Emily Chia has chosen to change her menu according to the daily ebb and flow of the best produce available at this Kentish seaside spot
A fter four years in Paris as head chef of the fashionable bistro Le Grand Bain, Emily Chia chose Margate as the next destination. Her culinary journey has taken her from her native Vancouver to Joe Beef in Montreal and to London, where she had a formative experience working as sous chef at St John restaurant in Smithfield.
She met Sargasso's owners Ed Wilson and Josie Stead (who also run Brawn in east London) while they were weekending in Paris, and she took over the kitchens in May this year. She heads a team of six chefs working across a seven-day week, with three chefs on in any given shift.
"It all depends on the season because we are a seasonal restaurant," she says. "When we were doing five days, we were a team of three full-time chefs and two part-timers."
The restaurant is set on the harbour arm with space for 27 diners inside, including bar seats and a further 40 on the terrace, with views back towards the town and its famous Golden Sands. Chia serves one daily changing menu at both lunch and dinner of about 10 smaller plates and eight larger plates, plus soft-serve ice-cream or cheese to finish.
"About 80% of the menu is new and the rest has been carried over from the old menus, mainly some of the standard charcuterie items and best sellers like the Cantabrian anchovies with rosemary oil. I'm continuing to source as locally as possible and be even more reflective of Kent produce and applying techniques from my background. On a nice day we can do more than 100 covers. For a kitchen this size, that's a lot, but the flexibility of the menu, being able to change every day, being able to source locally, all makes a difference in what we are able to achieve."
One readily available local ingredient is skate, which she serves as a schnitzel with sauce gribiche (£24) or poached in olive oil, bay and garlic and served with borlotti beans and Kentish cherry tomatoes from Walton Farm near Canterbury (£24), but her best-selling dish is the salt fish beignets with aioli (£10).
"Any trim we have from the fish we salt and make a batter out of it with potatoes, flour and eggs. We have a few really nice fried things, including a take on fritto misto, but only using sage leaves (£8). We get them from Walton Farm, which supplies a lot of our herbs. We fry them in a tempura batter and dust them with Parmesan and gremolata."
Chia brings her own background to bear in dishes such as sardines with scallop sauce XO (£10). "My heritage has a little bit of a Cantonese origin, but I don't make my XO sauce in the most traditional Cantonese way. I use a single seafood because it concentrates the flavour and at the moment we're running at 100% scallop."
To make the sauce, Chia salts the scallop meat and roe and dehydrates it in the oven overnight. She then rehydrates the scallops, flakes them in a food processor and then fries slowly in oil. Shallots and garlic are gently fried separately and then combined with the cooked scallops, along with some spices and the reduced hydration liquid."
Chia also uses curing as a technique for local sea bass carpaccio with sour cherry harissa (£15), a dish inspired by a version with chillies, lemon and olive oil served at the now closed Zucca in London, where she worked for chef Sam Harris.
"That kind of simplicity really speaks to the clientele. To make the dish our own, I cure the sea bass in sugar, salt and a lot of Amalfi lemon zest to get a bit of citrus without bringing acidity. We add pickled Kentish cherries to sour cherry harissa that we buy in from Belazu and blend with a really nice olive oil to mellow out the flavour so it's not competing with the sea bass."
Later in the autumn, when the restaurant is quieter, she may introduce more complex dishes, such as the impressive vegetables en croute she served in Paris. However her underlying approach will remain the same.
"It's about just seeing how I feel, talking to suppliers, seeing what they think is the best produce they can offer and then changing the menu. That's the best way I know how to cook."
From the menu
- Smoked cod's roe, crisps £8
- Terrine, radishes, cornichons £12
- Cantabrian anchovies, rosemary oil £15
- Single rock oyster with cider mignonette or chorizo £4
- Salt fish beignets, aioli £10
- A pair of sardines, chimichurri £10
- Kohlrabi, hazelnut, green sauce £10
- Slip sole, mussels, cider £22
- Black pudding, friggitelli peppers, fried egg £18
- Dark chocolate, sea salt, olive oil £8
- Milk soft-serve, strawberry or chocolate sauce, cacao nibs £7
- Three Neal's Yard cheeses, quince, rye crackers £15
Margate Harbour Arm, Stone Pier, Margate, Kent CT9 1AP
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