These days West Malling has become a renowned mecca for fine dining, with hungry visitors able to find a wealth of eateries within a couple of hundred metres of each other.
From the Swan in Swan Street to Chef’s Table in Kings Street, the town pulls gastronomes from miles around in search of fancy fodder, although the rumour is that some Michelin star chefs still prefer a kebab from the Rain Grill.
Nevertheless, inevitably there are still some lost gems of yesteryear that can spark a rumble of nostalgia in the stomachs of their former guests – and even the former proprietors.
Starting at what’s now the Rain Grill, former owner Ric Thornhill took over the lease on the building in 1993, converting it from a saddle shop into a restaurant/cafe - The Town House Cafe.
Previously the building had been The Town Newsagency – which had played host to The Beatles when they filmed a scene for their Magical Mystery Tour.
And Rick recalled a scene from his time running the cafe, that could almost have come from The Beatles’ psychedelic caper around rural Kent.
“A uniformed police officer came for a takeaway one early morning,” he said. “There were a dozen or so builders having breakfast and the officer walked off, by accident, without paying.
“I called out ‘do you want to pay for that?’.
“I think he wished the floor would swallow him up as the builders all clapped.
“Fortunately, we all saw the funny side and he became a good regular customer.”
Molly’s Cafe – or Molly Curr’s Cafe – opposite Frank’s Restaurant in the High Street, is another cafe remembered fondly by many, as much for its owner as its food.
Pam Butteriss recalled Molly as a “Lovely lady – very jolly and sold the biggest and best iced doughnuts”.
And she wasn’t the only one, as her comment in the Memories of Malling Facebook group sparked a wealth of replies from Molly’s relatives.
“She was my aunt and she was indeed a lovely lady!” said Susan Gale, to which Michelle Bettinger Clabough replied: “She’s my grandmother! Loved that woman dearly.” Nicola Maber added: “My Nana she was the best.”
Other fondly-remembered venues included the Green Lantern, where Ibbett Mosely is now, which Phil Martin recalled “served roasts at lunch times, which my parents enjoyed the occasional treat on early closing Wednesdays”.
Ann Adams remembered going to the Town Tea Rooms in the 1950s, in the tall building behind the bus stop.
“My Aunt would occasionally take us there for a treat,” she said. “Now I do not like ice cream but they made their own and I remember the coffee flavoured one it was delicious.”
Steve Norton remembered The Munch Inn down Swan Street, and the Corner Cafe on the High Street – where the Lovely Chinese is now.
Before the Lovely, The Happy Palace on the High Street was the first Chinese takeaway in the town, while another old favourite was Silvesters, which reached the top 10 in the Kent Messenger’s Restaurant of the Year competition in 2006.
In more recent years Mackenzies Cafe Bar was popular with many, except one young diner who asked for extra cheese on their pizza and allegedly got extra chillies instead – sparking a stand-off which threatened to end with the police being called.
Thankfully arrests and legal action were avoided on that occasion, but the venue unfortunately attracted the attention of the law later on when police were called to trouble in its upstairs bar – prompting the loss of its late licence in 2012, and Mackenzies closed the following year.
Further down the High Street, the building now occupied by Pad Thai was Saddlers Restaurant in the 1980s – but was gutted by fire in 1992, before being refurbished with its recognisable timber-frame front, and becoming Enrico’s.
Finally, the names might change on the front of many venues, but the name inside one West Malling eatery has stayed the same – Frank – for almost 60 years.
Launched in 1965 by Frank Pataky, The Bakery on the High Street, near the junction with Swan Street, ran for decades before being passed to the ownership of Frank’s son – also Frank.
In the early 2000s the restaurant was reopened as Cafe Belge, before relaunching as Frank’s Restaurant and Mussel Bar, which remains popular to this day, under the ownership of the original Frank’s grandson... Frank.
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