While some will bemoan the Maidstone of yesteryear, few could deny the County Town is still one of the best places in Kent to find a good meal.
And with British culinary culture and diversity having moved on in recent decades, we might not want to swap the restaurants of the 60s and 70s with our current options for eating out…Except for a few lost gems of course.
Trotters in Marsham Street, in 1983, and the building as it is today
Perhaps we’re looking back through the reflection of a rose-tinted spoon, but there’s nothing like a lost restaurant or pie shop – and their lost menu prices – to get the nostalgic juices flowing, so it’s time to sit down and let the aroma of dinner times past waft back through the decades.
For many – especially on the More Memories of Maidstone Facebook group – an overwhelming favourite was Trotters, which had two restaurants – one off Gabriel’s Hill, and the other in Marsham Street.
They were both “dead good”, especially the latter, as the building was once said to have been the morgue for the nearby West Kent Hospital.
Credit for the dark punning goes to Wendy Fielding, who wasn’t put off by the restaurant's past and remembered it for its “great food and a good atmosphere”, while Debbie Reilly agreed and said “nothing has compared to it since.”
Angie Burridge also recalled it as the “best restaurant in Maidstone”, while Neal Farrow added: “My first memory of eating out in Maidstone was in the second half of the 70s when some mates were raving about Trotters in Marsham Street.
“This was when it was a new venue and it was rammed. There was no bar/reception area – you were asked to go over the road to The Sun pub and a waitress would come and get you when a table was ready.
“Later they converted the cellar – the premises were once an undertakers – and had a bar where you could get a drink whilst waiting for your table.”
Nevertheless, some were put off by the reputed past as a hospital morgue, including Paula Strong who added “I would never go in there, for that reason.”
Just a short stroll from Trotter’s Gabriel’s Hill site was Dixies American Diner – down the alley opposite the Golden Boot – which was popular in the 1980s, especially with Teresa Bannock.
“Dixies Diner!!” she said, recalling her favourite dining spot. “I used to love going there with my boyfriend when I was a teenager. I especially loved the dishes of relish that they brought to the table when you ordered a burger. Still love those relishes 40 years later.”
Dixies American Diner, pictured in 1987, later became home to the loft nightclub in the early 2000s
Neil Coatsworth remembered it as “really good and very different to everything else”, while Katie Boots added: “I think we should do a collective and re-open Dixie’s Diner!”
Chequers Chinese in Bank Street was another favourite, with its owner Barney Lau living long in the memory of its regulars.
They included Maidstone councillor and former mayor Dave Naghi, who said the restaurant – known as Barney’s – was one of his favourites and recalled Barney as a “lovely man”.
Paul Goodbody added: “Always a Sunday night treat after a session in the Rose pub. Great memories.”
John Gilham also recalled it as one of his favourites and the first restaurant he took his wife to in 1971, while Rosemary Sage (who sounds like she knows her flavours, especially those of thyme past) said the restaurant was the location of choice for her and her friends.
“We would save our luncheon vouchers so we could have a blowout once a month,” she recalled.
Marthas' Kitchen in Teston, 1989. The building is now Crown City
Outside of town, some might recall Martha’s Kitchen at Teston, which provided a memorable dining venue for Mary Ponton although not necessarily because of its food.
“Went there for lunch often with my mum and dad,” she said. “My dad was left-handed so would swap round cutlery and the waitress would come along and swap it back saying sorry that it was laid out wrong. Every time this happened it was so funny – my dad always chuckled.”
Other favourites included the old Running Horse at Sandling Lane junction with Old Chatham Road, which provided a high-class option – or for 1960s teenagers the Fiesta next to the Granada Cinema was the place to go.
Jim Yarwood recalled it as “the place to be seen in the 60s, hugging a coffee for the whole morning/afternoon! It was THE place for teenagers meeting up to arrange where to go at the weekends and find out who was organising a party! Happy days.”
Patricia Eggleton replied: “Agree….amazing how long one coffee could last!”
Carol Lockwood remembered the “wonderful Pie Shop just over the ... single ... Bridge on the way to the fantastic Maidstone Market too in the fifties!” Others agreed, with Russel Graves remembering it as being called “Stuarts Pies”.
Chiesmans department store is now occupied by the Herbalist and Junipers, on the corner of Pudding Lane and Maidstone High Street
If you wanted to go more upmarket, the fancy department store Chiesman’s, on the corner of the High Street and Pudding Lane, was one of the best options in town.
“Chiesmans had a posh silver service restaurant and so did the Granada Cinema,” recalled Kim Capel. “When Mum and Dad came down to see how their bungalow was coming along in Madginford back in 1965 they would go there for lunch. Also, I remember a lovely cafe called the Russett in King Street. They also made wonderful cakes and bread.”
Linda Weeks was among the Chiesmans staff – working as a Saturday girl in the 1960s – and still has one of the last menus from the restaurant before it closed.
“I only went there myself a couple of times but it seemed very elegant to me,” she recalled. “I seem to remember oak beams, and how lovely it was to be served lunch while looking out of the window at the High Street below. Quite an experience! That was as a paying customer, of course. It wasn't for the staff. We must have had our own canteen although I don't remember it.”
Later on, Linda returned to the restaurant one last time before Chiesman’s closed.
“The menu is dated from about a week before it was bought by House of Fraser in 1976,” she recalled. “A friend and I went in there for lunch to say a fond farewell to the store, and I asked if I could have the menu as a souvenir.”
A grilled sirloin steak with potatoes and salad for £3.80, with a bottle of Cotes Du Rhone for £1.60? If there’s any reason to invest further in time-travel research, those prices are surely up there.