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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Samphire, Whitstable

PUBLISHED: 11:05 14 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:05 14 April 2014

Samphire at Whitstable

Samphire at Whitstable

Archant

Turn up the heat and we could be on to a real winner

At around this time of year, Whitstable ceases to be a functioning, peaceful seaside town and instead slips into its spring/summer outfit.

And with it come hordes of visitors each and every weekend.

Every Saturday and Sunday morning sees traffic stretch down the hill that leads into the pretty town and any clear piece of

pavement becomes a potential parking space.

All of which means a bumper time for traders – and especially those in the restaurant trade. Because a decent chunk of those visiting crowds are the Down From Londons. And city folk tend to come with money burning a hole in their back pockets.

Which means that restaurateurs need to have their act together.

Samphire sits two doors along from the pink-fronted Wheeler’s Oyster Bar on the high street and will, surely, be hoping to be one of those cashing in – especially given its prominent location.

Certainly it is an enticing prospect. The décor is alluring; wooden tables, bits of art and framed contributions and notes singing its praises line the walls. Your name is chalked on to the table you’ve reserved, which manages to make you feel rather special, while the lighting is subtle and cosy. In short, it is warm and welcoming, the key ingredients of any restaurant wanting to set a good first impression

The service itself is friendly, albeit rather sluggish, the mood and atmosphere excellent.

You can, however, hear the word ‘but’ approaching with undue haste from afar, can’t you?

Because Samphire is a classic case of ‘close but no cigar’. And for one simple reason that seems so basic it seems crazy it fell flat as a result: the food wasn’t hot enough.

It wasn’t that it wasn’t cooked well – some of it oozed flavour – but that it just felt like it had probably waited on a side for five minutes before it was brought through, the consequence being that the very first sensation was ‘Oh, that’s not hot enough’.

It wasn’t just my main dish, either, but the starters, too – and those of my dining partner.

Now, you never want to be burning your tongue on a prepared meal, but you do at least want to feel it’s just gone from pan to plate.

The result was that it overshadowed the quality of the food to a certain extent, which was a real shame, especially as the menu had a nice balance of fish, meat and vegetarian options, all of which were based on a key local ingredient.

The Stour Valley pigeon with star anise and braised spring onion was beautifully presented and very tasty, while the rump of Monkshill lamb comprised fine fat chunks of tender, moist meat offset by gratin potatoes and wild garlic pesto.

Coupled with the atmosphere, it could have been great.

It wasn’t helped by slow service, too – so tardy, in fact, that we skipped dessert as we feared the whole process could take an age.

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. For a little over £66, which included a nice Pinot Grigio, it was good value and high quality. Go just that little bit further – and that basically boils down to speeding up the service and delivery of food – and all those tourists they crave will be queuing up for the chance to share the experience.

■ Samphire

4 High Street

Whitstable

CT5 1BQ

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