Places To Eat In Kent: Bottega Caruso, Margate

Plate of ricotta and cherry tomatoes tossed with wild garlic pesto.

It’s been a while since we tried anywhere new, and as the weather starts to warm up I’ve got the perfect Neopolitan spot for you by the sea: Bottega Caruso in Margate. A simple, family run spot just off the main drag they’ve also got a deli a few doors down: it’s the perfect unassuming spot serving some of the very best food any of us around the table had had in a very long time (for me, since I was in Tuscany last year!)

A water jug and a vase of daffodils on the table at Bottaga Caruso.
Glasses of Apero on a wooden table.

There to celebrate my birthday, we started with an apero: a good bellini for my mother, and my father and I’s two favourite non-alcoholic pre-dinner drinks: a Botivo (with tonic water rather than the classic soda water serve for me) and a Crodino (like a virgin Aperol Spritz for him) – a good option for everyone!

A brown bowl of anchovies marinated in chilli and garlic.
Close up of diced salt cod, celery leaves and blood orange slices on a grey plate.

With our drinks, we had a few nibbles: I can highly recommend the anchovies marinated with chilli and garlic, fresh, tender, punchy and flavourful without the garlic getting to overpowering. The day we visited they also had these to buy in the deli, so do grab some even if you’re just passing.

A slightly lighter dish we ordered alongside was a clever combination of tender yet punchy salt cod, clery leaves and blood orange segments. One if you love fish and something a little different.

Close up of a bowl of mozzarella and broccoli rabe topped with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs.

Moving onto our starters, served family style so we could all share the buffalo mozzarella topped with slow cooked broccoli rabe, more anchovies and a very generous scattering of toasted breadcrumbs again hit a lovely seasonal note, but there are two must-orders when you visit.

Bowl of bread meatballs in tomato sauce.

First we’ve got the very best thing we ate at Bottega Caruso: the Polpette di Pane, aka the bread balls. With their roots in Italy’s excellent cucina povera leftover sourdough bound with eggs and herbs are served as a thrifty replacement for meatballs in owner Simona’s family tomato sauce. Sauce itself was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, but the bread balls were so rich, tender, and so much better than a meatball. This is one of those dishes you have to taste to understand the sheer brilliance of. Order them.

Plate of pecorino, salami and pickled peppers.

Also on my ‘must order’ list, but simply just because it’s a plateful of really good things to eat is the dish of salame rosa (similar to mortadella but made with courser cuts of pork), pecorino and house pickles. The meat is very, very porky and more-ish, but it’s the accompaniments that were the stars. I’ve never had non-aged pecorino before but the flavour was beautiful, lighter, milder and creamier with a slightly bouncy texture, a good lunchtime cheese. And the pickled peppers were simple, clever and addictive: we’re looking forward to experimenting with making our own this summer.

Plate of homemade wholemeal pasta tossed with slow cooked beef and topped with grated cheese.
Plate of ricotta and cherry tomatoes tossed with wild garlic pesto.

Moving onto our mains, there was so much to choose from, but in the end two of us went for the fantastic sounding homemade wholemeal pasta tossed with generous chunks of beef shin slow cooked with onions, white wine and herbs, topped with plenty of hard sheep’s cheese. The pasta was wonderfully toothsome, the meat rich and unctuous, and the whole thing very generously portioned and satisfying. If it is still on the menu when you visit, you can’t go wrong here.

Looking more seasonally, a special mention needs to go to the bite I snagged of the ricotta gnocchi (lovely and light) tossed with a vibrant wild garlic and cashew pesto. Early spring on a plate.

Slice of ricotta tart on a grey plate with poached rhubarb on the side.

Our desserts continued to be fantastic, perfectly rounding off our meal where we felt like we’d had enough to eat, but without being overstuffed. I know I’m bias because it was my dessert, but I think the star of the show was the pastiera, a classic Neapolitan Easter tart filled with ricotta and orange blossom water, here served with perfectly pink poached rhubarb on the side. I don’t know enough about the type of pastry used on this type of tart to judge, but the filling was divine: thick, creamy and with just the right amount of orange blossom so that it’s flavour was very, very present without being soapy or overwhelming. Paired with the rhubarb, I wish I had another piece right next to me now.

Close up of a piece of tiramisu on a grey plate.
Spoonful of panna cotta drizzled with thick balsamic vinegar with pistachio biscuits on the side on a white plate.

I don’t like coffee so I’ve never been able to appreciate tiramisu, but I’ve been reliably informed that this one really did taste as good as it looks, and was one of the best examples my mother had ever had. My father also enjoyed his panna cotta, served with a generous, balancing drizzle of syrupy balsamic and some excellent almond and pistachio cantucci.

I know as a family our standards for restaurants are exceptionally high, so it is saying something that over lunch Bottega Caruso did not put a foot wrong. It was a celebration of the highest quality ingredients treated well, in a lovely casual atmosphere with excellent service. It seems like in the enjoyment of my birthday lunch I forgot to picture the wines: they were mostly organic, natural and very excellent, all Italian I seem to remember with plenty of choice by the glass. We all enjoyed out picks spanning from red, to white to orange. My literal only complaint is it’s a good hour and a quarter drive from my house! You can book a table (a must as we head into the warmer months!) here.