Published: 05:00, 07 April 2022
| Updated: 08:39, 07 April 2022
They often say people watch Formula 1 because of the chance of seeing a crash. I enjoy doing a food review, if truth be told, in the hope that I'll be served up something so gut-churningly awful, it will make writing it up something of a doddle.
And, cards on the table, I headed to Broadstairs with high expectations that I was about to experience a meal which would deliver just that.
It's not that I thought the food in what could possibly lay claim to be the trendiest fish and chip shop in Kent was going to be bad - I just suspected it was going to serve up a masterclass of over-priced style over substance.
Flotsam & Jetsam opened to the world during the era of the lockdown - a tiny extension of the neighbouring Wyatt & Jones restaurant - and a way to turn over a bit of cash when we weren't allowed to sit in the same room as others.
Since then, it has gone on to become a darling of the Instagram generation (I am more of the phone card generation) courtesy of its retro-chic styling.
Its distinct shop front is all pastel colours with an old-school peg-letter menu board. 'Seafood & Frites' it says above the door, mixing its languages with yet another ampersand.
Its menu speaks of 'mussel and cockle popcorn', 'torched mackerel' and 'battered courgette flower with crab filling'.
In short, it was the sort of place you imagine DfLs flock to before returning to their, stereotype alert, Range Rovers and heading along the M2 pausing only to pop into Whitstable for a plate of oysters and some more selfies to impress their Islington chums with.
Now, as we all know, Thanet is normally one of the great sun-soaked spots in Kent. On the day I opt to make my visit for chips on the beach, the temperature is best described as 'icy' and the wind is sending waves dramatically crashing over the sea wall to such an extent that the harbour arm car park has been forced to close for fear, one assumes, of cars being battered by the elements. Well, it is April.
But a batter of a very different variety is occupying my thoughts as we make our way down a sloping road to Flotsam & Jetsam. Depending on your point of view, its menu is jam-packed with pretension or mouthwatering treats.
First, some good news. The last time I was here a few weeks back, the queue not only stretched out of the door and down the street, but such was its popularity, by the time I had actually entered the place pretty much everything I wanted had sold out. I'd left empty-handed and - a psychiatrist would no doubt deduce given my earlier comments - carting off in the back of my mind some pent-up frustration. On this chilly, gloomy Friday, we're the only ones there.
Met by friendly staff we order.
Firstly, this place is small - which may explain my inability to get through the door before...there's no seating, but everything is spotlessly clean. Classy looking light bulbs dangle from the ceiling while a bank of fryers line the back wall.
We have to experience the obligatory 'frites in a cone' (£3.50), plus the mussel and cockle popcorn (£7.50) and, for good measure, the fritto di verdure miste (which, Google translate informs me is 'mixed fried vegetables').
Not one but two of the sauces we wanted, however, were out of stock (which given its only just noon was a bit odd).
Now, my biggest expectation with this place was that I was going to be paying a lot for very little. After waiting a few minutes for everything to be cooked fresh, we are handed our grub and, determined to tread in the footsteps of all those Insta-folk before us, we stroll down to eat them overlooking the golden sands just a few yards away.
Granted, the Arctic-style weather leaves a little to be desired, but at least it's not raining and there are the dramatic waves on one side and surfers on the other to keep us entertained along with a gaggle of folk here to witness the whole thing (for clarity, that's the waves smashing over the wall, not me eating some chips).
So let's get this out of the way with right now. The food at this place is, and I almost hate myself for saying this, absolutely first class. For all its pretensions, it delivers on quality, taste, lightness of touch and, gasp, value for money.
Firstly, the batter - and forgive the blasphemy here - but Christ on a ruddy bike it's mouthwateringly good. Tasty, light, crisp...it doesn't overwhelm the tender morsels which it encases, it simply showcases them.
The fried vegetables lurking within are not just damp, colourless squibs you have to take a punt on identifying, they are brightly coloured, fresh and pack a fine flavour. A dark green spear of asparagus pokes its little head out like a bud in the spring snow after I nibble off its battered head, and there's pepper and courgette too amongst the deep-friend treats. Absolutely sensational.
I'll even forgive the multicoloured cone - for which much of its online following so adores - it is served in.
Then I turn my focus to the 'mussel and cockle popcorn'. First, it comes in a little branded, sealed box. Like some fancy truffles.
The first mouthful...the batter crackles as I bite down and then gives way to a moist mussel. Heaven. Normally, I'd turn my nose up at a cockle served any other way than from a seafood stall with a heavy dose of vinegar, but I have a new favourite now. It just works. Who knew?
The chips themselves - natch they still have skins - are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inner. You really can't fault this stuff.
Now, no denying, you could pop down the road in Broadstairs to the numerous other fish and chip shops and order a far greater quantity of food for a similar price. Of that there's no argument. But as tasty as a well-cooked cod and chips is, it's not a fair comparison. This is a gourmet twist on a seaside classic and, gulp, worth every penny.
Now, I must go and join Instagram so I can join the cool kids in posting pictures of the picturesque food against an equally magnificent backdrop.
Ratings out of five
Food: Annoying, frustratingly, absolutely first rate *****
Drink: Didn't have one - so I'll not give it a mark but you can get a grapefruit G&T or a fizzy rhubarb if you fancy it
Decor: Outside it looks like it has been designed to lure in as many DfLs as it can. Inside, ditto, but spotlessly clean and understatedly classy ****
Staff: Friendly, efficient and eager to please ****
Price: You can buy more for less at nearby chippies...but you are paying here for sheer quality of cuisine ****