A moveable restaurant, named after the beach bars that spring up on the Spanish coast in summer, it’s a tent-like structure, designed by award-winning architect Asif Khan. Even better, it’s hidden in a car park behind the seafront in Margate.
First thoughts? Wonderfully bleak views over towards Dreamland, especially under a duvet of grey June sky. A glimpse of the Scenic Railway rollercoaster and I’m back at Benbom Brothers, as the theme park used to be called in the 1980s when I was a kid, growing up in nearby Broadstairs.It’s the brainchild of friends Conor Sheehan and chef Jackson Berg, who most recently worked together at Bistrotheque in Hackney. Berg’s CV also includes St John in Clerkenwell, so we know we’re in good hands in the kitchen.
Entering the flapping canvas evokes a festival-like vibe instantly (borne out by the twin portaloos just outside, should nature call); and the menu is chalked up on a board by the open kitchen, with colourful chairs and tables dotted about invitingly.While the a la carte in the evening is charged at standard restaurant prices (£10-£20 for mains), at lunch it’s a steal at just £15 for three courses – and that includes a glass of wine or beer.
So you’re basically paying a tenner for three courses that are immaculately presented, with colour, flavour and texture in spades.The menu changes regularly. On our visit a rich salt cod brandade starter is offset nicely by spunky fried pickled onions; but we fight over a chicken liver parfait bun, the meaty filling light as whipped butter. Like the best things, it’s impossible to share. And like the best things, it comes with a side of bitterness – in the shape of chicory and pickled red cabbage.
Mains are better still: I especially loved a simple seared sea trout with romesco, the flesh rosily opaque, the chunky Catalonian sauce (made from roasted almonds, red peppers and olive oil) enveloping silky ribbons of courgette.
And a brioche stuffed with ragged red pieces of ham hock, sliced radishes and blobs of rouille (the Provencal speciality made with garlic and saffron) is, of course, Instagold.Likewise the diminutive desserts (see below), a riot of peanut butter ice cream, sweetly-savoury miso butterscotch and finger-lickin’ cinnamon french fries.
So yes, it’s a fun lunch – good quality house wine, too, included – in a quirky, memorable (dog-friendly) location, with unobtrusive, friendly service. But this is not simply a meal to be posted on social media: it’s both refined and brilliant value for money.The only caveat? How damn hot it gets inside Khan’s mighty tent-like structure, modelled it would seem on an all-weathers Kentish polytunnel. Even on a cloudy lunchtime, we were mopping our brows – although we hear ventilation hatches have now been installed. (You may prefer to wear shades inside too; it’s dazzlingly light during daytime.)
But then again, so what? And how cosy it must be during torrential rain – as we all by now know, there’s plenty of that still to come this summer.