Bottega Caruso, Margate
by Nick Harman - Wednesday September 18, 2019 11:09 am
2-4 Broad Street, Margate, Kent CT9 1EW bottegacaruso.com
With the sun shining and at a loose end on a Sunday, Nick heads to Shoreditch by Sea for a memorable lunch
When I was a kid Margate was the ‘big one’. Living in South London we had relatively easy access to Brighton on any summer’s day.
Every now and then though my folks would decide they wanted a soft sandy beach and not harsh stones and so the great trek to Margate would be planned.
With only a Ford Anglia, and with not much in the way of fast roads, this meant setting off before dawn, at least it does in my memory, and spending what seemed most of the morning on the road. It was worth it for Dreamland alone.
Now things are a bit easier, it took us just over two hours to get to Margate, although finding somewhere to park took almost as long.
Margate is now, as I am sure you’ve heard, a bit hip. Many a wealthy Shoreditch-ite, and even a well-known restaurant critic, has a second home in the area and some people have moved there completely.
Trains to Stratford are fast, if not cheap, so they can get an East London fix fairly easily,
The place is still feeling its sad past though. For many years, like many coastal towns, it was used as a dumping ground for the people London councils wanted shot of.
You can still see a lot of electric mobility scooters, tattoos on people who are more likely to lamp you than cook a fashionable meal, women who look like Tracy Emin on a bad day and grim housing that defies the local classic architecture in an aggressive, dog on a string, style.
In the Old Town though things are looking up. There are now numerous restaurants that cater to the more sophisticated resident/visitor, ones with a menu that boasts some locally foraged this and a bit locally harvested that.
Bottega Caruso isn’t like that at all though, because their menu boasts ingredients from Campania, Italy. Not via the supermarket, but through the owners’ family.
Co-owner Simona is Italian and her grandad grows the tomatoes that they make into sauce. They buy olive oil made by a neighbour, they make pasta in the restaurant from ancient grain flour. And it all comes to the table in a small, unpretentious, restaurant where the shop is also the kitchen.
Soft, toothsome, anchovies marinated with chilli and garlic arrive in a simple cheerful, bowl with hunks of superb sourdough, the crispy crust still smoky. Drape the fish over the bread and eat, savouring the rich flavour and the restrained spike of chili
Next polpette di pane al sugo, ‘meatballs’ made from sourdough, eggs and herbs all semi-submerged in some of that tomato sauce.
Intended originally for people who could not afford meat, they now rise above meat effortlessly with a solid texture that is remarkably close to mince.
That sauce is sweet, tasting of bottled sunshine, and deeply coloured and I have to get the dessert spoon to avoid allowing any escape
Salsiccia di Zia Mariagrazia e pecorino di Immacolata is graphic on the plate and features cured and smoked red wine sausages made by Simona’s, aunt and also a sharp, fresh young sheep’ cheese from the mountain village of Vitulano.
It’s so simple, so good. The essence of the best Italian assemblage of fine ingredients and letting them do their own work. if Jamie had tried this, rather than listening to that conceited oaf Gennaro, he might still be in business.
A main dish of polpettone con funghi trifolati - minced organic beef and pork rolled with provolone cheese and spinach is a wonder.
An arctic roll of savoury superbness, the meat is firmly bound with the iron tang of spinach and salty strike of the provolone makes each forkful a ‘ooh yes’ moment.
The mushrooms are firm and meaty themselves, enhanced by a breath of truffle on them. Was it truffle oil? Probably, but it wasn’t the rubbish stuff, so who cares?
We had to have pasta of course, tagliatelle con ‘nduja, salsiccia e rucola
Made by Pierpaolo in the village of Castelpoto, this ‘nduja spicy sausage is a classic.
Packed with flavour and not too fiery, the nduja has been melted into slow cooked red onions and tomatoes to create a sauce to be semi-absorbed by the perfect pasta.
It’s slaveringly good, the pasta whiplashes as I suck it in and the flung sauce irrevocably stains my shirt, it’s worth it.
They have some marvellous wines too, a lot of orange wines which I am not yet convinced about to spend my own money on, and some cracking reds.
If this place was indeed in Hoxton it would have big queues, although the fact that the chefs are not trendy might play against it. Simple, quality, delicious home cooking is never enough in London, you need an angle too.
Will I move to Margate? Probably not, and in any case, I’m sure that soon I won’t be able to afford it anyway.
If you can spring for the train fare, then do go down. Bottega Caruso and the Turner Gallery? Make a delicious day of it.