A small restaurant, bar, and “occasional music venue” in Margate, on the Kent coast, will reopen under the stewardship of two of east London’s most esteemed chef-restaurateur duos this summer, when Brawn’s Ed Wilson and Josie Stead take over Sargasso on the town’s Harbour Arm in July.
It is the latest in a string of London operators who’ve shot out to the south-east and south-west coasts in recent years. Where Wilson and Stead follow will go east, Tom Adams and Lottie Mew at Coombeshead Farm; Louise Rødkjær and Tim Spedding at Lola’s; and Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell of Fitzroy have all relocated or expanded to Cornwall, in the south-west. Most recently, Ladies of Restaurants founder Natalia Ribbe and ex Hoi Polloi chef Jackson Berg opened Barletta, also in Margate.
The Kent town has become something of a hotspot for creative Londoners in the last half decade — it’s been dubbed “Shoreditch-on-Sea” by some, but regardless of cheap stamps, the town has a rich artistic heritage and a brilliant culinary scene. Sargasso will join the likes of Angela’s, Caruso, Hantverk and Found, and Fort’s. RIP Cheesy Tiger. The restaurant will be a skimming stone’s throw from the Turner Contemporary, the renowned art gallery based in the town.
For Wilson and Stead, the opportunity presented itself after a bigger project in London fell through at the start of the pandemic last year: A huge community restaurant, music venue, urban farm, and radio station was due to open just off Hoxton Street in partnership with the Worldwide FM’s Gilles Peterson but was stopped in its tracks and ultimately derailed when the pandemic shut down indoor hospitality last March. But a third partner in that project, the musician Matthew Herbert whom the Brawn pair had met running the Brawnswood tent at We Out Here festival in 2019, invited them to collaborate on Sargasso.
“Yes, Margate! We were interested in the idea of something coastal (growing kids in mind also) that was also easily accessible from east London,” Stead told Eater London. “We had a core crew who have worked for us previously, were looking to do their own thing, and were up for the challenge and the change that this project provided.”
That team is comprised of head chef Marcelo Rodrigues (formerly of Brawn and Stoke Newington’s Rubedo, alongside managers Zac Gates (formerly of Brawn and London Fields’ Bright) and Carmen Mac (of Islington’s Trullo, and Homerton’s Peg). “This exciting trio have forged their partnership over the years working together in various east London restaurants and running a host of their own successful pop ups and events,” Sargasso’s new operators said. The restaurant will focus on simple cooking, natural wine, and music.
Margate, as a cultural centre, had a number of appealing traits for the team. One, £22 million of investment to fund the redevelopment of cultural and historic landmarks. Also, according to Stead, “a growing hospitality community, a thriving art scene, and a strong independent business culture.”
“Not to mention a beautiful coast with sandy beaches — what’s not love!” she said. “It’s easy access bringing day trippers and weekend goers is important and will only grow with this investment, as well as people choosing to relocate with societal changes thrown up from the pandemic. We do hope our restaurant is a local spot enjoyed by the Kent community, as well as having a destination appeal all year round.”
Among the other draws for Wilson and Stead is a 10-acre farm that Herbert owns 10 miles from Margate. As a full-time musician, Herbert doesn’t have the time to tend the land, but it’s something Wilson is going to relish, according to Stead. “The prospect of operating a coastal restaurant with access to a small holding was a big draw for us,” Stead said. “Ed plans to start preparing the land in autumn for next spring. Idea is we can produce for both restaurants.”
The site itself was attractive, Stead says, because it is “so raw and open to the elements with waves literally crash over the roof in stormy weather. We romantically envisage in cooler months people bunkering down with a bouillabaisse, a good bottle, and nice records. Through the height of summer we imagine people enjoying the large outside area with a potential outdoor grill, Catalan inspired seafood, salty snacks and vermut.”
There’s also scope for mini music festivals too. It is shaping up to be quite the scene. Those London-based bereft citybreakers are likely to be beside themselves as they size up new options for the 2021 summer staycation.
More soon from the latest London team to set sail for the coast.