Published: 05:00, 26 May 2022
| Updated: 08:07, 26 May 2022
Remember when placing an order for your fish and chips involved speaking to a member of staff and then waiting a few minutes staring at a limp saveloy under the hot plate?
Well, this is the 21st century, and apparently that's rather old hat.
At a popular outlet overlooking the golden main sands of Margate it's now all touchscreens and text messages. For those of us of a certain vintage, we're clinging to progress - and our hopes of a decent seaside feed - by our fingernails.
But Beach Buoys (see what they did there?) is proving something of a hit.
Run by the people behind the acclaimed seafood restaurant in the town, Buoy and Oyster, its fast-food offering joins a growing trend for swanking up the iconic British fish and chips (see our previous jaunt to Flotsam & Jetsam in nearby Broadstairs as another good example).
Opened last year, it is part of the revived string of food and drink outlets which line the bustling Marine Drive.
Prior to Margate's revival over recent years, this stretch was a rather gloomy place - boasting a bizarre blend of Primark and a sex shop (not, it should be said, operating from the same premises - but that would have been something wouldn't it?).
On a warm weekend, the place is full of life - day-trippers and locals now spoilt for choice for where to grab a decent quality bite to eat.
Beach Buoys, with its bright pink frontage, is no different. People sit on the tables outside either eating their grub or, well, waiting for it to be served.
Because to order here you enter the small atrium where three touchscreen machines are situated (or, to be more accurate, two on our visit as one was out of order).
It's all rather easy to navigate and the range of options are extensive.
From your classic cod and chips (yours for £10.50) to local crab and loaded fries (£12) and a gloriously extensive vegan menu, you will be hard pushed not to find something to tickle your fancy here. There's even a big sausage which, just perhaps, is a throwback to one of the street's former businesses. But probably not. Let's move on...
So we go vegan and plump for the fritto misto - deep fried veg and tofu in batter - for £5.50, plus a portion of 'proper' chips - their words, not mine - for £3, some sweet potato fries (£3), and a side portion of beer battered pickles, because they sounded intriguing and only cost £2.
All will be washed down with a can of lemonade (£2). Oh, and a pot of 'seaweed mayo' (yes, you heard) for £1.
Once you've done your touchscreen stuff, you're prompted to pay and then add your name and mobile phone number. Do not, under any circumstances, forget this bit - or get your number wrong. Because you're then directed out of the shop by the signs - you only get to walk up to the serving area when your order is ready - and told to return only when you get a text message.
So we disappear outside...there are no free seats. Yes, we could have crossed the road and built a sandcastle, we instead do what everyone does...and just lurk outside the shop and wait.
Ten minutes pass and I'm beginning to get a little edgy. Did the order reach them? Did the message get lost? I know I should have more faith in modern technology (and, let's face it, a text message isn't really cutting edge), but, well, you know what's it like for us older folk. We worry.
I needn't have.
Four minutes later a text arrives and we stroll into the hallowed serving area where a young lad passes us over a nicely designed paper bag full of nicely designed boxes. You can't argue with the presentation.
Where to eat?
Well, cross the road and there's the beach or the steps which lead down to the incoming tide. Very picturesque. We opt to avoid getting sand in our battered pickles and sit and drink in the surroundings and, of course, comment about how everywhere you go these days, the hint of cannabis being smoked now seems ever-present. Probably my age again.
Anyway, on to the food. And if the first bite is with the eyes, this all looks like freshly cooked quality. First of all the 'proper chips' are just that. There are none of your artsy-fartsy pretentiousness here - they are good old-fashioned chip shop chips and very nice they are too.
Sweet potato fries are, on the other hand, the pretentious alternative and they taste good. But sometimes you want a proper chip don't you and today is one of those days. I'm not going to attempt to wax lyrical over the 'crispy outside and flurry interiors' - we all know properly cooked chips are much of a muchness. Personally, I'd rather drench them in salt and vinegar to give them that kick. But it's only at this stage I realise that with them all being handed over in a bag they had not been given a dose of either...and we forgot to add them.
My fault. Schoolboy stuff.
So let's get to the main meal. The fritto misto is very much a game of two halves. I think kale was in the middle of the main piece - and it was beautifully done. A lovely crisp, crunchy and flavoursome batter giving way to the veg within which kids you this meal might be better for you than a hunk of meat.
However, one of the other fried bits is tofu. I really, really want to love tofu, but unless it's done really well (which normally involves it being drenched in sufficient flavours to disguise it) I struggle to really appreciate it. The batter is a little stodgy on it too...I'd have probably given it another 20 seconds in the fryer.
But, forget all that, because lurking alongside all this is the real star of the show and how easy it would be to overlook them.
Ladies and gentlemen allow me to be the one to introduce you to the sheer culinary glory of beer-battered pickles. And by pickles we're talking gherkins. They are stop-you-in-your-tracks tasty. Light, crisp batter giving way to the kick of the moist gherkin inside. They were absolutely sensational.
Future visits will see me order about three boxes of those instead of anything else. Of course if you're the sort of person who peels a gherkin off your Big Mac then probably give it a miss, but for everyone else they are moreish in a gloriously £2-a-box way.
Beach Buoys is, deservedly busy. If you shun modern technology and don't carry a mobile then I suspect this isn't going to be for you given the ordering process (in fact I can't see how you would be able to order without one), but for everyone else, its sheer range of options make it an almost essential visit.
Not everything was top draw - and with a fish and chip shop you carry expectation heavy on your shoulders, we do, after all, like the classic dish a certain way - but overall it was clearly high quality, freshly prepared, food at a price point which, in this day and age, represented good value.
I always felt trying to be clever with fish and chips was a risky business - but I'd be surprised if you came away disappointed.
BEACH BUOYS, MARINE DRIVE, MARGATE CT9 1DH
Ratings out of five
Food: Battered pickles to die for...hit and miss fritto misto, but solid chips and a satisfying overall spread. ****
Drink: £2 for a can of lemonade is, let's not beat about the bush, a bit steep. But it was the fancy 'Green Lemonade', so you're only adding three calories to the heaven-knows how many more you're consuming with all those chips and battered bits. It was very nice though and in terms of choice we could have local beers, cocktails or even a vegan iced coffee ***
Decor: Pretty exterior, bit scruffy around the touchscreens but the serving area looked spotlessly clean and well lit. ***
Staff: Well, given your only interaction is saying your name when your order is called - and let's be honest 'Chris' isn't very confusing, the young lad who couldn't grasp it when I presented myself at the counter, made picking up the food fractionally more irritating that it should have been. ***
Price: For £16.50 two of us shared a freshly cooked range of fried vegetables and two portions of chips, plus a dip and drink. Good value ****