Published: 06:00, 29 April 2021
| Updated: 14:41, 29 April 2021
Past rolling fields and solitary homes lies the Airport Café. Surrounded by parked lorries, it sits alone on the A20 near Sellindge, filling the air around it with the aroma of fried food.
The smell had already permeated my car by the time I clambered out of it and approached the entrance to the greasy spoon on Sunday.
Shortly after finding a table outside, I discovered I would have to go into the cafe to place my order. As I ambled in, I saw a man sitting at a table without a mask.
“Excuse me, are you waiting for an order?” a waitress inquired.
The question was met with silence, as he kept his eyes on hers.
“It’s because we don’t usually let people wait here…” she added, before tailing off as she realised her attempts to move him on would be futile.
Soon enough, I paid for my food. I was handed my mug of tea and two slips of paper showing my order numbers. When I plonked myself back onto my seat and joined my wife - sat with her coat zipped up to her chin - I surveyed my surroundings.
The place was ringing with the sound of cutlery scraping on plates. In between the clinking came the harried calls of waitresses as they attempted to marry customers with their food. “Eighty-three? Chocolate milkshake!?”
We were positioned in an uncovered section of the roadside diner. This left us exposed to the elements, with chilly blasts of air periodically blowing our sauce bottles off the table.
“Have you got your thermals on?” a couple laughed, as they spotted friends of theirs sat nearby. “Just about,” a man replied. “I’ve even brought my scarf.”
Most of the diners were wrapped up in coats, hoodies and jumpers, as they hunched over their plates and scoffed their food. All the while, their cheeks grew a brighter shade of pink in the cold.
Two days earlier KentOnline readers had voted the Airport Cafe the best place to have a full English in the county. It narrowly edged out the Tuck Inn near Sittingbourne by 21 votes, while also beating the likes of Gravesend-based Nell's Café and The Pantry in Chatham. It was with tempered excitement I waited for my food.
“Ninety-two? Ninety-three?” a waitress, armed with a plate in one hand and a bowl in the other, called. They were ours.
When she placed the dish in front of me, I saw for the first time the golden hash browns, dollop of baked beans, bacon and fried bread, alongside a solitary sausage and fried egg. My other half, meanwhile, had a bowl of chips.
Within minutes the breakfast was gone. As I crammed the food down my gullet, my partner looked on in horror, her eyes darting between my bulging cheeks and expanding gut.
Perhaps the bacon wasn’t as crispy as it could have been, the tea too milky and another sausage could have been squeezed onto my plate – but it was all delicious nonetheless. The hash browns were a particular treat, being neither too salty nor too oily, while having the all-important crunch. I didn’t even feel compelled to add any brown sauce or ketchup.
The Airport Cafe might not look like a place you would seek out for its food - indeed, you could easily mistake it for a lorry park as you drive past. But its unassuming exterior belies the fact that it punches well above its weight. My food and drink cost £8.10, while the total bill came to just £12.50.
But I must admit the experience was somewhat marred by the restaurant’s attitude towards Covid procedures. Yes there were track and trace posters pasted to walls across the premises, yet at no point were we asked to check in either manually or through the app. What's more, it felt as if we were close to bumping backs with the tables behind while we were at our seats.
The satisfaction that comes with having a quality fry-up was not quite enough to outweigh these reservations, no matter how petty they may seem to some.
Would I go there again? Maybe – but not during a pandemic.
Ratings out of five
Food: The menu is straightforward, consisting of many of the dishes you would expect to be served at a greasy spoon. The fry-up was excellent and arrived promptly - it was just a little small. ****
Drink: Once again, it was a no-frills drinks menu, catering for diners of all ages. My tea, though, was too milky for my liking. ***
Decor: The place wasn't exactly pleasing on the eye and was almost lost among the rows of lorries parked around it. **
Staff: All of them were courteous, obliging and cheerful. The only downside was they never asked us to check-in. ****
Price: The set breakfast and a mug of tea cost just £6.60. The hash browns cost a further £1.50, while my other half's bowl chips brought the bill to £12.50 - a reasonable price given the quality of the food. *****