Tuesday 2 June 2009

A May weekend in Hastings.

Last month, I visited Hastings for a weekend. I haven't been there before, and as is usual for me, I spent quite a while online trying to find out where to eat and what foodie delights to track down beforehand. You see, when it comes to eating, I don't want to wander around looking for somewhere to eat lunch, peering through windows at menus and chancing my arm eating disappointing grub, only to find out later there was somewhere excellent around the corner. I want to know where I'm eating lunch before I even arrive and I want to know that it's going to be good.

Bearing this in mind, on the drive down through Kent, I planned to pop into the Chapel Down Vineyard to stock up on wine. I've been a fan of their wine for quite a while, having tried a glass of Bacchus reserve in Butlers Wharf Chophouse one night, and being blown away by how light and fresh it tasted, amazed that it was English Wine. So much so, that I remembered the name and decided to drive down to the Vineyard in Kent to buy some soon after. That was a few years ago now, and I've visited quite a few times and drank a fair old bit of their wine. I picked up a half dozen bottles of the Bacchus reserve, and a few bottles of the Rose - not something I normally drink, but I had a taste and it was gorgeous.
With the boot of the car full of wine - it was onto Hastings.

The first restaurant I ate at on the trip was 'St Clements', just down the coast from Hastings in St Leonards. I'd read good reviews online during my pre-trip research, and that it is run by an ex-Ivy, Le Caprice Chef and what a good choice that turned out to be. Excellent and attentive service, seasonal, local produce and wine, and faultless food. I had a really good and enjoyable Meal and considering how great the food was, the prices weren't bad at all.
I ordered:-
Starter - Kent Asparagus, Poached Egg, Parmesan, Balsamic and Olive Oil.
Main - Slow cooked belly of Pork, Mustard Mash with Red Wine sauce

Dessert - Black Treacle Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream.

Now - I'm in Hastings, its by the sea, the home of all things aquatic - I have to eat fish and chips. According to my exhaustive research, the best place is apparently Maggie's, a hut pretty much on the beach frequented by the Fishermen themselves. All well and good, but I turned up on a Saturday lunchtime in blazing sunshine and with predictably crushing disappointment, it was fully booked. There was not a table to be had. I did the research, but forgot to book....stupid!

But - my forward planning provided a backup in the shape of 'The Mermaid Restaurant' also located within spitting distance of the beach and also supposedly purveyors of excellent fish and chips. Once again, the time spent beforehand reading up online wasn't wasted and the Cod and chips were really very good, the chips especially, having a slight crunch. It may have had a bit of that worn out 'seaside caff' feel to the fixtures and fittings, but I find that look kind of appealing, so no complaints there.

On the Sunday afternoon, I decided to have lunch at the De Le Warr Pavilion a short drive down the coast from Hastings in Bexhill on Sea. I'd wanted to visit the Pavilion for a while, I'm quite a fan of 1930's modernist architecture and the Pavilion has recently had millions spent refurbishing it to look exactly as it did in its heyday, nowadays it houses an art gallery space.
I was also inspired after reading about a meal Douglas Blyde had there recently in his excellent blog Intoxicating Prose.
The building is stunning - the kind of seaside architecture we used to be so good at in this country, looking almost like a cruise liner on land. Considering when it was built, it shows that quality design doesn't age. It could have been designed and built yesterday, and doubtless will look just as timeless in another 80 years or so.

But onto the food, the restaurant, true to the modernist building housing it is pretty stark. But there are great views of the sea down one entire side with floor to ceiling glass windows. I'll just say this now - the food is excellent. Really very good indeed - I skipped the starters and ordered a confit leg of Duck, with smoked bacon, beetroot and pear with fondant potato and red wine jus. It was quite possibly the best thing Ive eaten in ages.
My partner went for the Cumberland Sausage with mashed potato, savoy cabbage and onion gravy, now this is standard pub grub fare - she's eaten this scores of times, but she made the rather bold statement that it "Was the best sausage and mash I've ever eaten". I tried it, and I'm inclined to agree.
For dessert I went for the Chocolate and Raspberry torte - it was huge, not quite the same standard as the main, I'd seemingly got given a slice a bit 'short' on the raspberry side but still very good indeed.
If you in the area, visit the lovely building, have a look at the art, and then grab lunch or dinner - the prices, considering how good the food is, are a total bargain.

The last foodie place I visited was Judges Bakery and Deli. located in Hastings old Town, Its owned by the founders of Green and Black chocolate, and has a reputation for baking incredibly good bread. It's also houses a lovely little deli. I tried some of the bread, and it was indeed great. I wish I had a bakers who churned out a similarly quality product locally.
So that was Hastings, I enjoyed the visit and ate some fantastic food. You can't ask for more than that really.

St Clements
3 Mercatoria Street.
St Leonards on Sea
East Sussex
TN38 0EB
Telephone: 01424 200 355

Mermaid Restaurant
2 Rock a Nore Road
Old Town
Telephone - 01424 438100

De Le Warr Pavilion
Bexhill on Sea.
TN40 1DP
Telephone - 01424 229 111

Judges Bakery
51 High Street
East Sussex
TN34 3EN
Telephone -01424-722588

Rock-a-Nore Road,
Above the fish market,
TN34 3DW
Telephone - 01424 430205


Oliver Thring said...

What a brilliant time you had. Shame about Maggie's being shut, but it looks you found an excellent substitute.

Anonymous said...

Sounds lovely! Have never been to Hastings but it sounds like the perfect getaway from the Big Smoke. I'm 100% with you about wanting to know about where to eat before going somewhere, The Pavilion sounds awesome.

The Ample Cook said...

Good research Dan - it paid off in buckets didn't it? Excellent post with really good photos. Food looked and sounded delicious.

Kent is somewhere we just don't visit enough, we always tend to go upwards to Suffolk & Norfolk, but you've tempted me now.

Dan said...

Oliver - Thanks, I did have a good time. Yep, a real shame about Maggies - seems that everything I read about Hastings and seafood mentioned it.

Gastrogeek, yep - Its certainly worth visiting for a weekend.

Jan, Cheers, I actually quite like Kent - one of the things I've done a few times is drive down to visit the Chapel Down Vineyard and the Biddenden Vineyard which is nearby - and also pop into Royal Tunbridge Wells for a wander around the shops, lot of Independent and Boutique type places, its actually a really nice place. Especially the end around The Pantiles etc. Definitely worth a visit.

Douglas said...

Good news - really glad you liked the DLWP! Thanks for the compliment too.

Boo said...

I used to go to Hastings often as a child (I grew up in the Tunbridge Wells area) and we would always get fish and chips at The Mermaid, excellent choice. I've not been there for a while, this has inspired me to return, perhaps when the sun decides to make a comeback!

Graphic Foodie said...

Good eating! Love the De La Warr Pavilion and good to know it is a good place to eat too.

Graphic Foodie said...

How many times can a person write "good" in a comment for heavens sake?

Dan said...

That was a foodie trip and a half wasn't it?! You must have had an empty wallet and a full belly afterwards, sounds and looks like you had a great time.