Sargasso, Margate, restaurant review: Gastronomic bliss right on the beach
TThe first time I visited Margate, I really thought I had come to hell on Earth. It was an over 30 degree long August weekend and I jumped off the train to what I can only explain as a mishmash of every element of puzzling British culture.
Being the antipode that I am, I’m a huge beach snob – and I’ll never apologize for it. The beaches at Margate were… less than pleasant, and I spent most of the weekend sweaty and desperate to swim in a place that didn’t look (and smell) to have a direct link with sewers.
Luckily Margate is full of great places to eat and drink and we ended up having a wonderfully hilarious weekend. That’s the problem with Margate: the strong social dichotomy will inevitably drag you down.
You have kitschy Dreamland sitting next to one of the coolest restaurants in the country; wine bars next to stores that sell things exclusively in neon tones. If you can get into that contrast, it ends up being a happy place.
Margate earned the creepy nickname “Shoreditch-on-sea,” a loosely veiled reference to his influx of seaside-seeking Hackneyites (forget it guys, it’s a two-bit take on the ocean. ), and then quickly opened up many restaurants that wouldn’t look out of place on E8.
As questionable as the nickname may be, Margate’s latest opening may have just solidified it firmly. Sargasso was bought and remodeled by the team behind Columbia Road’s Brawn – one of the best restaurants in town.
They brought the same restaurant philosophy with Italian accents and the same wine list to the town of Kent, adapting it slightly to suit the new location. This is presented in a slightly lighter menu; it offers a little more fish, a little less meat, which is perfect for long lunches in the sun.
My second visit to Margate – drawn by the openness of Sargassum – has already started much better than the first. The weather was comfortable 20 degrees; the sun was outside; it wasn’t a long weekend.
The town was busy but laid back, and I finally started to understand what it was about (although the seaweed still smells like an open drain at low tide).
Sneaking up to the Sargassum – AKA Brawn-on-Sea – parked at a table in the sun was like being momentarily on vacation (if you squint lightly and don’t look too closely at the color of the water).
I’ve always seen this food as vaguely, indefinitely European, much like Moira’s accent in Schitt Creek – we cannot put our finger on our origins; it pulls in a range of influences, but it’s ultimately familiar.
The terrine gives way to cod eggs. There is a whole section purely dedicated to pasta but the main dishes seem to be inspired by French flavor profiles. It doesn’t really matter and doesn’t need to be defined – when the food is this good, it can comfortably sit in its own category.
Parmesan donuts have already become a social media cult since the restaurant opened in August, and I can see why. The lip-smacking golden fried exterior gives way to a melted cheese interior full of the salty fat of Parmesan. You may find yourself battling your table mates for every bite.
The pork head terrine is thick, gelatinous, a bit crunchy in places but ultimately harmonious – especially when paired with the sharp bite of mustard and the invigorating brine of pickles. Friggitelli’s peppers were a bit like playing Russian roulette in spice pegs – shriveled like the skin of a European man with an affinity for nude beaches, some were sweetly spice-free, while others left you behind. gobble up the remnants of your glass of water.
My main tip would be to order extra bread and butter – you’ll want it to scrape every last whisper of food off your plates. Especially for cod roe. This is one of the best things I have eaten in recent memory.
The eggs themselves have been whipped until thickened, rich in the deeply salty fishy flavor you’d want. It arrived topped with braised beets, golden breadcrumbs, peppery radishes and a hard-boiled egg. It’s the perfection. I could have eaten at least two plates of it. I still think about it four days later. Cod roe is having a time and I’ve eaten a lot recently – definitely the best of a good bunch.
The main course for me, however, had to be the tomato tonnato. Traditionally served with thin slices of veal and topped with a tuna infused sauce, at Sargasso you get lightly sweet tomato slices topped with a tonnato sauce that seems to derive its fishy aspect from anchovies rather than tuna.
This results in a much more subtle, but no less delicious, plate. Just like cod roe, I still crave it almost a week later, and I’m going to make it my mission to perfect the recipe for this sauce. This is the epitome of the right holiday price, and makes momentary gastronomic bliss when washed down with a glass of crisp white wine (could I recommend Zibibbo, or Bianchetto skin contact).
The menu changes regularly, but try to get there quickly before tonnato is inevitably taken off the menu at the end of the tomato season.
You can rest easy knowing whatever they are doing as the winter months approach, it will be glorious. Just be sure to visit at high tide – this seaweed takes on its own scent life when the water is out of the water, and it might prevent you from having lunch.