A mini guide to Deal, Kent
Most people leave the train at Whitstable or Margate, but half an hour further along the Kent coast from London lies Deal, and here's why you need to visit
Hip edge and twee pastels this is not: Deal is pleasingly unpretentious and wears on its sleeve its nautical past. It’s all rabbit warren streets of former fisherman’s cottages and teetering townhouses, cavernous antique shops and delis bursting with pâté and cheese. It is bottle-lined wine bars and boozers that have for centuries quenched the thirst of sailors and, the best bit, local people who chat to you like you live in the Georgian beachfront house next door.
Stumbling upon Deal is almost unheard of. This is a coastal enclave reserved for residents and knowledgeable “DFLs” (down from London-ers) with a grounded, independent spirit that has diversified to include former city dwellers and creatives. A lesser-talked-about Kentish getaway, Deal was also named one of The Times’ best places to live in the UK for 2018. A couple of trains leave hourly from London St Pancras International, and journey times vary between 80 minutes and two hours.
Stay at: The Rose Hotel
Schlep down the high street to The Rose, a playful pub-turned-hotel with eight bedrooms, each packing a punchy personality that is impossible to pin down to one decade or design aesthetic. Vintage steals sit alongside contemporary pieces, and bold hues stand out against pared-back pastels. The rooms are Wes Anderson-worthy masterpieces in their own right, but these contrasts tie them together to form an artfully curated whole. There are record players (expect Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens), Austin and Austin toiletries (from a Norfolk-based father and daughter duo), and glass jars of sweets to satiate pre-dinner hunger pangs.
Downstairs, the space is divided into a lounge bar and restaurant, both bedecked in the former pub’s original 1950s panelling and dotted with art, including an original Tracy Emin. Menus are the work of executive chef Rachel O’Sullivan, formerly of London’s Polpo and Spuntino, and offer a fresh take on modern British fare with plates like grilled lamb shoulder, skordalia and olives.
Also try... Bear’s Well Bed and Breakfast for modern Georgian luxury in a two-storey, family-run townhouse a couple of streets from the beach; and Number One B&B for home comforts and a noteworthy breakfast.
Brunch or lunch at: The Black Douglas
Recently voted one of the best coffee shops in England, stepping inside The Black Douglas feels like stepping back into the home of a haphazard 19th century novelist. This is fitting, considering owner Dalziel is a descendent of Oscar Wilde’s boyfriend, Lord Alfred Douglas, and military commander James Douglas. Chalkboards chart a changing menu of chunky soups, slabs of quiche and hearty breakfasts that seem to be the stuff of local lore, with sausages sourced down the road at The Black Pig butchers, helmed by Dalziel’s sister Lizzy.
Also try… Popup Cafe, for great coffee and mighty grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough baked in house; Pomegranate for home-made Eastern and Middle Eastern Mediterranean cuisine; and full Englishes with 360-degree sea views at the newly refurbished Deal Pier Kitchen.
Shop at: The Saturday Market
The town is unsurprisingly sleepy during the week, but on Saturdays locals and visitors don their weekend best to parade the high street market. Stalls heave under the weight of books, second-hand salvageables and bric-a-brac, and an epicurean feast that includes Scandi-style buns from Bygga Bo, outdoor wine bar Authentique Wines, and dairy from the Kentish Cheese Stall. Nearby No Name Shop also stocks a cornucopia of cheese and charcuterie.
Also try… Smugglers Records for a curated, knowingly cool record collection and a fridge full of craft beer; J. Cosmo and its vintage and reproduction 1940s menswear; Hoxton Store’s covetable lifestyle pieces and rails of womenswear; a rotating stock of trend-focused furniture at Mileage Vintage; and a treasure trove at Quill Antiques.
Drink real ale at: The Ship Inn
A Deal institution tucked between Middle Street townhouses, The Ship’s 18th century walls are awash with tales of maritime debauchery and its ale selection is legendary. Micropub The Just Reproach sources real ales from UK microbreweries and issues £1 fines for using phones, while The Bohemian sits shoreside and the Taphouse Beer Cafe brings Deal Time & Tide beer and urbanite edge.
And for a glass of wine: Le Pinardier
Everyone knows everyone in this town, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Le Pinardier. Mid-week quiz nights draw cross-generational crowds to sup French wine and sample whopping cheese boards, and there are live acoustic sets on Saturdays. Relatively new and aptly named, The Bar spreads across two industrial-style floors, killer negronis are found at The Lane, and The Rose does cocktails with characteristic flair.
For dinner: Middle Street Fish Bar
Fresh battered cod, triple-cooked chips and a pot of mushy peas: a proper seaside chippy dinner from another Deal institution, best eaten slathered in cheap vinegar, on beachside bench with wind-whipped hair. Elsewhere, Frog and Scot is owned by the people behind Le Pinardier and reimagines French bistro classics; The Dining Club is a traditional supper club affair; and Whits of Walmer is renowned for its take on fresh local seafood.
Browse local art at: Taylor Jones & Son
The steady growth of Deal’s gallery scene is testament to the fact that artists have for decades sought solace on this stretch of the Kent coast. Taylor Jones & Son is co-owned by BBC wildlife photographer Richard Taylor-Jones and hugs a corner of the high street, showing works by local artists and photographers. Delilah, the gallery’s resident sheepdog, is an equally significant draw. Also worth a visit are artist Neil Kelly’s punkish Don’t Walk Walk, and the town’s contemporary art flagship Linden Hall Studios.
Walk this way: the coast from Deal to Kingsdown
These flat shores have seen their share of military landings, from Julius Caesar in 55BC to Napoleon in the early 19th century. The best way to traverse them is on a typically bracing 2.6-mile coastal walk that starts at the Deal Timeball Tower and takes in Deal Castle and Henry VIII’s Walmer Castle. A curative dip in the sea at Kingsdown is one way to recalibrate ahead of a pub lunch in the Zetland Arms’ cosy front rooms—with views across the channel to France, if you’re lucky.