Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dear Margate, What Took You So Long?

The Cafe Cat in Margate
 It’s unlikely you’ve missed the recent hum around the rebirth of this small, Kentish seaside town and yet, if you have, I’d be more than happy to regale you with the tale here, so please do read on. 
 Arguably the UK’s first major holiday destination, alongside contenders like Brighton, Whitby or Scarborough, hundreds and thousands of British people would flock to the south-eastern coastline to bathe, seek thrills on the Scenic Railway at Dreamland with soggy teenage kisses, and soak up whatever they could of the summer, strolling along the numerous natural and beautiful bays to Broadstairs. It’s curious to think how somewhere so ruddy prime could ever have fallen into the shadows in the way that Margate had done in the decade or so before now.
 Somewhat downtrodden and deserted, one could almost see tumbleweeds scurrying along the sands that once beckoned to Turner to rest his easel and paint the sea skies now so famed and cherished by the nation. “Margate?” spat locals in neighbouring Canterbury “Why the bloody hell would you want to visit Margate?” I would argue of its charms but before I knew it I’d be drawing another pint of ale, for attentions would have been turned back to the daily crossword with a shake of the head. “Be quiet. 4-letters.” “HUSH.”
Margate Town view of Dreamland
 And for those stepping off the train to be greeted by an unsightly tower block and an abandoned stretch of beach, it might have felt the same. Perhaps I’m a romantic but wandering down the promenade, past the faded arcades and listening to the sound of creaking two-pence machines and the soft lull of the waves, Margate always had my heart. Its grey skies and lost soul were enduring.

There was so much to discover, even then. Highlights included hour-long rummaging at Scott’s Junk Emporium, or getting unnerved by yourself visiting the Shell Grotto – a dimly lit underground cavern of over 4-million British seashells arranged in short tunnels leading to an atrium which, to this day, no one really knows the truth of. You can ask a dozen people and they’d all tell you a different story but consistently feature the little boy who climbed down a hole to retrieve a lost tool in the 1800s and instead found Margate’s biggest mystery. 

Even then, overhearing the townspeople themselves gathered in hushed groups, complaining of the lost glory of Margate, you could feel the beginning of a new kind of spirit emerging; a fighting community. And, even then, the sun would come out from behind the clouds and bathe the town in light.
Places To Shop in Margate I probably am a romantic after all, but I wasn’t the only one.

When the Turner Contemporary was built on the seafront, on the site where Turner would often rest up at a local B&B with an inspiring view, the county was abuzz that this would be the turning point for the town and yet while it set wheels in motion, it wasn’t until independent shops and cafes started to pop up in the Old Town that people really started to consider it. It wasn’t until Dreamland tenaciously fought for years to reopen its doors to the public that the rollercoaster started to pick up speed.
Shops in Margate
And so that brings us racing to the current day. Margate. On the cusp of being somewhere really rather magnificent, and yet striking fear into my heart a little. I can’t complain. You’ve got fantastic coffee shops, running what’s known as a ‘disloyalty card’ that encourages caffeine-seekers to choose from a number of independent outlets rather than the chains. There’s promises of candy floss on the carousel once more, and giddy adrenaline on the Ferris Wheel, the sound of pennies rushing in the arcade, and more and more Kentish food-joints offering local grub – like the fantastic GB Pizza.
 However, with all that teeters on the edge of success, is the staggering height from which it might fall once more. How can a small town like Margate sit tight and pretty, without plummeting once the shine of a new penny dulls?

Speaking with a fellow Margate-lover, we mused over what had really stolen our hearts upon our first visit. Or what had consistently captured attention across the country at the turn of recent events. We concluded on a key word that you might have already seen used in reference to Margate and other areas of the UK: Regeneration

I hope they never ‘finish’ Margate. Along the coastline, gentrification moves steadily in as high-speed railways are established, as flood defences improve, and as old-town charm waltzes back to the dancefloor. However, in the capital, we’ve seen the effect that overdoing this can have on a community, notably in East London, where locals, grit and character are driven out and prices driven up, leaving only those who can afford to stay.
Margate Cafes
 To keep those tumbleweeds from turning once more, must Margate remain in a state of construction, and glinting promise? Call me a romantic for certain, but what I really want to know is how will Margate keep the magic alive this time?

For more information about what’s on in Kent and Margate head to VisitEngland 

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Cafes in Canterbury | Kent

A contender for my favourite place on planet Earth, Canterbury brims with independent gems that just don't get the parade they deserve, almost masked by a plethora of chain restaurants. I implore you to look that bit harder to find the cafes that are just so darn themselves, they feel like old friends waiting for you with open arms. 

Here's just five of the best places to get a cuppa, have a natter and jot dreams in your notebook.

Boho Cafe
An independent gem along the high street, Boho is the ultimate destination for a homemade burger
 Just over the bridge on Canterbury's High St. sits Boho Cafe with a sprawl of colourful tables and chairs at its front, and hustle and bustle behind its long, slender windows. Aptly described by the owners, Kris and Kate, as 'the kitchen table', it's hard to deny its Kentish charm although, in reality, it's far from quaint or twee. Rather, it's brought to life by the tenacious personalities that have influenced it. You'll be hard pressed to find anywhere as unique, from the old clocks on the wall, the Mexican paraphernalia, and a menu equally as colourful. Celebrating its tenth year this coming March, if you haven't been yet, I insist that you do. And have the Winston Churchill burger.

The Veg Box
Vegetarian and Vegan restaurant Canterbury Kent
Source: The Veg Box Cafe
 Although the Veg Box has been run by Adam and Liz for a long while, there are still many that are unaware of this gem, tucked just off Jewry Lane, above the Wholefoods store. One of the only vegan and vegetarian cafes in the city, the menu boasts seasonal stews, curries and delights, and is open past the lunch time rush, making it the perfect hiding place to do a spot of loitering. If for some reason you don't make it in for lunch, there's always Liz's recipes to follow on her website. She's been perfecting them for a long while in the cafe and at home, so if you do happen to whip any up, I'm sure she'd be thrilled to hear about it.

Waterlane Cafe
Canterbury Cafe tucked off the High Street with Punting Co
Source: Create and Kate
Where else have you ever found a cafe come river tour? Waterlane cafe is another little known hot spot for seriously excellent coffee and ambience, overlooking the River Stour and its quieter, more rural excursion of the three tours you can take in the city. The kind of place that mingles singles on laptops, or poring earnestly over books, and couples leaned in close in conspiracy, it's away from the main high street, making it a great spot for a date or leisurely catch up with an old friend.

Canterbury Kent
Source: What Olivia Did
With better health at the heart of its mission, Kitch is a wonderfully alternative choice, with a diverse menu of low-sugar and thoroughly Instagrammable cakes and plates. Unlike anywhere else in the city, Emily has carefully curated a bright and modern offering under an old Tudor roof that's just perfect for a cool younger and older crowd alike that likes to eat conscientiously.

Wild Goose
Things to do in Canterbury
Source: Alfie's Explorations
 Seamlessly blending Spanish influence with British garden cocktails, the Wild Goose sits in a corner of the Goods Shed, a disused railway building adjacent to Canterbury's West station. Wonderful not only for a small plate and a nightcap en route to London, or surrounding villages, you can easily lose yourself over the rim of your teacup watching the bustle of the farmer's market, or tuck into my personal breakfast favourite, the rich and muddy morcilla with buttery scrambled eggs, which they serve until 1pm. No need to rush your Sunday morning.

Cafe St. Pierre 
French Cafe in Canterbury
Like a little slice of France, Cafe St Pierre is somewhat iconic, even though if you blink, you're likely to miss its unassuming corner position at the lower end of the High Street, despite the winking pastries that are piled high in the windows. 
Really rather snug inside, I like to cram myself into a nook and order a proper French hot chocolate and a croque monsieur so thick with grilled cheese, it's a knife and fork job. For some reason, it's always raining outside when I'm there, so you could say it's a rainy day joint for rustling your damp newspaper and trying not to catch the eye of the gingerbread men calling to you from the counter, or be dazzled by the gleam of glossy tarts.

And there you have it, some of the best cafes and things to do in Canterbury. There are a few I've missed off but will return to tell you of one day soon - if you're a local, where are you favourite haunts in Kent? And, if you're heading down to Kent for a visit, do drop me a line and I'd be thrilled to tell you more.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Cinnamon Ice Cream | Celia's Saucer

Weather a bit muggy and yet somewhat looking for something somewhere between a cool breeze and a cuddle?

You've come to the right place.
Cinnamon Ice Cream with Cherries and Brown Sugar
Cinnamon and cream. That's all this really is.
Two comforting treats blended seamlessly into one bowl of cold velvet.

  • 225ml milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, freshly ground if possible
  • 450ml whipping or double cream
  1. Put the milk in a pan with the cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar and ground cinnamon. Discard the cinnamon stick, then strain the hot milk over the yolks, whisking continuously.
  2. Pour the custard mix back into a pan and cook on a low-ish heat for 8-10 mins, stirring constantly until thickened. Whisk the custard into the cream, then cool, chill and freeze in an ice-cream maker, or churn by hand. 
And then, finally, sprinkle some soft brown sugar on top. 
That's what I like to do.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Nigella's Coffee and Walnut Cake | Celia's Saucer

Shottenden, Kent
 Living in the capital can be as exhilarating as it is exhausting and so to have somewhere to bolt, to simply be without those demanding distractions, is blissful.

Add a few special ingredients, like the wealth of Kentish produce, its lush green, and some good friends, and you'll find a recipe for a beautiful afternoon. Do you have somewhere to forget your worries?
Pretty pink doors and hydrangeas in the countryside
 I'm a positive believer in the power that food has to heal wounds, in its careful preparation, and the ceremony of sharing the fruits of your labour. 

For the ultimate comfort food, Nigella Lawson is always my woman - rich, buttery, decadent dishes that make you feel giddy, sick almost, with pleasure. 
Her coffee and walnut cake being no exception.

I urge you to make it!

for the sponge

  • 50 grams walnut pieces
  • 225 grams caster sugar
  • 225 grams soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
  • 200 grams plain flour
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons milk

for the buttercream frosting

  • 350 grams icing sugar
  • 175 grams soft unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder (dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water)
  • approx. 10 walnut halves (to decorate)
Nigella Lawson's Coffee and Walnut Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350°F.
  2. Butter two 20cm / 8inch sandwich tins and line the base of each with baking parchment.
  3. Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and blitz to a fine nutty powder.
  4. Add the 225g/2 sticks butter, flour, 4 teaspoons espresso powder, baking powder, bicarb and eggs and process to a smooth batter.
  5. Add the milk, pouring it down the funnel with the motor still running, or just pulsing, to loosen the cake mixture: it should be a soft, dropping consistency, so add more milk if you need to. (If you are making this by hand, bash the nuts to a rubbly powder with a rolling pin and mix with the dry ingredients; then cream the butter and sugar together, and beat in some dry ingredients and eggs alternately and, finally, the milk.)
  6. Divide the mixture between the 2 lined tins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sponge has risen and feels springy to the touch.
  7. Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off the baking parchment.
  8. When the sponges are cool, you can make the buttercream.
  9. Pulse the icing sugar in the food processor until it is lump free, then add the butter and process to make a smooth icing.
  10. Dissolve the instant espresso powder in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add it while still hot to the processor, pulsing to blend into the buttercream.
  11. If you are doing this by hand, sieve the icing sugar and beat it into the butter with a wooden spoon.
  12. Then beat in the hot coffee liquid.
  13. Place 1 sponge upside down on your cake stand or serving plate.
  14. Spread with about half the icing; then place on it the second sponge, right side up (i.e. so the 2 flat sides of the sponges meet in the middle) and cover the top with the remaining icing in a ramshackle swirly pattern.
  15. This cake is all about old-fashioned, rustic charm, so don’t worry unduly: however the frosting goes on is fine. similarly, don’t fret about some buttercream oozing out around the middle: that’s what makes it look so inviting.
  16. Gently press the walnut halves into the top of the icing all around the edge of the circle about 1cm apart.

And, finally, my own touch: a good glug of Wild Cherry Liqueur on ice to serve.

I've no promises that you won't need to flop onto the sofa for a long while thereafter.
Wild Cherry Liqueur
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