Famed for its crop of oysters (only eat in months with an ‘r’ ) and an increasing number of great cafes and restaurants, the north Kent seaside town of Whitstable is always worth visiting.
Popular with weekenders from London and boasting a thriving arts scene, the town has enticed tourists for decades. Attracting around 30,000 people, an annual oyster festival is held in late July to celebrate it culinary heritage. Fresh, locally caught shellfish fish is available anytime direct from the fisherman or from bustling hut and high street fishmongers. Whitstable oysters today are the more common rock oyster (Crassostrea gigas), introduced from the Pacific specifically for farming as it is more resilient than our native or flat oyster (Ostrea edulis).
The festival is timed for good weather and the link to St. James of Compostela, the patron saint of Oystermen, whose feast day is in July.
The main street, known as Oxford Street, is home to many of the traditional fish and chip shops, delis, cafes and a dramatic Wetherspoon’s pub. The ‘Peter Cushing’ pub is set in a Art Nouveau-decorated cinema that pays homage to the eponymous horror-film actor, a popular local who lived in the town for many years before his death in 1994.
The harbour was built in 1831 and now hosts commercial shipping; diving, shipbuilding and fishing businesses and a thriving wind- and kite-surfing company.
There’s much to see and enjoy across the town. A shingle beach, converted fisherman’s huts and lots of narrow alleys such as Squeezed Gut Alley, Island Wall and Middle Wall and offers places to wander around, get lost and time to admire weatherboarded and sea-spray battered cottages – many now snapped up by second home-owners.
There are plenty of independent delis, greengrocers, butchers in the town although a couple of recently opened mini-supermarkets threaten this heritage.
Whitstable Produce Store has recently started stocking Zingiberi Bakery breads and cakes in their store alongside Kent Fine Foods and Hot Spiced Apple featuring 2014 Taste of Kent award-winners Little Stour Orchard juices, Dine Thyme pickle; Kent Crisps with their new Kent Chilli Farm chipotle flavour and a great collaboration between, Thanet Earth and Curiously Kentish which has the “Curious” chefs using Thanet Earth’s mis-shaped veg in a new range of sauces and chutneys.
Whitstable is one of a select group of British seaside town with a pub located right on the beach. Fondly known as the ‘Old Neppy’, The Old Neptune has a bohemian feel with live music, a range of beers and pints of Guinness and oysters, of course!