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Review: Dunkerley’s Restaurant & Hotel, Deal

PUBLISHED: 12:55 05 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:55 05 June 2017

Dunkerley's overlooks Deal Pier

Dunkerley's overlooks Deal Pier

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Family run restaurant and hotel Dunkerley’s is celebrating its 30th anniversary this June, and the magic is still there

Thirty years ago this month, Ian and Linda Dunkerley opened the hotel and restaurant that bears their name, right on Deal’s gorgeous seafront.

The family roots are firmly embedded in this pretty coastal town and indeed one of the bedrooms, The Signal Man, is named after Ian’s grandfather, who was a local lifeboat man for 36 years.

But the attractive green and cream 19th-century hotel, festooned with colourful hanging baskets every summer, wasn’t quite so salubrious back in 1987, as self-confessed ‘bit of a gambler’ Ian admits.

“When I bought it this place it was a café, next to the worst pub in Deal – which I bought 10 years later. I managed it as a café for six months. I wanted to call it Steaks, Salads and Soles but when I was managing The Royal, all the locals used to say ‘let’s go to Dunkerley’s rather than The Royal. Everyone said I had to call this place Dunkerley’s so I bowed to popular opinion!

Enjoy the view from a seafront roomEnjoy the view from a seafront room

“I’ve always been known as Mr D,” adds Ian, now 62. “I’d like to have unloaded that by now really, but it just stuck.”

Born in Ashford, the family spent three years in Cyprus when his father, who was in the Army, got posted there. Sadly, he died when Ian was just 12 and his mother moved her three sons to a brand-new London overspill estate that was being built in Ashford.

“Stanhope had an awful reputation and I worked to stay out of trouble. I had six jobs when I was at school; I was the richest kid on the estate!” It also gave Ian his strong East London accent – and an entrepreneurial spirit for life.

But the father of four’s heart is in Deal and he and Linda are delighted that the family succession looks secure, as son Ben, a filmmaker, has come back into the business and is now executive chef.

Restaurant at Dunkerley'sRestaurant at Dunkerley's

One of the many lovely things about Dunkerley’s is the warmth of the welcome and how you are made to feel immediately at home; staff here really do embody the town’s motto of ‘Befriend a stranger.’

Manager of 18 months Dan Harrison, a trained butler with impeccable standards, shows me to my comfy en suite seafront room and brings me up a cuppa. My spirits lift as I gaze out on the long pier from the window seat festooned with cushions and sniff the sea air.

Feeling distinctly holiday-esque I set out for a bit of a wander, in a Walmer Castle direction (well worth visiting) to admire the fishing boats on the shingle, then down the long High Street, packed with independents and most worthy of the Telegraph’s award of High Street of the Year in 2013.

On my return, I spot Ian going into the hotel and we decide to enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine out front, where’s there’s plenty of seating to enjoy al fresco food and drink. A glass or three of Champagne later, we’ve put the world to rights, I’ve heard all about Ian’s colourful life – and it’s time for dinner.

Sea-fresh scallops are beautifully presentedSea-fresh scallops are beautifully presented

The long, thin restaurant area is distinct from the bistro bar and offers a different menu – and, in my case, it turns out I’m to be a bit of a guinea pig for the brand-new summer menu. What a triumph it is too – and cooked for me by Mr D himself, no less. He hasn’t lost his touch.

Settling back in my stripy tub chair at a front table so I get the lovely view, I watch dusk fall as I enjoy good sun-dried tomato bread with my carrot and cumin soup served as a fragrant and very tasty amuse-bouche.

It’s a precursor for Ian’s modern take on seared scallops Waldorf style: three juicy, perfectly cooked scallops with a delicious cider reduction served on tiny pieces of apple with a scattering of walnuts.

The blend of sweet and savoury back notes makes for a multi-layered dish that goes beautifully with a glass of local Chapel Down Bacchus.

After a refreshing palate cleanser of cranberry granite, I enjoy Kingsdown sea bass, pan-fried in sesame seed oil and presented Thai-style with spring onion, garlic, ginger, coriander and soya sauce on buttery Asian noodles with seasonal vegetables. A huge fan of bass, it’s one of the most imaginative treatments I’ve tried yet and I loved it – a brilliant fusion dish.

While this is primarily a seafood restaurant, there are options for meat eaters (confit pork belly, steak and roasted Welsh rump of lamb) as well as vegetarians (butternut squash and sage risotto with truffle oil).

My dessert fortunately takes 15 minutes to prepare, allowing me time to digest and take in my convivial surroundings and listen to the (slightly too loud for me) background music, with its eclectic range from Adele to Simon and Garfunkel.

The dark chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream combines all my favourite flavours and once pushed together (the two components are miles apart on the long oblong plate, as if they’ve had a row), it’s the perfect combination of warmth and cold, sweet and salt.

Tired from sun, sea and fizz, replete and happy, I sleep like a baby and wake to that big Deal sky and a sparkling day. Breakfast brings great poached egg on wholemeal toast and good coffee. Love this place.

The essentials

Where: Dunkerley’s Restaurant & Hotel, 19 Beach Street, Deal CT14 7AH. 01304 375016 or info@dunkerleys.co.uk

What: Convivial, family run hotel and primarily seafood restaurant with a seafront setting

When: 8am-11pm

How much: seared scallops £10.95, roast pigeon breast £7.95; sea bass fillet £19.95, crispy confit pork belly £14.95; dark chocolate fondant £8.95, roasted rhubarb pavlova £6.95

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