Restaurant in a Tent Dazzles With a Taste of London in Seaside Resort
As restaurant locations go, Xiringuito's isn't exactly the best.
It's on wasteland at the back of a parking lot beside Dreamland Margate, an amusement park in a seaside town that appears unwelcoming on a rainy day. You ascend chipped old concrete steps with a rotting wooden railing, pass a pile of scrap metal and then arrive at a tent.
There is a lot of talk currently about fashionable Londoners buying homes in Margate. The traditional resort - which first became popular in the early 18th century - may certainly be on its way back up. It just has a long way to climb.
Xiringuito is a big step in the right direction.
That canvas construction flapping in the wind is designed by the architect Asif Khan. More remarkable are the dishes served inside by chef Jackson Berg and his friend Conor Sheehan. Out from the tiny kitchen comes some of the best food you can find at the British seaside, using local ingredients from the Kent coast. The wines are good, too.
Xiringuito, pronounced chi-rin-gito and taken from a Basque word for seasonal bars on beaches, is a movable restaurant that will be open until late September at Margate before a planned move to locations around the country. It's worth catching if you fancy a trip out of London.
The dining room is simply furnished with cheap flooring, plain tables and colorful chairs. You drink from plastic cups. The menu is on a blackboard. Ventilation comes from zip-up flaps that have to be closed when it rains. The soundtrack - along with retro pop - is of rain tapping on the canvas.
And yet it is, in a way, a beautiful place to eat. It's simple and unpretentious like the food, which occupies a happy place in the dining spectrum: better than you could cook at home yet not over-ambitious.
Snacks include the sweetest of local oysters with a granita of shallots, pepper and vinegar. They cost £3 ($3.93) apiece and I could have happily made a meal just of these, such is their freshness. They are especially good with the Napa Sauvignon Blanc (Dancing Crow Vineyards, 2014) that is served by the glass, carafe and bottle - at £7.50. £21 and £29.
Among the starters, the burrata, pea pesto (£8.50) is as simple as it sounds: fresh, light and creamy cheese on a bed of pesto that has a slight crunch to the texture, drizzled with olive oil and then topped with pea shoots with grated black pepper.
Another option is a rich and earthy dish of lamb sweetbreads with chestnut mushrooms, creamed sweetcorn and a peppery gravy. (I should say jus, but we are eating in a tent here.)
And then for a main there is a soft-shell crab in a fruity curry sauce more reminiscent of a chip shop than India, as is only right for an English seaside lunch. It comes topped with a bunch of coriander in a brioche bun. It's £13, while a side of good fries with aioli adds £4. It is crunchy and sweet, and better with Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Domaine Henri Prudhon 2013, which costs £6.75/£19/£27.50.
Desserts include a peanut butter & jelly doughnut at £5, and sweetcorn-and-blueberry sundae at £6.50. (I opted for the Kent Blue cheese at £4.)
Good luck if you plan to go. The website doesn't include the address or menus. (The Instagram account shows a sign for a lunch from Wednesday to Friday at £15 for three courses, including a drink.) Xiringuito is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday through Sunday and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Assuming you are not one of those fashionable people with a home in Margate, it's worth the schlep. Conor and Jackson previously worked in London at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, St. John Bread & Wine and Bistrotheque. Here, they have brought the restaurant to the ingredients: a seaside dining room with a creative East London edge. It's a happy marriage.
Article by Richard vines, chief food critic for Bloomberg