Places To Eat In Canterbury: Samphire, Whitstable

As someone from Kent, rather than someone visiting I only visit Whitstable in the off season where us locals get to enjoy the town without the influx of people from elsewhere. We’re just about still in that season now, so whether you’re like me, local, and wondering where you should eat on your next trip to the seaside, or if you’re planning a trip over the summer I’ve got a lovely little French-inspired British bistro you must stop in at for you all: Samphire.

Tucked away behind an art deco shop front on the High Street, whilst dinner looks fantastic I’m here today to tell you all about the delicious set menu we enjoyed for a family luncheon a couple of weeks ago. Monday – Friday, you can get 2 courses for £25, or 3 courses for £30, which, with a glass of house wine thrown in I think is fantastic value. Literally my only complaint there was they don’t have a house rose, and because that is what we fancied giving the food and the weather, we had to switch things up after the first course.

To start off with, some good olives, and for me 1/2 dozen Whitstable Oysters from the specials board, which were served traditionally and well prepared. Now, there are many oysters, sat in an oyster bar I’d rather order than Whitstable Oysters. Yes they’re plump and brine-y and I get why oyster enthusiasts travel from all around to eat them, but I’ve always had the sea in mind when I eat them; close my eyes savouring a Cancale No. 3 and I’m transported to the oyster market on the pier looking across the sea to Le Mont Saint Michel in one of my favourite French towns. And when I eat a Whitstable oyster? Well, quite wrongly in my head I’m always reminded of crowded beaches and never being able to park!

But this is my point as to why this summer (or off season) you should head to Whitstable and eat some local oysters. Sewerage spills into the sea off our coast have put off many international buyers of our local oysters, but with a detailed knowledge of how oyster filtration works before they arrive on our plate, whilst it may be uncomfortable to think about it is not actually an issue, but many oyster fisherman are having their livelihoods threatened. So go and try our local oysters because they are actually delicious even if they’re not my favourite, and without support something that has been part of our coastline for generations may just die out.

Anyway, moving onto the rest of the starters, how pretty was the smoked mackerel pate tartine, topped with pickled onions, chives and herb oil? Light and tasty too. However, for me the real star of the show was not the pork terrine (generous, tender, and unassuming with a good mouthfeel) but the wild garlic remoulade on the side. Creamy, unctuous it cut through the meat like a dream with just the right amount of pungency. A simple, seasonal dream.

We went for a mixed bag with our mains. I had the Creole Mussels with a Holy Trinity Sauce, smoked prawn butter and some excellent nutty, dense and brown soda bread I could have had many more slices of. The mussels were plump, the sauce tasty, and it was what I fancied, but I suspect the very best dish to order was elsewhere on the menu. We’ll get onto that in a moment.

After ordering the beef cheek bourguignon with clapshot (Scottish mashed potatoes with swede and chives) we were informed that the chef was not happy with the quality of the meat once it came out the oven, would we mind if he added some flank steak to the dish instead? Well, everything was delicious when it came out, the steak well cooked, but it all felt a bit disjointed. No complaints though; the kitchen probably made the right call and the end result was a very satisfying dish.

But really, dining out in Whitstable I really should have had the fish. Stone bass that day, served with a generous, copious lemon caper abed a tangle of cavelo nero. Just look at it. Perfectly cooked, wonderfully fresh fish, with a simple sauce that hit all the right notes and a nice crisp bit of skin? The fish dish at it’s best. Whatever version of this is on the menu when you arrive at Samphire, order it.

With our desserts we ended on a high. I’d recommend sharing the sticky toffee pudding – such a big portion but otherwise perfectly balanced – as we did the simple, beautifully textured panna cotta topped with forced rhubarb, simply poached. As you’d expect from a bistro menu, a few classic desserts that were well executed and had not been messed around with too much.

Even though it is slap bang in the middle of a tourist town, Samphire is happily a neighbourhood restaurant; somewhere you’re always guaranteed to get a good solid meal that pleases and satisfied with the occasional unexpected twist. The service is great too; you can book a table here, and if you can’t get the table you want do call them up instead as I discovered trying to make the reservation their system has a bug in it that will let you get a table for 4 but not 3 online!