On our recent drive down to Margate to visit Stealth and Regina's new pad the Ewing proclaimed ‘we need to get all our friend’s to move to the sea’. And while I still love the charms of her home in E&C (no, really) there is something exciting about a visit to the Isle of Thanet that reminds me of my halcyon days at university where the housemate with the car (always the best kind of housemate) would drive us here on Sundays to eat pots of vinegary cockles on the bleak sand, while hoping the sea air would somehow aid our hangovers.
Things are obviously much more fancy now, even at the Clintonville end, and after a glass of fizz while admiring the new view – complete with a running commentary from Stealth about the boats currently in the harbour; everybody needs a hobby when they leave London - we wandered along the sea front to Angela’s for a late lunch.
A tiny place with a big reputation, it has been featured everywhere from the FT to the Good Food Guide and I was already very excited about an afternoon heavily featuring the joys of booze and seafood. Starting with a bottle of vinho verde, chosen by the Ewing and appropriately named Chin Chin. Check out the bottle too – I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but how can drinking a couple of bottles of a wine with a label like that, on a sunny afternoon, be anything but pleasurable.
One sign that you know you are going to get a good feed is when the menu is found chalked up on a board hanging on the wall, that can be unhooked, as here, and paraded around if needed. One of the only flourishes I really don’t mind in restaurants. Even if their ever-changing nature often means I can’t look at them online before my visit. The good feed theory was backed up by the fact that we all eagerly wanted to eat it all, despite mainlining the Co-Ops salt and vinegar crisps (the best salt and vinegar crisps, don’t @ me) before coming out.
Fortuitously we all decided on different mains, just like proper food bloggers would, which was hardly a hardship when we would all have happily eaten any of them. Looking at it now I'm just sad we didn't have a fifth mouth (although we were with the Ewing, which pretty much constitutes the same thing) so we could enjoy the halibut and girolles. But then, there's always next time.
Little gratis nibbles of salmon pate on toast were wonderfully retro and completely delicious and we also ordered a basket of sourdough bread which came with butter that was mostly eschewed in lieu of dragging the hunks around our main dishes to soak up the sauce.
Ray has been one of my favourite fish since I went to Madrid with my Aunt as a teenager and ordered it, only to be told by the waitstaff that I - very awkward, very English - definitely wouldn't like it. As well meaning as the advice was my Aunt was indignant that I did want it and I would like it, and of course she was right.
I still remember the congratulations I received from several excited Spanish women after methodically stripping all the flesh from the cartilaginous skeleton. Here was no different, with every last scrap of flesh divested from the bones and every last drop of swoonsome cockle vinaigrette, full of garlic and parsley and salty shellfish, scooped up with said sourdough.
The Ewing's hake was a perfectly cooked tranche of fish with burnished skin sitting proudly on top of a heap of sweet, slow-cooked fennel ragout and a big and beefy crab sauce. I was lucky enough to get a taste of this (not just because, when I asked the Ewing how it tasted for the purposes of the blog, she replied 'hake-y'), and it was quite as excellent as it looked.
Regina chose a grand hunk of monkfish on the bone on a bed of curried lentils, which she kindly modelled with an action shot, fork raised, so I could take a picture.
Stealth had no option than to let me take a picture of her fish stew, but you can see from her hand position she is getting good at modelling a plate. Both ladies seemed very happy with their choices, the sourdough coming in handy to make sure every plate was left pretty much spotless.
What was even more impressive than my greed was seeing the size of the kitchen our dishes came from. Making my house seem palatial.
Now, a few days before, I had sent Stealth a picture via Instagram (as has now become the customary way of contacting each other) to point out that Angela's' sister restaurant - Dory, just around the corner - were selling sourdough doughnuts on a Saturday morning and that I would very much like one on my visit.
While Stealth had not managed to procure a doughnut before our arrival (or let's be honest, attempted to...), she did ask one of our charming waitresses whether they thought there might be any left. While they said it was probably doubtful, they were more than happy to go and see while we finished our lunch. The, incidentally absolutely delicious, bowl of greens we ordered to the side going someway to offset the scoring of any potential fried carbs.
After our dishes had been cleared Stealth announced that 'I don't want pudding, I'll just have a cup of tea' before, after a Pinteresque pause 'I'll just have a bite of yours'. Since Regina and I had already decided we were going to share a piece of the chocolate cake with caramel I told her, in no uncertain terms, that this was not happening.
Finally we decided on two slices between three of us, which worked out far better for me as Regina was sitting closer to Stealth's roving fork. And while I did have to contend with renowned chocoholic the Ewing trying to get a look in, I wolfed down the fudgy yet ethereal mousse-style cake with a lake of burnished caramel without the need of much help at all.
The Ewing snagged the last slice of plum tart although, sadly, there were out of creme fraiche sorbet so she had to soldier on with a jug of pouring cream to douse it with instead. This was a lovely, light thing with sharp fruit and sweet custard and a slightly bruleed top bringing a little touch of bitterness.
We finished with good cafetiere coffee while having a giggle with the two waitresses who were a hoot and had lots of memories of old and new Margate to share with us. The food and atmosphere at Angela's were superlative and it comes highly recommended. And at fifty quid a head (with two bottles of wine and the doughnuts for later) it might not have been cheap lunch, but it certainly felt like good value. A big thanks for Stealth and Regina for making it happen. No, I'm still not sharing my pudding next time.
Even after managing most of the chocolate cake on my own, old habits die hard and it was off to Manning's Seafood stall after lunch for a second cockle fix to attempt to negate the effects of a two bottle of wine lunch. I may be older than when I originally used to visit for my tray of bivalves, but clearly still no wiser.