oredstairs!” That’s sometimes the Margate wit’s easy way of dismissing its nearest geographical rival. It is, of course, an unfair moniker for the famous Thanet resort – especially if it’s your hometown, as it is mine.
Things I remember growing up there? Learning the alphabet on the sand at dreamy Botany Bay, birthday parties at the retro Morelli’s ice cream parlour, and shopping on Northdown Road in nearby Cliftonville (long before its decline and recent reinvention).
Even though we eventually left for south London, my mother always loved the town, and it remained an annual summer fixture for our holidays. But fast forward to 2018 – and Broadstairs has gently, persuasively changed with the times.
Boring? It never was, and now most definitely isn’t.
Initial StrollIt’s an easy place to navigate, if you arrive by train: from the station the high street slopes down into Albion Street, where the majority of pubs, shops and restaurants are.
Dating back to the 14th century, and a resort since the early 19th, the seafront neighbourhood is all historic corners and sweeping terraces. Follow Harbour Street down through ancient York Gate arch (built 1540), taking a peek at photogenic Union Square on the left, and you’re at the waterfront.
What a sight to behold it is: the horseshoe-shaped Viking Bay, boats gently bobbing in the jetty, pine trees lining the edge, a boardwalk snaking over the sand. High above, grand Victorian and Georgian crown the white cliffs. You’ll wonder why you’ve never visited before.
It’s no surprise that a certain Charles Dickens was hooked: the bearded one visited Broadstairs regularly from 1837 until 1859, and described the town as “Our English Watering Place”, penning David Copperfield in the process. Do the Dickens trail at the eponymous pub, museum and Bleak House, on the northern side of the bay.
Hot and bothered after all that? Don’t forget that tasty ice cream at Morelli’s on Victoria Parade, still packing in the daytrippers after nearly 90 years.
Get your BeansBroadstairs’ coffee scene has improved in leaps and bounds. Smith’s(8 Dundonald Road) was a discovery after our recent lunch at the Yarrow (see below), its affable baristas serving up a really smooth double espresso in an airy, attractive room; we also enjoyed Kafeine(35 Albion St), a corner spot with lots of light.
Top tip, however? C & Sea (23a Albion St) a slither of a café with Scandi and mid-century modern furniture: a long black, using Garage beans (from Canterbury), was brewed up with lively chat from owner Lauren.
ShoppingThe grid of streets behind the promenade is peppered with independent stores: our pick are the well-priced men’s and womenswear store Kit Lifestyle (3 Charlotte St), the sweet-smelling Arrowsmiths gift shop opposite, cavernous furniture and antique emporium Serendipity (York St) and, on Albion Street, Bumble’s Antiques, and very rummageable Broadstairs Books (don’t miss its collection of vintage Agatha Christie paperbacks).
EatingBroadstairs wasn’t always known for its cuisine – and certainly not when I was a kid, despite longstanding favourites like sea-facing Posillipo, and the traditional Albion Hotel.
The foodie game-changer was probably the arrival of Wyatt and Jones (23-27 Harbour St) in 2012, a modern British restaurant on three descending levels with stained glass, dark wood-panelled floors, open kitchen and sea views. We’ve eaten its seasonal fare on several occasions, and both small plates and a la carte have impressed; while the town’s best cocktails are shaken in a pooch-friendly bar area.On a similar tip is Samworth & Mee (9-10 Albion St), candle-lit by night with a cosy, short dinner menu. We haven’t yet been to Restaurant 54, which many locals rave about, but as it was closed at lunch on our last visit we tried the Yarrow (Ramsgate Road), and its good-value £15 two-course set menu. Attached to East Kent Catering College, it’s a professional kitchen (and boutique hotel) where apprentices work alongside head chefs.
The food was worth the gamble: curls of coppa ham with pickled mushrooms, a salt cod scotch egg, a spiced aubergine tart with feta – and standout bowl of cod with garlicky gremolata and roast tomato sauce.I
t was also belatedly our first (and definitely not last) visit to Albariño, a tapas bar that’s been on Albion Street for several years. Not as welcoming as we hoped – “we don’t take bookings after 1pm”, snapped the front-of-house – the cooking nonetheless excelled: of many courses (£3-12) we enjoyed, pan con tomate was sublime, but roast cauliflower better still, matching the salinity of tapenade with the tang of pomegranate.
Other highlights from head chef Steven Dray’s repertoire? Butter-soft octopus, creamy crab with salty pancetta, and spicy chicken thigh with hummus and mint pesto.
A note on… Stark
Broadstairs’ tiny hottest restaurant (1 Oscar Road) was closed on our visit for a refurb, so we checked out their residency at the nearby Ravensgate Arms in Ramsgate. Tiny plates of deliciousness included duck liver and orange with hazelnut (almost dessert-like in its sweetness) and nutty roasted cauliflower with smoked bocconcini. Equally good? Rosy Iberican pork with tahini, a slither of mackerel with cucumber, and a Jackson Pollack-style pigeon with beetroot and apple. Booking is essential (£45 for six courses, head here)
DrinkingWe love a pub crawl round Broadstairs, and the options now are stronger than ever. Start at the Tartare Frigate, right on the harbour, for a cosy pint by the grandfather clock, where the fire will roar if it’s bad weather; or, if the sun’s out, grab one up the road on the Albion’s beer terrace.
At the junction of Albion and Harbour Street is a cluster of pubs, the best of which is Neptune’s Hall, with decent live music (other places to hear bands are Harper’s opposite, as well as the infamous Dolphin).
There are two essential craft beer and ale joints: the 39 Steps (11-13 Charlotte St), a formerly minuscule micropub, now occupies a handsome high-ceilinged corner spot and boasts an excellent range of beers, including Beavertown and soon-to-launch Broadstairs Town Brewery.T
wo minutes’ walk away, the 1601-built Chapel (44 Albion St) is more atmospheric still, set in a multi-floored secondhand bookshop serving mostly Brewdog beers, with DJs in the evening (till 1am at weekends) and customers tucked away in every nook and cranny around German bierkeller tables.
Other micropubs? The cute Mind the Gap up by the station and, further up towards St Peter’s village, Four Candles (1 Sowell St). Be warned, some are cash-only: come prepared.
Margate and Ramsgate are must-visits, just minutes away on the train. And don’t miss Thanet’s best beach, Botany Bay, half an hour’s walk along the coast, as well as Louisa, Joss and Walpole bays.
Further afield? Sandwich and Deal are in a southerly direction (20 mins on the train), while Whitstable lies north-east.
Broadstairs is about 85 minutes high speed from St Pancras: for more info head here.
Main Image: Viking Bay, Visit Kent