The British have a curious relationship with our seaside towns. When the sun shines we love to let down what remains of our hair, enjoy the feel of sand between our toes, even roll up our trousers and venture a paddle in the icy waters with a knotted handkerchief on our heads; we love the sea air, the ice creams and rock, strolling on the prom or the pier, singing “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” and much more besides – or we did before we discovered abroad.
While visitors may be well down on the heyday, English seaside towns never lost their attraction. They may have been subtly spruced up over the years yet retain an air of faded grandeur, the sort of quaintness we drive many miles to experience when the sun comes out. You can still do Blackpool for the illuminations, the Pleasure Beach and the amusement arcades and so on, but the real deal comes in places like Southwold and Broadstairs.
Despite its name, the latter’s stairs are not especially broad, but it does major in charm. On a recent weekend visit to Thanet I was much taken with the old fashioned shop displays and banners, the genteel splendour of the place, the fine beach and, as it turns out, a small restaurant by the name of Samworth and Mee.
Tell the truth, this was the second cafe I came across as I walked from the car park at half-9ish on a warm, sunny morning. The first proudly proclaimed itself to have the best breakfast in Broadstairs – but had a waiting time for food of 35-40 minutes and the only available table was hunched in a corner. A little further along the street, S&M appeared to have plenty of capacity, was clean, smart, cash only, self-evidently family run (parents behind the scenes, daughter waiting on the tables with charm) and the perfect image of a seaside cafe – far removed from . What’s not to like? I thought.
The immediate problem was however nothing to do with the breakfast. S&M is open all day in the best brasserie traditions, sells fine seafood and wines, and keeps an attractive menu plus daily specials, and is justifiably proud of its Trip Advisor no 1 rating in Broadstairs (putting it above the place claiming the best breakfast?) With the best will in the world I could not stay for every course, so this will inevitably be a restricted review, until I have such time to try some of the mouth-watering lobster, crab and/or scallop dishes. Oh yes, and sample live music there too. This is just too perfect to miss!
Not that breakfast is a such a hardship – it’s called the best meal of the day in England with some justification, though often fails to deliver what should be simple and tasty fare. This breakfast menu was clear and to the point. You could make your own customised selection but the two essential choices were a Full English or a stack of pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon (Full Canadian?)
I went for the former, priced at £7.50 but notable both for quality and quantity. This may be a bold statement but I would rate it as better value than a standard breakfast plate for a fiver at a London cafe, by virtue of the fact that everything was made fresh, was chosen and cooked with care, did not come from a can and was just the ticket for a hungry diner: fine back bacon, butcher’s sausage, black pudding, mushrooms, griddled tomato, two fried eggs, sunny side up, toast and butter. Add a decent coffee made from S&M’s own roasted beans and you have one happy diner.
To demonstrate the standards applied at S&M, take one example: you can sometimes find properly sautéed mushrooms in a B&B but it’s too much of a faff for most cafes. These were perfect specimens: cooked through and coloured on the flat top griddle, seasoned and served, moist but not leaching juices, they looked truly appetising and tasted of…. mushrooms. If you think I’m stating the bleeding obvious, remember this next time you sample mushrooms – rarely are they treated with the respect and care they deserve and often turn up on the plate soggy and tasting of precisely nothing.
Whether the service keeps up its smile when the place is packed to the rafters has not been tested, but to my mind this is exactly the sort of restaurant we should be lauding, one that focuses on doing simple things well and without pretension. You don’t need anything else, other than the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, which in Kent (erstwhile “garden of England” and with a prime coastline and several key ports) is ideally placed to offer up great grub. There might be no excuse for serving underwhelming food under these circumstances, yet it takes a practiced hand to run somewhere this good, and to get the component parts singing and dancing on the plate.
What a joy and pleasure to review Samworth and Mee, long may they flourish!