Whitstable

About 20 years ago, a girl I used to work with told us she and her boyfriend were buying a second place in Whitstable (he was rich). None of us had really heard of Whitstable; isn’t it a shithole?, someone asked her. 


Song:
Vehicle - The Ides Of March
Food: 
Oysters
Bar:
The New Inn
Restaurant:
Wheelers Oyster Bar

Twenty years on and that girl is having the last laugh. Whitstable, once the home to some oyster beds and not much more, is now the sine qua non of the London gentrification boom; a high street full of cool restaurants, the odd chain, funky boutiques and vintage homeware stores; a seafront crammed with hipster homes and beach huts revitalised by their city-dwelling owners; and a working harbour that doubles up as a hangout spot on the weekend. It’s the place where everyone once wanted to be; now the cool vibe is moving down the coast to Margate and Broadstairs, but Whitstable remains a seaside town that lives and breathes its weekend visitors. 

It also has oysters. The Whitstable Natives are famous as oysters go; they’re served bloody everywhere. If you don’t like oysters, watch out: you won’t be able to escape them here. Crowds gather on weekend lunchtimes to slurp back a half dozen and drink Prosecco and look out to Sheppey across the water and feel good about themselves. 

But then Whitstable is a feel-good kind of place. It’s only a short hop from south London, but it has enough of a seaside feel to really give you a break from the city. And you can eat oysters. Lots of them. In sight of where they were grown. What could be better?

 

Wandered along the sea wall, admiring the mud flats and the views over to Sheppey. Looked at the piles of oyster shells everywhere. To state again, there are a lot of oysters in Whitstable...

We recommend… 

Bars:

The New Inn
Recommended to us by the bloke in the sweet shop, this is a tiny backstreet boozer with a cool vibe. Thatcher’s on tap and a record sale on the day we went in. No food apart from on Sundays, but a good place to sit and enjoy a pint before tackling the walk along the harbour. 

Anywhere along the harbour
Along the working harbour arm are loads of cafes and bars, all serving up a variation of the theme: oysters/eels (jellied)/fish and chips/oysters/Guinness/Prosecco/oysters. It’s a good spot to sit, have a drink and enjoy watching the greedy gulls try to nick chips off people’s plates. 

Restaurants:

Blueprint Coffee
Pretty little cafe on Oxford Street serving up great coffee and some lovely books and bits for coffee lovers. Yes it uses the word ‘artisan’, but we can forgive it as it’s so friendly and provides decent reading material if you get bored of sitting in the window, watching Whitstable go by. 

Wheelers Oyster Bar
You have to book months in advance to eat in the tiny dining room at Wheelers. Usually. But if you’re not that organised, you can sometimes grab a spot at the seafood bar in the front of the shop, or pick up some tasty oysters and other seafood snacks for a picnic. Highly recommended (if you like oysters and can get a table). 

The Whitstable Oyster Company
Have we mentioned you can get fresh oysters in Whitstable? This is the trad spot: head down early for lunch and sample the finest shellfish in the UK (say people from Whitstable). They do other food if you can’t face swallowing a live crustacean whole. 

Shops:

Valentines Vintage
One of those cool homeware shops that sells nice chairs and the odd industrial cabinet, plus decent prints and rugs. It’s not too pricey and you can look around without feeling like they’re giving you the evils for not wanting to spend loads of cash. 

Eat 17
This is actually a Spar supermarket. Naff as you like, you might think. But no! Eat 17 is an east London company dedicated to bringing local produce to local people, along with all the usual convenience-store grub you’d normally find in your local Spar. So we got pork and stilton sausage rolls, a chorizo and cheddar pasty, homemade cakes and ginger beer to enjoy on the beach from this cute little convenience store. 

Starfish Boutique
Grown-up seaside clothes, ideal for perfecting that nautical, yacht-y, ‘look at me, I live down here half the week’ vibe. Some lovely clobber, plus bags and trainers. They also stock some of the less-recognised Cath Kidston stuff, which is very easy on the eye. 

Record store:

Rock Bottom Records
The guy in here had a magazine cover designed by Brad on his wall, so they had a good old chat while I rifled through the beautifully organised and well-priced vinyl on sale here. Great little shop that sells DVDs and CDs too – I didn’t buy anything but I probably could have done if I’d pushed myself. Friendly owner: highly recommended. 

Bonus record store: Creekside Vinyl
Not in Whitstable. But if you’re heading back to London by car, stop off at Faversham and get to Creekside Vinyl; another lovely owner (why are record shop owners often so nice?) and a fantastic selection of mint vinyl for sale.

What we did:

Got down there early. Whitstable has a tiny, narrow high street, which quickly gets jammed up with cars, and not much parking. So if you’re not there by 10am, you could be hard pressed to find a spot. 
Visited the Seaside Brocante, which is on once a month in the community hall. 
Wandered along the sea wall, admiring the mud flats and the views over to Sheppey. Looked at the piles of oyster shells everywhere. To state again, there are a lot of oysters in Whitstable. 

Record: 

Vehicle - The Ides Of March
Ooh, what a hunk of funk! This was on the radio on the way down and got us talking about how much fun ’70s funk tunes were. Blood, Sweat & Tears was then played (but The Ides Of March were better, IMHO). 

What we bought:

Seaside rock (gin and tonic and Prosecco flavour – nice. Marmite flavour – not so nice). Lots of Kentish ciders and a pork pie with a stuffing crust from Eat 17. A croissant-donut combination from Blueprint which was basically a heart attack on a plate it was so sugary. 

House Of The Dead / Crazy golf?:

Oddly, no. The coolness of Whitstable seems to preclude anything so tacky as mini golf or an arcade. Or perhaps the abundance of oysters had crowded them out.