As a child we headed west in August, never abroad, it was always a road trip to Wales. Nowadays it’s so easy to leap on a plane that everyone seems to assume that you’ll be heading to the Med’, having a British holiday even has a dreaded label – a “staycation”. Well, our drive from Bristol to Kent certainly took long enough to warrant holiday status and we thankfully enjoyed sunnier climes too, our week in the east was a stunner.
We stayed in Whitstable, famed for its oysters and more recently for having a touch of the Islington-on-sea about it. Now it might seem very shallow but I’m perfectly happy to share the place with the D.F.L’s (Down from Londons) since their penchant for the good life means that the town is packed with great deli’s, restaurants, and some rather tempting boutiques too.
We spent most of our week pottering around the town, sitting on the beach and being lured into the sea by 8 year old Imi and her little school friend. We did have one big day out to the much-talked-about Margate, just about 1/2 an hour down the coast. This rather dilapidated old seaside resort is firmly back on the map with the re-opening of its Dreamland amusement park and the very cool Turner Contemporary Gallery just along the seafront.
To be honest the resort did look a little down-at- heel and deserted when we arrived first thing (the girls had been up since 6 in anticipation), but once we were in (first through the gates!) we had a fab’ time. No queues for well over an hour: dodgems, shelter skelter, carousel, rockets, loads of fun and managed to avoid the few really hideously scary rides. Dreamland has been refurbished with a great retro feel, we loved the high diving display, the staff were incredibly upbeat and enthusiastic and we even found a really good Thai green curry for lunch. Whilst Dreamland doesn’t compete with the likes of Chessington or Alton Towers on the thrill side of things it was simply perfect for younger kids and old crusties like ourselves who would probably have a breakdown on a corkscrew rollercoaster. So thumbs up for Dreamland!
We headed for the beach in the afternoon (the sand was the big lure after Whitstable’s pebbles) and Peter and I took turns to visit the Turner Contemporary where I was just mesmerised by the Grayson Perry exhibition – Provincial Punk. His Walthamstow Tapestry is worth the trip to Margate – no photos permitted so get down there before September 13th when the show winds up.
Back in Whitstable much of our time, or mine at least, was devoted to the important business of food – no surprises there! We had to dive into some oysters of course; The Royal Whitstable Oyster Company is a glorious location with an incredible heritage and our lunch was fabulous too, even the girls sampled their first oysters. The Cheesebox is unmissable; an entire shop of British cheese, local pickles, sourdough bread, Kentish cider – I could happily move in. DavidBrown’s Deli is another place to fill your picnic basket, or fridge (in fact you could happily graze around the food shops and never cook a thing) Being August, the local plums and cherries were in their prime too, I always think that cherries are pretty hit or miss, these were divine. And then, to top it all, comes the high altar of all things fishy; Wheelers. Yes, the original one- you have to book a table in the little back parlour months in advance (top priority before our next visit) but can thankfully buy prepared seafood such as smoked prawns, dressed crab, fish cakes, jellied eels (I tried to like them, I am so sad but I don’t ….. I Really don’t!) however the prawns were to die for.
I couldn’t resist the Wheelers’ cook book – Oyster Seekers (as well as a great collection of seafood recipes there’s some fabulous insight into Whitable’s history and the oyster trade). I’ve chosen to share this Prawn Cocktail in homage to the retro Dreamland, to Seventies summer holidays and all things British.
Wheelers Prawn and Dill Cocktail
28 Tiger prawns, raw, peeled and deveined (keep the heads and shells for stock)
1/2 a cucumber
6 tbsp good mayonnaise
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp horseradish sauce
paprika, cayenne and Tabasco
splash of Brandy
8-10 fronds of dill
1/2 a Cos lettuce
a few mixed salad leaves
8 cherry tomatoes
4 lemon wedges
4 slices Brown Bread
Cook the prawns in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain & allow to cool , squeezing a little lemon juice over them whilst they are still warm.
Shred the cucumber into spaghetti -like strips; a mandolin is the suggested tool (if you’ve fallen for the Spiraliser craze, well get on down!) or you could just use a knife. Season with a little salt and pepper. Put the cucumber in a colander to drain away excess moisture.
Mix together the mayo, ketchup, horseradish, a pinch of paprika and cayenne , a dash of Tabasco and brandy and add seasoning and lemon juice to taste. Chop up the dill and fold into the sauce.
Divide the Cos and salad leaves between 4 bowls (or cocktail glasses – come on give it the 70’s look) and top with some of the cucumber and tomatoes.
Pile on the prawns and spoon over some sauce. Finish up with a sprinkle of paprika.
Serve with a lemon wedge and brown bread and butter.