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Eat My Words: We review Boba Tigers in Cliftonville, Margate - serving sushi, bubble teas and noodles

There can be few places in Kent which have seen such a reversal of fortunes, within such a short amount of time, than Cliftonville in Margate.

In the 1950s it was the high-end holiday destination for the middle classes, full of architectural grandeur. Fifty years later, courtesy of our collective turning of our backs on our coastal resorts, it found itself one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Boba Tigers sits on Northdown Road, Cliftonville
Boba Tigers sits on Northdown Road, Cliftonville

Today it is, slowly, getting back on its feet. Northdown Road - its main thoroughfare - has long reminded me of parts of south London and perhaps no more so than today. The deprivation is still visible, but there are green shoots of recovery poking through.

To perhaps underline its current transformative period, there is now a brightly coloured sushi and bubble tea bar lurking between the antiques and art shops, escape rooms and, of course, the food stores which celebrate and serve the rich ethnic blend of people who live there.

And there’s no denying Boba Tigers has managed to deliver a genuinely unique dining experience. Entering the place will, I assure you, not be anything that you expected. At least, certainly not in Cliftonville. As to whether you like it, or not, will be a question of personal choice.

Above a seating area to the right as you enter hang a dense carpet of artificial wisteria blooms, while pink flowers are attached to pretty much every spare space of wall. Bizarrely, in the corner, is an open red phone box (minus the traditional phone or, indeed, traditional scent of urine).

While above the long service area is a multidimensional sea of green ‘plants’.

If you like fake wisteria, boy are you in luck
If you like fake wisteria, boy are you in luck

At the far end, you can perch on what resemble moped seats with the handlebars removed.

This is, clearly, somewhere designed to capture the imagination of the Instagram generation.

For those of us who don’t feel the need to document our every movement on social media, it’s all, and I appreciate this may just be my age, a little odd - like you’ve walked into some bizarre dream sequence. A sensation heightened when, at 1pm on a Friday during the Easter school holidays, the music being piped in plays the very adult version of CeeLo Green’s Forget You (change the first word for something starting with the same letter if you’re only familiar with the more radio-friendly sanitised edit).

But enough of the decor and expletive-ridden songs, there’s no denying effort has been made. And, frankly, that’s got to trump any gripes from old duffers like me.

Ever fancied sitting on the back of a moped to eat your food? Here's your chance
Ever fancied sitting on the back of a moped to eat your food? Here's your chance

The key attractions here are its bubble teas and sushi. So we put them to the test.

We order in a 14-piece salmon sushi selection (£11.95 and featuring sashimi, nigiri and maki) and an 18-piece maki mix (£9.99 which features cucumber, more salmon and avocado). We could be more adventurous, but on a first visit it’s worth going for the basics to see how they stack up.

Drink-wise, we opt for fruit teas - there’s three of us, so the one I plump for is the ‘Mango Mint Booster’ (£4.99 with peach flavour ‘boba’ - the little bubble bits). I am, it must be said, rather spoilt for choice. There are at least 40 (!) different options, with toppings multiplying that yet further.

We sit beneath the swathes of ‘wisteria’ and, natch, for the purposes of this review, I get a picture in the phone box like some foreign tourist in London. Hell, if you can’t beat this Insta fad you might as well join them (except, of course, I don’t post said image to the image sharing platform - take that modern life!).

The drinks arrive relatively swiftly and are absolutely delicious. Cold, full of fruity flavour with the zing of mint and the little popping ‘bubbles’ which race up the straw add a texture to what is otherwise a very pleasing fruit drink.

Now these fruit teas really were top notch
Now these fruit teas really were top notch

As we wax lyrical as to how nice they are, the sushi arrives - delivered as if you’d ordered out, in little encased plastic trays.

I’d be lying if I said they were of a quality the likes of which I’d never tasted before, but they are all very good: the flavours of the salmon distinct; the hunks of the fish generous. I do, however, find a little bone in one of them. Which, I’d argue, should have been removed during the preparation. But I’m a big boy and can live with it.

Plenty of fillings here
Plenty of fillings here

The maki array all go down well too. The fillings are generous although you’d argue the avocado could be a little riper (a first-world problem if ever there was one). Key, though, is the rice - mostly the main part of whatever form of sushi you go for - was tasty, not too stodgy and allowed the fillings to lead the tastebuds.

Being critical of such minor issues as avocado ripeness (can there be a more middle-class gripe, I wonder?), though, rather misses the point. There’s precious little of this sort of cuisine in or around Margate and, given I’m rather partial to it, I do feel it is important to support those who make the effort. And these guys are doing a really good job.

The salmon slices were generous
The salmon slices were generous

It also makes for a destination dining experience in Cliftonville of which there are few and far between.

However, I suspect Boba Tiger’s biggest issue may be a lack of footfall. We’re in there for about an hour on a lunchtime and no-one else enters. It is up the far end of Cliftonville’s main retail drag - in the direction away from Margate - so perhaps the modest splattering of tourists heading to the Turner and Old Town don’t bother.

But they should - not just for the good quality, different, food and drink on offer here, but to help Cliftonville’s sluggish revival continue.

Our reviewer doing his very best Dr Who impression in the Instagram-friendly Boba Tigers
Our reviewer doing his very best Dr Who impression in the Instagram-friendly Boba Tigers

I’d like to think during the summer season it will blossom like the fake flowers which coat its ceiling - if not, I recommend visiting sooner rather than later.

Out of five:

Food: The sushi selections we tried were well up to standard and there were noodle dishes which make a return visit a certainty ****

Drink: The sheer number of options when it comes to their bubble teas - you could go for milk or fruit-based - were extensive and the ones we tried excellent. *****

Decor: Truly weird - like something you see on Alan Carr’s Interior Design Masters on the BBC (probably when the contestant involved is about to get the boot). BUT…it’s different and it would be dull without it. ****

Staff: Far from rushed off their feet, the two we came in contact with both friendly and polite. ****

Price: For three fruit-based bubble teas and enough sushi to feed us all, the total cost was a few pence over £36. Not bad ***

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