For now it remains a good spot to begin a stroll along the coast. If you head south, past Deal Castle, you’ll come to Hut 55, a glorified shack on the footpath serving delicious cakes, pastries, enormous scotch eggs and coffee. It shares its space with Mike’s Bikes – the man himself will hire you two wheels for the afternoon if you fancy seeing the area at a faster pace.
Like many seaside resorts, Deal is packed on a sunny day, but during the winter it has to fight to attract visitors. Local restaurant Frog and Scot has just started offering a £10 ‘dish of the day’ deal – glass of wine or beer included – to attract regulars through its doors. This bustling establishment is run by Benoit Dezecot and his partner Sarah Ross – the eponymous Frog and Scot. They opened two years ago and business is brisk, with tables squeezed into the cosy bistro and a constant flurry of new customers. Chef David Gadd, who spent six years at Michelin-starred Whitstable eatery The Sportsman, heads up the kitchen. The food is unpretentious but delicious: gorgeous plump scallops with boudin noir, and cod with a silky crab bisque both nodding to Deal’s maritime location.
Dezecot and Ross also own Le Pinardier, a gorgeous wine bar a few doors down which often has live music at the weekend.
It would be easy to dismiss Deal as a destination beloved of the locally scorned ‘down from London’ types. But there are plenty of reasons to love this place, not least a certain rakish charm stemming from its days as a smuggling hub, and later a bohemian enclave. Come in the winter, when it’s empty and cheap...but always welcoming.
Rooms at The Rose from £100, B&B.
Trains from St Pancras take around 80 minutes to Deal.
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