Been there. Done that

Margate We left Sandwich this morning and headed to Margate, a seaside playground whose heyday was a number of decades ago.

We walked from the station along the Marine Parade, with a huge beach on our left and lots of arcades and similar amusements facing it. There is also a famous amusement park, Dreamland, which has yet to open for the season. The seaside is a combination of fun-fair amusements and interesting architecture that has yet to be modernized, which is likely why this town can merit some hope for the future.

There is an attempt to rebrand Margate as an arts center with the presence of the Turner Contemporary art gallery, opened ten years ago. JMW Turner did live and paint here, but the guest house where he used to stay was torn down to put up this modern edifice. But it has the same views Turner loved!

Supposedly Margate is the next hipster ghetto, and we did spot several candidates at the museum.

As further proof of its evolution, the museum was well past our definition of contemporary art. Example: Show works of Turner, as curated by British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, displaying Turner pieces that reflected places he had also visited or lived in, along with a display of Achiampong’s own films and art installations. Layers and layers of meaning here to unpack.

To go from capital A art to capital K kitsch, we next saw a curiosity called the Shell Grotto. Discovered in 1835, it’s a subterranean collection of rooms and passageways embedded with almost 5 million shells – though I can’t imagine how they were counted. For some reason, owners over the years have seemingly been at a loss to put a date to this creation, with some seeing druidic or medieval imagery. What a mystery – and what an amazing temple to some variety of folk art. (Love the picture of the séance held there in 1939.)

Our walks did take us through some of the less tasty bits of Margate as well as some charming sections. There is a lot of real estate available for pioneering hipsters to colonize. We wish them all the best.

Don’s Food Corner

We’re beginning to reach our fish and chips saturation point. Today might be the beginning of a furlough from this particular British staple.

But first we had to try the highly touted fish and chips at Margate’s Peter’s Fish Factory. This is a take-out only place and the line to grab some was long. On the weekend it must curl around the block.

The menu is limited. Fish. Chips. That’s it. You can choose between cod or haddock. The haddock is a little cheaper.

The whole experience reminded me of the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. People in line agreed with the comparison. (The Brits are very conversant with Seinfeld — and Friends.) When you finally get to step inside the shop, you are given a few seconds to order. The order is quickly packed up in cardboard boxes. A charge machine in presented for you to tap your charge card. Then you leave. I asked for a packet of tartar sauce. When I asked for two packets of tarter sauce, I was handed the two packets but I got an irritated roll of the eyes along with it.

The chips were fine. The fish was a good balance between the quantity of fish to quantity of breading. This is critical because sometimes there is simply too much breading — and often overcooked. The fish itself had a substantial meaty taste to it.

But, did it change the standard for fish and chips? I’d say no.

I think the reason that this place attracts such a loyal following of people willing to stand in line for a half hour or so is that the price is about one-third of what you’d pay in a pub or restaurant. When you take that into consideration, Peter’s fish and chips are fantastic.

More interesting, however, was that across the street near the Turner Art center was a small stand selling oysters and other shell fish, like cockles and mussels. The stand featured three oysters and a glass of prosecco for about $7. What a deal! I went up to the stand and asked if the oysters were Whitstable oysters. The lady at the stand, sniffed: “Whitstable? Maldon here. We only serve the best.” Well, OK. I tried one, without the prosecco for $1.50. It was very, very good. Different from the Whitstable versions that I sampled a few days ago. Whitstable had the salty and robust taste of the sea; the Maldon oyster had a more fish-like character.

Time to shift from fish and chips sampling to British oyster sampling?

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