In Margate for a short break we had dinner at the Botany Bay Hotel, drawn in by its beautiful seaside setting and its convenience. Well, the view, as you can see, is outstanding. A big sky, a sheltered sandy beach and white cliffs. Alas, looking out of the window was the highpoint of a disappointing meal.
We’d booked for eight o’clock and there were a smattering of fellow residents, mostly of advanced years. A large airy room with free tables by the score we were ordered to choose one of the tables for two. Were they expecting a last minute rush of foursomes? Perhaps a charabanc full of hungry gastronomes?
After sitting as close to the view as we could the music was the first thing that struck me. I haven’t heard Bananarama’s Love in the First Degree for some time and I really can’t say that I ever want to hear it again. Certainly not when I’m eating dinner. (And it got more mind-bendingly eclectic than that over the course of the evening.)
Or not eating dinner as it might be more accurately put. We ordered at eight, a shared starter of a seafood platter. Being by the sea one might think that a seafood platter would be a doddle; packed with fishy good things fresh from the boat, the market or at least the wholesaler. It took us 45 minutes to find out. While we waited we sipped a glass of champagne and whiled away our time listening to the couple next to us haggle a complimentary dessert in recompense for a crab and pine nut pasta that apparently contained neither crab nor pine nut (‘They’re in the sauce’ ‘I can’t see them’ ‘That’s because they’re mixed up’). A creeping sense of food dread might have overtaken us but being on holiday we were more amused than stressed by our predicament.
After about half an hour a waiter approached and asked us if we’d like our starter? The general consensus was that we would.
Fifteen minutes later our seafood platter arrived. A breadboard on which smoked mackerel, some curiously watery crayfish, a roll or two of smoked salmon and a smidge of limp salad were arranged without guile or artifice but simply left as they had fallen from the various plastic packets that the chef had seemingly purchased from the local Tesco’s. And I’m not talking their Finest range. Two slices of white bread were ok.
Did we want our red wine now? Yes please, we might need a bottle each, ahahah … it can only improve eh?* Well, steak and chips, not difficult to do competently. Oh no. Oh no oh no. Rare steak in these parts comes brown through to its very core. Chips are difficult to get wrong in a seaside town and they were ok. The amount of watercress alongside would have been inadequate for a moderately hungry hamster. But what’s this? Not one but TWO sauces! A sinister blue cheese thing with the consistency of clotted cream and an aioli with a skin thicker than Donald Trump. I ploughed manfully on in that too British way. Family members reading this will know that when I say it reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking that is definitely not a compliment.
Salvation came in the form of Kentish cheese. Three generous hunks of the good stuff in the variety of blue cheese (saving a reputation almost tossed away by the sauce), a cheddar-ish cheese and a goat-ish cheese. They were good. But we didn’t know what they were as by this time the waitress was squirting down next door’s table with some industrial cleaner and most definitely making it clear that we were keeping her up. I suspected she wasn’t in the mood to divulge the identity of the cheese.
I reflected that it had taken them two and a half hours to serve us three courses in which a total of only four or so elements were actually cooked! One wondered what the chef was doing in between his toil on our behalf … a few frames of snooker perhaps, or the dog needed a walk? Maybe he wanted to catch up on season 2 of Breaking Bad? (I’ve heard it’s very good, kinda difficult to drag yourself away from.) It’s a mystery that remains wrapped in an enigma.
So, go to The Botany Bay for the view, for the rooms (ours was very good) and for the bar. But until they get their act together don’t go for the food. It’s tragic that a restaurant in such a prime location with a vast amount of local produce on its doorstep can’t put together a simple menu that would generate trade and act as an advert for the hotel and the food of the Kent Coast. If anyone connected to the business is reading this I’d give three ideas (I’m sure I could come up with more if we brainstormed it) for improving the restaurant.
- Train your staff to pretend that they like people even if they can’t actually bring themselves to genuinely like people.
- Think about what music you’re playing to the customers if you have to play music.
- Use local produce and tell the customer what farm, smokehouse, vineyard, fishmarket and butcher thay come from.
3/10 For the cheese and the wine. Thank God I had good company, if it was anyone else I might have been suicidal by the end of the night.
*The wine, a Malbec, was good.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).