Googies and Chambers come out on top

Last Sunday I started a poll on my Facebook page asking people to vote for their favourite place to eat in Kent. It came about because the day before I’d been down to Folkestone harbour to take a look at Mark Sargeant’s new restaurant Rocksalt.

It is hoped this new venture, complimented by the soon-to-open fish and chip shop The Smokehouse, will help attract diners into the old town – the centre of Folkestone’s ongoing arts-led regeneration – but I wanted to know what other restaurants people are passionate about.

Asking questions on Facebook is such a simple thing to do, and I didn’t really expect I would get a massive response to this enquiry. Maybe a few friends would chip in, but that would probably be that. How wrong I was.

By this afternoon at 3.30pm, when I decided the time had come to settle on a result, the poll had received an astonishing 911 votes. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who feel strongly about their grub and the best places to get it.

Due to the fact my audience on Facebook is rather centred on Folkestone (it is my home town after all) the restaurants, bars and cafes in the running were primarily from this neck of the woods. And of the Folkestone contenders there were two that dominated the voting, sweeping up an impressive 224 and 219 votes respectively: Googies Art Cafe and The Chambers.

I had intended to write about the winner, but seeing as these two titans of the Folkestone foodie scene ran each other so close I felt it would be outrageously unfair to omit either from the final reckoning. Both managed to use social media to mobilise an army of loyal fans to propel them to the top of my poll, demonstrating some serious passion on the part of their customers. Clearly there must be something worth shouting about at both these town centre venues.

First, let’s come to our runner up: The Chambers. (Does anyone in this town actually deploy the definite article when referring to this cracking basement bar? No. It’s Chambers, full stop.)

Located on Cheriton Place, Chambers has notched up more than 10 years providing great drink (it’s never out of the Camra Good Beer Guide), good food and top music to the good people of Folkestone. Its Facebook page describes it as a “nice place for nice folk” and there’s really no better way of summing it up.

But what do the customers say? Patrick Smith backed Chambers in my poll and waxed lyrical about the warm welcome afforded to those who venture downstairs, leaving the hustle and bustle of the town centre behind.

“If you find yourself in Folkestone for the first time, and you need rest, good food, a welcoming atmosphere and being made to feel pretty bloody special, hit the Chambers,” he said.

“It’ll be an experience you’ll recount to your friends, over the years, as one of those really cool moments. It will make you look as though you really know where to find those pretty damn groovy places, that everyone else wishes they’d found first.”

Not bad. And Patrick wasn’t alone in singing its praises. Others described the food on offer as “yummy” and “super tasty”. Not bad at all.

I’ve always seen Chambers as a place for drinking and I’ve only eaten there once. I must admit it didn’t leave me in raptures and I certainly wouldn’t say it was the best place to eat in Kent, but then this might be down to the fact I ordered a simple dish of fajitas which could quite easily have been knocked up at home.

But more than 200 people can’t be wrong, Chambers has earned the right to be called one of the best places to eat in Kent. Congratulations to Chris and his team.

Now we move on to our winner by the narrowest of margins: Googies Art Cafe. Located in Rendezvous Street, amid what is fast becoming the centre of Folkestone’s thriving cultural and creative scene, Googies is a more recent addition to the town.

In less than two years owner Keith Holland has built up a loyal following of regulars who can’t get enough of the cafe’s laidback atmosphere, ever-changing artwork and excellent cooking.

Googies is one of those places that seems to have upped sticks and moved to Folkestone from somewhere like Brighton or whichever part of East London is fashionable this month. The fact a place this quirky and unashamedly alternative can thrive in this Kentish seaside town is a sure sign that the arts agenda emerging from the Creative Quarter is having a positive impact.

I’ve eaten at Googies considerably more often than I have at Chambers, so what’s good? Personal favourites include the burger wraps, the brie and bacon baguettes and, especially when dealing with the effects of a night’s imbibing, the full English breakfast.

And the customers? Graham Pegler plumped for Googies and said: “A unique and friendly ambience. Excellent decor really showing how recycled articles are still fit for use. Great staff helpful and upbeat.

“I love the instruments scattered around the place. Music is not just the food of love at Googies, their food is the score for the love of food.”

Others praised the cafe for its “nice crowd” and for cooking “the best breakfast in town”. I can’t disagree with either of these statements, the people are friendly and the breakfasts – whether full English or American grand slam – certainly hit the spot.

My (entirely unscientific and ludicrously Folkestone-biased) poll has spoken. I’m pleased to say Googies is (un)officially the best place to eat in Kent. Unless of course you prefer somewhere else entirely, in which case tell me where it is and why it’s so amazing in the comments below. Bon appetit!

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