We were in the shabby Regency sea-side town of St Leonards-on-Sea, on a day-trip to that fascinating vintage habadashery, Wayward, purveyors of a glorious array: vintage braids, French Tri-Coleur ribbons in yellow and red, bakelite buttons, bolts of chalk-striped West of England cloth; charming remnants from the 1950's- including period chromolithographic birthday cards in original, pristine condition (God knows where they found them); that sort of thing. And then we needed somewhere to eat. A helpful woman in one of the numerous bric-a-brac shops gracing Norman Road (where I found a perfect Super 8 ciné camera for twenty quid) mentioned "that Michelin star place at the top of the street". Our ears pricked up. We couldn't get out of her shop fast enough.
The first thing I can say about St. Clement's is that it is a restaurant. Yup, a restaurant. Not a gastro-pub, a café, a funky bar or a retro brasserie. A proper grown-up restaurant. And I've suddenly decided that we need more of these in England. There's just something more civilised about a restaurant. Okay, St. Clement's is a simple affair; the interior's not much to write home about (the usual ubiquitous abstract daubs) but it did boast a thin, poe-faced French waitress who didn't especially want to become my great friend in the manner of our American cousins (a good thing), but was still prepared to laugh at my appalling jokes. I liked her insouciance.
And incidentally, the "Michelin Star" was sort of true. Up to a point. St. Clement's has been awarded a "Michelin Bib Gourmand", which is the next step down: "good cuisine at a reasonable price..." And affordable it most certainly was. Our two course lunch, with a large glass of the House Red (Castillo del Moro Tempranillo, 2011 and two bottles of lager beer (Chapel Down) came to £23.00 a head.
My Duck and Pork confit terrine was full of texture and taste, and the piccalilli which came with it was crunchy and sharp. My second course of tuna with a tomato salsa and white beans sounds slightly bland, but the tomatoes had an intense depth of flavour which one so rarely comes across these days. It was truly good.
Mrs Aitch's Hastings Fishcakes were served with a herb and caper crème fraîche (a Gallic twist on the very English Tartare Sauce) which, again, was remarkably herby; making me want to try and re-constuct the recipe for another post. I also enjoyed two bottles of Chapel Down's "Curious Brew", an English lager re-fermented with the addition of Champagne yeast.
I would be interested to go back for the full hog one evening. I've a feeling that the atmosphere would be different. Our Saturday lunch companions weren't exactly spring chickens (the old boy in the corner might have been wearing a bib), and an overheard conversation seemed to focus repeatedly on the National Trust and the art of making jam for the Women's Institute, but hey, it was St Leonards, wasn't it? The English Sea-Side. And a great destination for the worthwhile cause of affordable antiques and affordable food.
St. Clement's, 3 Mercatoria, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0EB (01424 200355)