Places To Eat In Kent: Buoy & Oyster, Margate

Gradually ticking off all the places I we want to try out here in Kent (as well as a few over the border near my cottage in East Sussex too), lunch on my parents wedding anniversary last month found us at Buoy and Oyster in Margate, a seafood restaurant overlooking the harbour I’d heard excellent things about and which had been on my list for a good many years.

We started, as usual, with a very good bottle of one of the house rose wines (recommended) and the bread and butter (which is not). The bread itself was lovely: soft, plush and with a good flavour, but the whipped English butter with seaweed salt tasted more like margarine. I’m not sure what caused this, added oil? Bad quality butter? Butter that was slightly past it’s best? Anyway, the bread board was very emblematic of the meal that was to come: flashes of deliciousness that are well worth booking a table for, interspersed with items that were unfortunately lacklustre and hallmarks of a complacent kitchen. It was packed with turning tables midweek in the rain (though it was half term), and it very much felt like not all of the effort was being put in because they did not have to.

Our starters were on the excellent side. The Mackerel Rillettes, served with pieces of toasted pitta, homemade pickles and a verdant sealing butter were absolutely delicious: rich, light, and very more-ish. A very simple dish perfectly executed and a real must-order.

My Dad and I love to share a good pint of prawns (okay, I don’t think he particularly enjoys the having to share them part…!) and these had a lovely flavour, served with a really good Marie Rose sauce we kept for later and I could not help but keep dunking my bread in, and lots of samphire for nibbling on. Again, get these.

As a seafood platter devotee I obviously had to try the big item on the menu Buoy and Oyster use in so many of their promotional photos: the Hot Seafood Platter. And my verdict? I wish they had not gone to the bother of cooking it. Honestly, the entire reason I’m bothering to review the restaurant at all is to tell you not to go during the cooler months, but to be sure to visit in the summer instead when a traditional, simply cooked / raw / traditional seafood platter is usually available.

The biggest problem with it was it got too cold too quickly: the style in which they served it is not well suited to keeping the food at an enjoyable temperature by the time you’ve finished eating. Take for example the excellent calamari. Ordered from the starter section of the menu when you have time to focus on it it is crisp, beautifully cooked and well flavoured. Here, I was only really able to enjoy the first half.

However, one positive is whilst they forgot it and I had to remind them, the staff were really happy to make a substitution to my platter, switching out the beer battered oyster for raw ones; I know some people enjoy them, but in my book one of the worst things you can do to an oyster is destroy all of it’s beautiful, natural, briney flavours by cooking it!

My king prawns and mussels, even though they’d tried by serving the latter in a mini cast iron casserole also had the same issue: tasty, but cold and much less enjoyable by the time I’d gotten half way. The clams, however, which also came in a similar pot were sublime, and happily small enough to stay submerged and warm throughout my meal: one of the real highlights of the platter.

Another highlight I want to share was my scallops cooked in nduja butter. I made sure to eat them first as I predicted how cold they’d rapidly get, and they were both tender and beautifully flavoured. It’s a shame they’re not on the menu at the moment as a starter by themselves.

Stepping away from my seafood platter, my parents meals were also very much a mixed bag. One of my Dad’s favourite things to eat is a whole crab (this is not the first of my parents wedding anniversaries when I’ve been with them for lunch and my poor mother has had to watch my father and I work our way through mountains of fresh shellfish, from towering platters of fiddly langoustines to gnarly spider crabs) but this local one was a massive disappointment. My mother absolutely loved her Ramsgate Crab flatbread: a good dough flavoured with crab bisque topped with a generous amount of smoked herring roe, picked red onions, dulse seaweed, parmesan, yuzu mayo and a very generous amount too of fresh picked crab meat. Delicious, very well thought out and very well balanced. But my Dad’s crab? Rather flavourless and lacking freshness: we could not make our minds up between it not being as fresh as it could be, or being slightly overcooked?

More highlights / things you should order came by way of the excellent French fries, again topped with seaweed salt (just the sort of thing you want with this type of meal) and our discovery that they do Laurent-Perrier champagne by the glass at a very reasonable price!

Another let down for me was the dessert. I was the only person there was something that appealed for – otherwise very good local ice cream was had by the rest of the table – but my confection of chocolate ice cream, meringue, hazelnut, brownie and caramel (I’m sorry I seem to have not remembered to write down the name and they don’t list their exceptionally short dessert menu online) was far too sweet. Yes I’d gone for an indulgent dessert with whispers of the seaside location, but it felt like no effort had gone into balancing it at all: even salted nuts (if they already were it was not noticeable) on the top would have gone a long way.

In the car on the way home, we all debated how I should review Buoy and Oyster, and in the end without managing to grasp on an overarching theme I decided to run with stream of consciousness: it was a disappointing meal, no doubt about that, but we did have some excellent dishes. That wine, with a platter of oysters and some of the better parts of the menu on their terrace overlooking the sea on a sunny summers day will be excellent. But it was nowhere near as good as what it cracked up to be (I’m often loathe to look at online guest review sites, I know they’re so problematic for the industry, but on this occasion I did and the idea that Buoy and Oyster has gone downhill in quality over the past year is an overarching theme) and honestly not worth the hours drive to another bit of Kent. That being said, order carefully, and you’ll still be able to have a rather good meal.