It’s 10 years since I last set foot in Whitstable, so when Mrs PBT’s suggested a trip to the seaside, I decided a return visit to a town which is sometimes referred to as “Shoreditch on Sea”, was long overdue. A quick check on Google revealed that Whitstable was just over an hour’s drive from Bailey Towers, so with the sun attempting to break through the murk, we jumped in the car and off we went.
The traffic was heavier than expected, especially along the section of the M20 between Junctions 4 and 7. Work is taking
Those of us living in the Garden of England have heard a different story, which says the real purpose of this work is to convert the motorway into a giant lorry park. Now why would that possibly be needed, especially as the contract is unlikely to be finished before 29th March?
From memory today’s trip was the first time in decades that I have driven to that section of the North Kent Coast., as on previous occasions I have travelled by train. That was because drink was involved on most, if not all of those visits, but given the driving involved, this visit ended up being a very sober affair.
I’m not complaining as I’ve plenty of beer at home, should I feel the urge, but more importantly the purpose of our visit was to get some sea air in our lungs, some sun on our faces, to get something to eat (fish & chips?) and to see just how much the town of Whitstable has changed over the past decade.
Ten years ago I wrote on my now defunct Paul's Beer Travels blog that Whitstable had become second home territory for an increasing number of affluent Londoners; colour supplement readers and the like! There had been an inevitable rise in property prices, and this influx of high-spending "outsiders" had led to a sharp increase in what pubs and restaurants are charging their customers.
I based this statement on my observations at the time and, if anything, the "gentrification" I noticed a decade ago has increased. Whitstable still isn't quite Southwold, but it's fast becoming so.
This time around we arrived in the town just after 12.30pm, and drove down to the harbour, before parking up in a small car-park, just off the High Street. We made our way to the sea wall, joining a throng of what Retired Martin would call the “Pashmina Brigade”, all out for a stroll with their trophy dogs, trophy husbands/lovers and assorted trophy kids. If you are into people watching (a habit I acquired from my parents), you would find this parade both fascinating, and perhaps a little disturbing as well.
More important than watching the “beautiful people” out for their constitutional, was finding a place to eat; somewhere not prohibitively expensive and somewhere not thronged with people waiting for a table to become vacant. We passed two establishments that I’d been in before.
A decade ago, Pearson’s, a former Good Beer Guide-listed pub, had been full of Whitstable's answer to the "beautiful people". What’s more, my blog recorded that there were no Gadds (Ramsgate Brewery) beers available, but the Harvey’s had been quite tasty.
Opposite Pearson’s is the Royal Native Oyster Stores, owned and run by the Whitstable Oyster Company Ltd. The brick building is the company’s original head quarters, and is now their flagship outlet. I’d overheard people saying there was a lengthy wait for food in there yesterday, but despite more "beautiful people", it really is worth stepping inside for a look, especially if you like oysters.
You will find this shellfish in abundance, with oysters galore being split open and served up on dishes of flaked ice, along with crabs and lobsters also being prepared behind a glass counter, ready to be served up to diners in the restaurant next door. We remained aloof. Call us philistines, but none of us have been brave or foolhardy enough to try oysters and whilst Mrs PBT's and I like crab and lobster, neither were what we had in mind yesterday.
Instead, we spotted a place, attached to the side of Whitstable Yacht Club, just off the land-side of the sea wall. Laid out on the shingle was a collection of all-weather (metal) tables and chairs, with a plastic canopy above for shelter in inclement weather. There was a small serving hatch, plus a chalk board menu offering all manner of “comfort food”. What’s more there were a few vacant tables and no-one queuing to place their orders.
We grabbed a table and I went to order the food – fish & chips all round. Unfortunately this little pop-up café had run out of fish. After a brief conflab Mrs PBT’s and I opted for a fish-finger sandwich, whilst Matthew went for a sausage in a bap. Now for whatever reason I neglected to order the chips. This was possibly because I thought that chips were included, or possibly because I’d decided I didn’t really need chips as well.
There was a 20-30 minute wait for the food (the kitchen looked tiny with only room for two people), but the family didn’t mind at first – not until the subject of chips came up. “Do the fish finger sandwiches come with chips?” asked my good lady wife. I looked across to the menu board, hanging on the wall, before replying in all honesty that it didn’t look like they did. “Well didn’t you order a portion to go with the main?” was the next question. What could I say apart from “No”?
I can manage most things in life with relative ease, but for some reason, ordering food on behalf of others really throws me. Multiple food orders are even worse, and trying to second guess their preferences, if what they ordered originally is not available, is a real pet hate of mine. What makes it even worse, is getting all the stick when it’s wrong.
So my reply to those family members who were too comfortable sitting where they were, rather than coming up and ordering with me was, they ought to try second guessing. Gripe over, but I told them that after all the Christmas food they’d eaten over the past few days, the last thing they needed was chips!
The food when it came was hot, well-cooked and as tasty as fish finger sandwiches can be – even without chips, and being able to sit and eat outdoors in late December, was an unexpected bonus. With not a breath of wind, and hardly a cloud in the sky, the sun shining out through the slight haze, across one of the calmest seas I’ve ever seen, was a real magical moment. That mirror-like sea, was amazing, although the photos I took don’t really do it justice.
After finishing our lunch, we walked down one of the slipways to the water’s edge, just to make sure we weren’t dreaming. My feet had started to get cold, so we took a slow stroll back to find the car, pausing en route to admire some of the small converted fishing huts which can be rented out for £75 a night. Peeping in through the windows did show a rather cramped interior, plus staircases which looked more like ladders than stairs.
We took a slightly different route back, staying on the M2 motorway all the way until Junction 2, for the A228. I did this to take us over the impressive Medway Bridge, with its views towards Rochester on one side and the High-Speed Rail Link on the other.
It was getting dark by the time we arrived back in Tonbridge, and to end the evening Mrs PBT’s cooked us a very nice turkey curry to make up for those missing chips!