It is often said that people watch Formula 1 because of the risk of seeing an accident. I like to critique food, truth be told, in hopes that I’ll be served something so terribly awful that it will make it a breeze.
And, cards on the table, I headed to Broadstairs with high expectations that I was about to experience a meal that would deliver just that.
It’s not that I thought the food in what might claim to be Kent’s trendiest fish and chip shop was going to be bad – I just suspected it was going to serve up an overpriced style master class on the substance.
Flotsam & Jetsam opened up to the world in the lockdown era – a small extension of neighboring Wyatt & Jones restaurant – and a way to put some cash back when we weren’t allowed to sit in the same room than the others.
Since then, it has become a darling of the Instagram generation (I’m more of the phone card generation) thanks to its retro-chic style.
Its distinct storefront is all in pastel colors with an old-fashioned lettered menu board. “Seafood & Frites” is written above the door, mixing its tongues with another ampersand.
Its menu speaks of “mussels and cockles popcorn”, “flambéed mackerel” and “breaded zucchini flower stuffed with crab”.
In short, it was the sort of place you imagine DfLs flock to before heading back to their, stereotype alert, Range Rover and heading along the M2 stopping only to enter Whitstable for a plate of oysters and a few extra selfies to impress their Islington pals with.
Now, as we all know, Thanet is normally one of the great sunny places in Kent. The day I chose to do my visit for fries on the beach the temperature is best described as ‘freezing’ and the wind sends waves crashing dramatically over the seawall so much that the parking lot du arm du port was forced to close for fear, it is believed, that the cars would be battered by the elements. Well, it’s April.
But a paste of a very different variety occupies my thoughts as we descend a sloping road towards Flotsam & Jetsam. Depending on your perspective, his card is full of pretensions or tantalizing treats.
First, good news. Last time I was here a few weeks ago the queue not only stretched out the door and into the street but was so popular that the moment I walked into the place , pretty much everything I wanted had sold out. I had left empty-handed and – a psychiatrist would no doubt infer from my previous comments – carrying a pent-up frustration deep inside me. On this cold and gloomy Friday, we are the only ones there.
Met by friendly staff we order.
First of all, this place is small – which may explain my inability to get through the front door…there is no seating, but everything is spotlessly clean. Sleek light bulbs hang from the ceiling while a bank of fryers lines the far wall.
We have to experience the obligatory ‘chips in a cone’ (£3.50), plus the mussels and cockles popcorn (£7.50) and, for good measure, the fritto di verdure miste ( which, Google Translate informs me, is a mixture of fried vegetables’).
Not one but two of the sauces we wanted, however, were out of stock (which, given it was only lunchtime, was a little odd).
Now my biggest expectation with this place was that I was going to pay a lot for very little. After waiting a few minutes for everything to be cooked fresh, we are handed our food and, determined to follow in the footsteps of all these Insta-folk in front of us, we walk around to eat them with a view of the golden sand a few meters away. the.
Admittedly the arctic style weather leaves a little to be desired but at least it’s not raining and there are some spectacular waves on one side and surfers on the other to keep us entertained with a group of people here to watch everything (for clarity, it’s the waves crashing against the wall, not me eating chips).
So let’s get rid of that now. The food at this place is, and I almost hate myself for saying this, absolutely first class. For all its claims, it delivers quality, taste, lightness of touch and, gasp, value for money.
First, the dough – and pardon the profanity here – but Christ on a ruddy bicycle is deliciously good. Gourmet, light, crunchy… it doesn’t crush the tender bites it encloses, it simply enhances them.
The friendly veggies hiding inside aren’t just moist, colorless firecrackers you have to try to identify, they’re brightly colored, fresh, and have a fine flavor. A spear of dark green asparagus pokes out its little head like a bud in the spring snow after I nibbled its battered head, and there’s also pepper and zucchini among the treats from the deep friend. Absolutely sensational.
I’ll even forgive the multi-colored cone – which a large chunk of its online followers adore so much – it’s served in.
Next, I focus on “popcorn with mussels and cockles”. First, it comes in a small, branded sealed box. Like fancy truffles.
The first bite…the batter crackles as I bite down and then gives way to a wet mussel. Heaven. Normally I would turn my nose up at a cockle served other than from a seafood stall with a heavy dose of vinegar, but now I have a new favourite. It works. Who knew?
The fries themselves – of course, they still have skins on them – are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. You really can’t fault this stuff.
Now, undeniably, you can walk down Broadstairs Road to the many other fish and chip shops and order a much larger amount of food for a similar price. Of this there is no argument. But as tasty as a well-cooked cod and fries is, it’s not a fair comparison. This is a gourmet take on a seaside classic that’s worth every penny.
Now I have to go join Instagram so I can join the cool kids in posting photos of the quaint food against an equally beautiful backdrop.
Scores out of five
Food: Boring, frustrating, absolutely top notch *****
Beverage: I didn’t have any – so I won’t rate it, but you can get a G&T Grapefruit or Sparkling Rhubarb if you feel like it
Decor: Outside, it looks like it was designed to attract as many DfLs as possible. Inside, the same, but immaculately clean and discreetly classy ****
Staff: Friendly, efficient and eager to please ****
Price: You can buy more for less at nearby fries. . . but you are paying here for the quality of the cuisine ****