Don’t Be Fooled By The Simplicity. I read a Chinese proverb somewhere: “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.” And, certainly, the coming of spring is more evident in the country than in London itself. So, this seems like a perfect time to take a day trip to Whitstable.
Huh? I hear you ask. Where’s Whitstable?
Well, Whitstable is a tiny seaside town in the south-eastern corner of England, about 80 minutes’ drive from London. It’s a seaside town and, of course, it has a very special relationship with the ocean, which is to say, seafood and, in particular, oysters. Wheelers restaurant, a pink sliver of a place in High Street, is generally regarded as serving the best fish in the whole of the UK. But it’s oysters that the town is best known for. Whitstable plays host to the annual Oyster Festival which takes place on 18 – 27 July.
But more on Wheelers. Please note that since there are only five tables at the back of the restaurant, it’s advisable to book well in advance, especially in the summer months. Once there, try their shrimp sandwiches at the oyster bar at the front. They will haunt your foodie dreams forever more.
Of course, the secret to great seafood is not an overpowering sauce, some fussy design or food sculpture on your plate but rather the freshness of the seafood itself. You will no doubt find it reassuring if a fisherman stomps into Wheelers in his wellies, with a sack full of freshly caught oysters while you’re busy eying the baby octopus, brown crabmeat, smoked eel, mussels, roll mops and bowls of herring in mustard and dill, and fresh glistening mussels behind the glass counter. Look seaward: your dinner was there not so very long ago!
More on Whitstable in “Whitstable and its Michelin Star” (see below)
Whitstable and its Michelin Star
For a tiny town, Whitstable has many reasons to walk with a swagger. A couple of years ago the town received its very first Michelin star, only the place that was awarded the star is not exactly in Whitstable itself, but rather a couple of miles outside, in among the salt marshes. (On the way there, you will be heartened to discover, the road is lined with pubs.)
A Michelin star is not to be sneezed at. At the same time, restaurateurs tremble at the mention of the Michelin inspectors and there are many sad, and sometimes tragic stories told around the awarding of Michelin stars which is the culinary equivalent of the Hollywood Oscars. An aggrieved restaurateur approached the director of Michelin one day, demanding to know why the Monsieur director had seen fit to remove one of his stars. The director’s response was: “We noticed certain imperfections.”
But The Sportsman, who now boasts a Michelin star next to its name, does not put on airs. Sheep graze in the area, which should tell you that the food served here is honest country fare. Its chef, Steve Harris, does not do poncy either and the staff members do not have Michelin attitudes. Harris serves country dishes, which include coq au vin, crispy duck and, if you’re in luck, pork scratchings, or braised brill with smoked herring roe sauce. But the butter is always home-made and the salt is from the marshes nearby. Just know, you’re in for a culinary treat because his food is amazing.
If you haven’t taken the hint yet, when visiting Whitstable, come hungry.
Travelling time by train from Victoria Station run to Whitstable is about 80 minutes. You can get schedules and book tickets from www.thetrainline.com or (44-8457) 484-950; round-trip fares start at around £25.
About the Author
Johan Liebenberg says he feels like he’s been writing forever. He started out writing radio plays and soapies for radio, as well as one or two stage plays. He worked as a senior copywriter at an ad agency for ten years, writing on mainly wine accounts. Add to that a feature film script that has been in progress forever, writing and directing some doccies and corporate videos. His features have been published in magazines in South Africa as well as abroad. Today, his great passions are food and food writing and (guess what?): rugby, followed by cricket and athletics. He loves his Canon Eos, and feels nostalgic about the dying art of conversation.