I’ll take a piece of Sandwich

Dover and Sandwich (This post delayed a day due to technical issues in Sandwich.)

You’d think that the white cliffs of Dover would top any human edifices as a scenic treat. And they were wonderful, don’t get me wrong. While we didn’t get close to any cliff edges, it was possible to see what all the fuss was about from a safe viewpoint.

A friend commented that if we really wanted to see the cliffs, why didn’t we just take a ferry to France (only 21 miles away) and really get an eyeful. Well, Peter, just wanted to let you know that the ferry company went bankrupt this morning and most of the ferries were in the harbor. Hah! So there!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day and everything sparkled – unlike yesterday, when a sandstorm from the Sahara mixed with rain here, and everything we were wearing will have to be laundered vigorously. The air was even scrubbed, and the waves were glistening.

We spent several hours there and then headed back to the train station. It is very small, and we were surprised to find so many people standing on the platform. We were even more surprised to see that most of them didn’t board the incoming train. Perhaps things are so dull in Dover that people come down to watch the trains go by?

But then we got to our next destination, nearby Sandwich, where even more people were clustered at the station. We learned that the famous steam-powered Flying Scotsman, the first express passenger steam locomotive to be built by the then newly formed London and North Eastern Railway in 1923, was about to pass through. It is making four special trips this year, then being prepared for its centenary next year. It is a much-loved icon and a big deal to see it, which explained the crowd at the station.

You can get a sense of the moment:

After the thrill of the train, the crowd dispersed into the lovely town of Sandwich, filled with medieval and Elizabethan treasures. If only cars weren’t constantly whipping by, one could stand in the street and gape at the number and details of the buildings that have been here in some cases since the 15th and 16th centuries.

Don’s Food Corner

You know that you are in a restaurant that the chef considers to be modern when you find a stalk of deep-fried kale in your plate. The idea of what is considered modern hit me this evening when our restaurant faced a pub across the street with a sign that read “Established in 1491.” That’s a year before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Yet those people in 1491 and all the people who have lived since then — and indeed over the thousands of years before that — considered that they were living in a modern age. That sense of being modern, defined primarily by the fact that one is alive and that all others before you are dead, extends to everything from clothing to housing to technology and certainly food.

Just in the sixty or so years of my own memory, without considering the thousands of years before that, how many different eras of modern, leading up to tonight’s stalk of fried kale, have I lived through? So many ideas of modern. From raw spinach as a salad (with hot bacon dressing) to the happily now-absent sprinkling of confetti parsley strewn all over the food and plate to tonight’s fried kale. Of course, kale is seemingly a current superfood that is to cure all ills.

However, I remember in the ’50s when the superfood of that era was margarine, with its scientifically modified hydrogenated fat that would save us from the horrors of butter. This was the era when we would also greet the trucks that came down the street twice a year to spray the neighborhood with DDT to rid us of all those nasty mosquitos. The mosquitos indeed died, but so did the birds.

While I don’t think there is some lurking ugly truth behind kale, any announcement of some new superfood (like kale) or some rediscovery of some magic bullet ingredient from a more enlightened past (like turmeric or the keto diet) leaves me with a yawn.

With this skeptic’s view of modern (or, perhaps more accurately, fashionable) food preparation and presentation, I had to roll my eyes at what we faced tonight.

I started with what was supposed to be trout fish cake with a tomato sauce that was not just a tomato sauce but a tomato/beetroot gazpacho sauce. Is beetroot even more modern than kale? It looked pretty. It had to have a smear of sauce under the fish cake, of course. But the fish cake seemed to have very little actual fish in it; it seemed to have more filler.

My main course, where that stalk of kale showed up, was lamb rump with carrot puree, modern roasted baby carrots, port jus, and a “fondant” potato, which seemed to be a boiled potato that was then browned on both sides. What made it even more modern was that the meat was on top of the sauce and the potato was on top of carrot puree. I wondered, when I looked across the street at the 1491 eatery how the people then would have thought about gravy or veggies UNDER something. As far as the lamb went, it wasn’t very tender. It seemed to be more mutton than lamb.

Jo started with something billed as a warm pear and Stilton tart. But, like the skimpy presence of fish in the fish cake, there seemed to be very little evidence of Stilton or pears, but lots of pastry to fill out the tart.

She then went on to fish and chips in our promise to taste every fish and chips variation in England. This one, despite being promised to feature cod “fresh from our fishmonger,” had more breading than fish. The batter was said to be made from “our own Shepherd Neame ale.” It didn’t impress.

An equally promising dessert billed as “butterscotch and pear frangipane tart” was crumbly dry with butterscotch as candy and a mere glaze of pears. It sounded so good on the menu…

But the menu and the inclusion of all these modern buzz-word foods — from kale to “caramel shard” on the dessert to roasted baby carrots to beetroot to Shepherd Neame ale — seemed to promise something interesting and flavorful.

Before we ordered, I jokingly asked the waiter if the food was as delicious as the descriptions made it seem. He responded with a sly look in his eye: “That depends on how hungry you are.”

I guess we weren’t hungry enough. Or modern enough?

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