Published: 05:00, 16 June 2022
It was quirky and we escaped with spending just a fiver.
People often ask if there is anywhere 'good' to visit on the Island. It is certainly well-served with a variety of cafes and takeaways like Rumour in Sheerness and Bosuns of Queenborough.
Those eager for a more substantial meal tend to opt for the Queen Phillippa bistro or pubs like the Flying Dutchman, Aviator, Royal Hotel, Ferry Inn at Harty or the newly reopened Playa on the seafront at Minster. Those who like Turkish rave about Mem's Mezze.
But after years of being a relative culinary desert, Sheppey can now boast a new kid on the block promising a fine-dining experience.
Entrepreneurial builder Mark Seabrook has spent the best part of 10 years methodically renovating the former Prince of Waterloo pub in charming Minster village and has turned it into Banks Restaurant, named after the architect who designed most of Sheerness.
It finally opened in December. He's done an excellent job. The pub can be traced back to 1633. Local legend says it even has a haunted cellar with a secret tunnel linking it to the nearby Minster Abbey church. There is certainly a wonderful collection of spirits down there these days.
The building, said to have been visited by Charles Dickens, used to be one of my favourite watering holes, mainly because it is within safe walking distance of my home if the fire-water starts to flow.
In those days, the closest we came to food, apart from peanuts, were the roast potatoes perched on the bar every Sunday afternoon by landlord John Prigg.
Alas, times change and this outing was clearly going to cost more than pocket money.
The evening three-course set meal comes in at £40 which is well over our normal Eat My Words expenses budget. But sometimes a chap's gotta do what a chap's gotta do. Journalism can be tough.
The first thing to realise is that you can't go in through the big main door any more. There's a sort of secret passageway to the left where you are welcomed and then shown to your seat.
It's an impressive open-planned dining area and on the Friday night I visited, not too crowded. Even the kitchen is on show so you can see chef Bernard Johnson's domain, which many will find comforting.
For those who need it, there is a private dining room upstairs, ideal for parties and wedding receptions from the nearby Abbey.
But let's get down to business, what bang do you get for your bucks? The set menu comes with three choices for each of the starters, mains and desserts.
I began with the fluffed up salmon with piccalilli foam and microherbs followed by seared tuna steak topped with warm fermented tomato salsa, cashew, sesame, bok choy, spring onions and miso risotto accompanied by a perfectly acceptable house Chardonnay. There were times, I admit, my head was turned by the fillet steak (£32) being devoured by another diner.
Pudding had to be the white chocolate cheesecake with cherry jelly, cherry compote and vanilla bean ice cream followed by coffee.
Everything was well presented and the staff, one of whom has been head-hunted from the Ferry Inn, attentive.
It was a delight to be able to dine in this kind of style on Sheppey at last. But at these prices, it is definitely one for those special occasions.
Ratings out of 5
Food. Seems excellent. But I will probably go for the steak next time. ****
Drink. Good choice and quality including cocktails. House wine excellent, which is always a good sign. ****
Decor. Simple and practical, set in an historic building. What's not to like? *****
Staff. Attentive and polite. ****
Price: You get what you pay for. ****
Since this review was written, Banks has closed temporarily. Owner Mark Seabrook said dining was off the menu while building work was taking place upstairs.
He said: “I’ve had a lot of requests from people wanting to stay so I am converting what was the office and staff room into bedrooms and there will be a fourth larger executive room with an open fireplace and bath.
“I’m hoping the restaurant will be open again by the end of the week or certainly by the end of the month. We will also be changing the menu with more sharing dishes.
“We will be opening from 10am so guests can have coffee or drinks in the garden. There will be a cheaper more bistro-type menu during the day before we return to tablecloths and candles in the evening.”