I read about the small seaside town of Whitstable, in Kent, a few months ago in this article in the New York Times, and I’ve kept it in mind as a place to go to one sunny day (it’s only about an hour and half away). We went on Saturday, which seemed pretty sunny and warm in London, but was windy and chilly on the coast (as always, of course). Still, it was a fine day for eating seafood, which seems to be the main attraction in Whitstable. Although I’d also recommend a walk along the pebbly beach, where you can watch small sailboats race around and whip up and down in the wind (no big boats with a deep keel, however, because the water is too shallow).
For a late lunch, we popped into Wheelers Oyster Bar in town and were offered a couple of seats at the counter (there are only four seats at the counter) because the main room was full. We sat down in front of the seafood arranged in cups and platters and didn’t realize how lucky we were until our waiter told another couple that one should make reservations about five weeks in advance. So plan ahead before going to Whitstable! (I’m pretty sure all those places mentioned in the Times article demand some planning, and I know for sure that the Michelin-starred pub, the Sportsman, requires reservations because I called them.) But back to Wheelers: fantastic. Fried oysters in a Guinness batter, then truly the best crab cake I’ve ever had (meaty and creamy but light and almost frothy and crispy and deeply satisfying—England has the best crab, every time I have it), and then a large and heartwarming plate of smoked haddock and sprouting broccoli and potatoes in an eggy chive sauce. (I wonder if these recipes are in their cookbook, which I failed to look at while in the restaurant because I was too involved in eating my food.)
While seated at the counter, I discovered that Wheelers also does a brisk business serving up bags of whelks and cartons of tiny shrimp to local customers. I was tempted to take some fresh shellfish back to London but decided against it. Better to get myself over to Kent when I need a fix, and it’s not a bad drive if there’s no traffic in London, but of course there always is.