Things were off to a good start on the high-speed train from St. Pancras to Canterbury West, which ran on the Eurostar tracks for much of the journey, took just under an hour, and cost only £55 for four return tickets.
Canterbury was warm and sunny, and it was an easy 15-minute walk to the Cathedral, which turned out to be the only thing in town really worth seeing. The Tourist Information office across the street from the Cathedral entrance provided great maps to both Canterbury and Whitstable, as well as a list of the cycle shops (two) in town where we could rent bicycles. Both shops were sold out, so instead of cycling the 7 miles to Whitstable along the charmingly-named Crab & Winkle Way, we took a 30-minute, super-slow ride on the bus.
Pros: The Whitstable Oyster Fishery’s dining rooms are high-ceilinged, bright, and cheerfully rustic. There are views of the sea, and the seafood, generally, tasted fresh and was served in generous portions.
Cons: The service was extraordinarily slow. We waited 35 minutes for our starters to arrive, and another 45 minutes for our mains. And despite several repeat requests for tap water, water was not forthcoming. Apparently the easygoing pace of seaside living is not for me.
Starters of mussels mariniere (£9.50), grilled king prawns, and fried calamari were all very good. The prawns in particular reminded me of Barrafina‘s sweet-tasting giants and were well worth the £9 for two. The leftover melted garlic butter served with the prawns was my favorite for sopping up with bread, though my dad thought the mariniere sauce had the edge.
Fish and chips were a mixed result: the cod was silky firm and gorgeously flaky, and the batter was light and golden. The mushy peas actually tasted like peas – sweet and smooth – but the chips were a stale-tasting letdown.
Jon’s skate was sadly thin and meagre, but he enjoyed what little meat there was. Being environment killers, my mom and I split the steamed lobster imported from Canada, which was served cold. The meat was a bit mealy and the accompanying minted potato salad tasted overwhelmingly of mint (not good), but that’s what I get for ordering something that comes from Canada.
With various beers and lemonades, our total for four was £112, which was fair for the overall quality of the seafood and the scenic environs, but a bit steep for the incredible slowness and unhelpfulness of the service.
After lunch, we took a quick walk around Whitstable harbour, which, sadly, is not attractive. Not only is the harbour crowded with industrial machines and boats, but also the nearby beaches are of the stony variety. So we quickly returned to Canterbury to pay our £8 each to see the famous cathedral and hopped back on the train to London.
Overall, a pleasant day trip out of London, but I wouldn’t return to the area without (a) reserving a table at the Sportsman and (b) reserving a bicycle to try out the Crab & Winkle Way.
Whitstable Oyster Fishery Restaurant, Horsebridge Road, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1AF; 01227 276 856.