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Exploring Sandgate Sea and Food Festival 2013

By 27 August 2013 Folkestone, Food Festivals, Kent
Sandgate Food and Drink Festival 2013

An extremely wet Saturday was an inauspicious start to the Bank Holiday weekend but the foodie gods played their part and the clouds dispersed to allow the sun to shine down on the Sandgate Sea and Food Festival.  This annual festival started in 2004 and takes place on the seafront behind the historic Sandgate High Street.  There were a variety of stalls including a contingent from France who were serving a hoppy lager from the Boulogne-sur-Mer region of northern France.

There were a choice of food stalls from which to choose our lunch. All were tempting, including a very large piece of Spanish tortilla from Fresh and Easy (a patisserie and cafe and Folkestone) and a tapas stall. We plumped for burritos from Escondido, a Mexican restaurant in Sandgate itself. I went for a chicken burrito and Marc went for a pork and green chili burrito. They were served from a chafing dish that actually meant the tortillas were a bit hard, almost crunchy. This isn’t how burritos are normally served but actually it made for excellent street food. The burrito was easy to pick up and eat without the filling falling out, which is was normally happens. The filling was very tasty but not at all spicy. That’s good for me though because I can’t eat spicy food. The burrito contained chicken in a tomato based sauce, rice and re-fried beans. I added guacamole, salsa and sour cream. The first two tasted homemade and were delicious. Guacamole is one of my favourite dips and I always prefer homemade to shop bought. We tucked into our burritos while sitting on the beach.

Chicken burrito from Escondido Sandgate

Unfortunately we didn’t have long to look round the festival because I had to get home to cook Sunday lunch for my in-laws (braised beef with shallots and mushrooms, followed by tropical pineapple pudding). I saw on Twitter that a lady was planning to make peanut butter cupcakes and I was very excited! We managed to find the cupcake stall before going home but I was disappointed to learn she didn’t have peanut butter flavour. My mood soon lifted when I picked out a divine gingerbread latte cupcake. The cake was flavoured with both coffee and ginger, with a vanilla frosting. The sprinkles are tiny gingerbread men! So cute!

Gingerbread Latte Cupcake

It was a pretty good weekend all in all. Yummy treats on Sunday followed by a healthy dinner, and a naughty BBQ on Monday with friends. Only one month until the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival on 27th to 29th September. I’m really looking forward to that as it’s a proper big festival held in the Dane John Gardens. I’ve not been since I was at college about ten years ago! I remember buying a lovely rhubarb and ginger pie.

By Rachel Birchley x

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How to Treat Yourself at the Weekend – Lunch at Blooms Restaurant in Folkestone

By 7 August 2013 Eating Out, Folkestone, Food

As someone who loves food, I’ve decided to make more of an effort to sample my local eateries.  There are plenty of restaurants in Folkestone, Kent but I’ve hardly been to any of them, which to be honest I’m quite ashamed of.  My grandparents always want to know where we can eat when they come to visit but we always end up going to the Beefeater in Ashford, which is even more shameful but a bit of a guilty pleasure!

On Saturday, Marc (my husband) treated me to a wonderful, fresh lunch at Blooms, a restaurant that opened earlier this year at the bottom of the Old High Street in Folkestone.  I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened but when you’re on a budget, you don’t get to eat out as often.  We chanced our arm Saturday afternoon and walked in without booking.  When we replied “no” to the lady who asked if we’d booked, she looked a bit concerned.  Looking around the restaurant, this was a bit strange since it was almost empty!  It turns out that most of the tables were booked but the diners obviously were after a late lunch since we got there about 1.30pm.

Once seated on the surprisingly comfortable yet massive wicker chairs we were able to take in our surroundings.  There were pictures of Folkestone adorning the walls, which reflected the locally sourced ingredients.  The menu is quite extensive and comes presented on a wooden clipboard.  In addition to the printed menu, they have a selection of daily specials including both meat and fish.  Since I’m on a diet I decided to go for salad, but of course Marc had a burger, his favourite!  To start with, we had the bread and oil, which had to be done because Blooms bake their own fresh bread every morning.  Even Marc’s burger bun was homemade.

Blooms Folkestone restaurant menu

The Avocado and Pancetta salad was a sight to behold.  The bright colours of the beautifully fresh food made the dish look particularly mouthwatering, and it certainly lived up to my expectations.  The boiled egg was perfectly cooked with a soft yolk, the avocado soft and ripe, the pancetta crunchy, and the croutons delicious.  All in all, I was very impressed.  The salad filled me up a treat and was one of the tastiest I’ve had in a long time.  It reminded me of the epic salads that you find in Europe.

Blooms Folkestone Avocado and Pancetta Salad

Marc’s burger came with fabulous chips that were perfectly crisp on the outside, yet fluffy on the inside, as well as fresh onion rings and a salsa that tasted a bit like mango chutney.  The burger was beautifully juicy and judging by the way it was wolfed down it must have tasted pretty good!

Blooms Folkestone 'Blooms Burger' beef burger with freshly baked seeded bun

It brilliant to be able to eat freshly cooked food that tastes so delicious.  You do have to wait a bit for your meal, because every dish is cooked to order but as long as you’re not in a rush then that’s not a problem, and the wait is worth it.  We took a look at the desert board but decided we were too stuffed to eat any more!  The chocolate fondant sounded amazing though.

In total, the bill came to just over £30 including my tomato juice and Marc’s pint of Heineken, which is not too bad really. It’s not somewhere we could afford to eat every weekend but for a treat it’s fantastic.  If you’re looking for a restaurant in Folkestone, you’ll struggle to find somewhere offering such scrummy food at such reasonable prices.

If you’re a fellow food lover and would like to share restaurant reviews, recipes and food photos, check out my newly created Google+ Community, Kent Foodies.
By Rachel Birchley

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Come to my Hometown – Folkestone, Kent

By 26 August 2012 Folkestone, Kent, Life, Travel
Folkestone harbour on a beautiful summer’s day

In the Victorian times the railway came to Folkestone, linking it with London and creating a booming seaside resort.  Grand hotels were built along with rows of stately villas.  The once ailing harbour began offering cross-channel ferries to France and Folkestone grew in size.  The affluent holiday-makers found new attractions and amenities popping up: boating ponds; rollerskating rinks and even an early form of rollercoaster – the switchback railway.  Folkestone’s popularity continued past the war years.  My grandparents actually honeymooned in Folkestone in July 1955.  Folkestone was a busy seaside resort until the 1970s when air travel and foreign package holidays became the norm.  The town became rundown, the attractions were bulldozed and the recession of recent times has hit the town hard.  Now the town is on the up again and I want to share with you just a few reasons to come and visit.  Without more day-trippers and holiday-makers the town will not prosper as it should.  We need a few more tourist pounds please!

Church Street in February 2012

Folkestone has ancient roots.  The remains of a Roman Villa were found in the last few years and there was a fishing village here since Norman times.  In the 17th century, Folkestone was home to William Harvey, the man who discovered blood circulation.  Other notable residents of the past include Hattie Jacques of Carry On fame, June Brown from Eastenders, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the first black officer in the British Army, Walter Tull, to whom I am distantly related by marriage.

Folkestone is recreating itself as a creative hub.  The new Creative Quarter is found in the once crumbling Old High Street and Tontine Street below.  It’s still a little rough around the edges but it’s reminiscent of Brighton with little independent shops painted in pastels lining the winding road down towards the sea.  There are art installations to be found in some obscure places, many of which are permanent works left over from the Folkestone Triennial art festivals.  The bustling shops and burgeoning cafe culture give the Creative Quarter a European feel.

“The Folkestone Mermaid” – sculpture by Cornelia Parker – photo by Andy Lowe

Down in the harbour there is a new fountain that is a mecca for young families.  On a warm day you’ll find lots of little children squealing in delight with the water feature that has been designed to create fun for kids.  Adults can relax at the edge enjoying a beer from The George pub or some fresh prawns from the popular Chummy’s seafood stall in the square.  At night the fountains are lit creating a multi-coloured spectacle.  Walk under the arches to find fish and chips, more pubs and the sandy beach.  The chips from The Smokehouse are cooked in beef dripping and are divine!  If you’re feeling flush why not splash out on a meal in Rocksalt, the new restaurant owned by Mark Sargeant who was trained at Claridge’s in Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred restaurant.  The building is designed to fit in with the existing architecture from street level but from the harbour it’s an all-glass modern design, offering each diner a superb view.

Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour
“Out of Tune” art installation by A K Dolven

In the opposite direction you can walk along the seafront promenade (look for the bell) towards The Lower Leas Coastal Park.  Located beneath the cliffs are beautiful gardens that have been cleverly landscaped to look natural.  There are plenty of places to sit and relax and dedicated metal bins for discarding your disposable BBQ.  Further along is a grass amphitheatre where you may stumble across a show.  One Bank Holiday Monday I came across a performance by The Noise Next Door, a hilarious improv troupe who perform skits and songs based on suggestions by the audience.  One of my favourites that day was “Give thanks to Armitage Shanks” after a little boy shouted out toilets as one of the suggested words.  They perform across the UK and I highly recommend checking them out if you have the chance.

Natural landscaping of The Leas Coastal Park
The Lower Leas Coastal Park

Next to the amphitheatre is the Zig Zag Path, a sedate path up the cliffs to The Leas, a Victorian formal promenade and park.  The man-made caves and seating areas along the way provide the excuse for a little rest should you need it.  If you’re feeling really lazy or have mobility difficulties opt for the Victorian water-powered Leas Cliff Lift to be whisked from the entrance to the Lower Leas Coastal Park up to The Leas in a jiffy.  Along the Leas you’ll find two of the remaining luxury hotels from the Victorian era, The Grand and The Metropole.

View down to the Lower Leas Coastal Park

There are events all year round to be enjoyed in Folkestone, including rounds of the British National Powerboat Championships (taking place on the weekend of 1st and 2nd September 2012), the annual Skabour Festival, the Book Festival and the aforementioned Triennial.

Folkestone is just 20 minutes drive from Dover and just 10 minutes from the Eurotunnel terminal.  Why not extend your holiday on the continent with a night in my town?  There is a selection of accommodation options, although to be fair, not much in the budget price range.  The Grand Burstin overlooking the harbour has an enviable location but is a bit of a blot on the landscape.  Someone in the 1960s thought that building a hotel the size and shape of a cross-channel ferry was a good idea.  The hotel plays host to hundreds of coach holiday passengers and is basic but cheap.  My parents stayed there for a few nights back in May while on their first holiday to the UK from their new home in France.  They booked it because it was about £40 a night for B&B.  Their room overlooked the harbour and was clean.  If you’re just looking for a bed for the night it’s not bad at all.  There’s a scattering of boutique B&Bs starting to appear from The Relish up near the Police Station to Rocksalt Rooms above The Smokehouse right in the harbour but these start at about £80 per night so don’t really suit budget travellers.  Due to the proximity to the ports there are also the ubiquitous Holiday Inn Express and Premier Inn, these are a bit further out of town but you know what you get with these chains.

View from the Grand Burstin Hotel – photo by Andy Lowe
Folkestone at night – photo by Andy Lowe

It’s really easy to get to Folkestone.  We’re right at the end of the M20 motorway and there is plenty of parking available.  Alternatively, the town is accessible by train from London on the new High Speed 1 service.  It’s only a 50 minute journey from St Pancras International, or 1 hour 40 minutes on the slower (and cheaper) service from Charing Cross.  Full price returns start at around £30.  The town is also served by a National Express coach on it’s way to Dover.  It’s possible to pick up “Fun Fares” for less than £10 to or from London.

” The Rug People” by Paloma Varga Weisz

So with all this to do and so accessible what’s your excuse for not making the trip?

By Rachel Birchley

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