Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone, Kent: ‘We were spared the life story of the Galician cow’ – restaurant review | Grace Dent on restaurants

The British seaside is presently heavily oversubscribed and it may well be more jocund simply to stay on your sofa looking at scenes on Google Images of Broadstairs, Margate or Hastings than to brave the actual throngs. But there is something hard-wired into the British psyche that, every time the sun shines, compels us to run as far as we can to the edge of our island without falling off. And then we eat ice-cream.

Or, in the case of Folkestone, we eat gyros, tacos, poke and acai in a ginormous leisure zone called The Goods Yard that lives in a vast car park. Just park up, then follow the scent of designer hot dogs and the dulcet tones of Fat Man Scoop imploring you to Put Your Hands Up.

The gilda, at Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone: ‘excellent, salty anchovies stuffed inside plump gordal olives’.
Pick Up Pintxos’ gilda: ‘Excellent, salty anchovies stuffed inside plump gordal olives with ferocious pickled chillies.’

I rather like Folkestone. I love the lighthouse with its champagne bar and the once disused railway track that you can now bumble along again while perusing the Channel. I like the steep, higgledy-piggledy, arty old high street full of independent cafes, craft shops and numerous upcycling and vintage clothes shops. The town is also home to the vastly overlooked Folkestone Wine Company, which sounds a bit as if it ought to be a dusty lock-up owned by a booze importer, but is actually a wonderful restaurant where I had one of the greatest lunches I’ve pushed down my gullet in the past five years. Homemade gnocchi followed by raspberry-festooned, sugary French toast with chantilly cream, since you ask, made in one of those kitchens where it is literally one chef, on his own, making everything as he’d want it himself.

The local food scene has fire in its belly. Rocksalt on the harbour is knowingly fancy, with its pretty takes on cockles, whelks and whipped cod’s roe, while well-established burger chain Lucky Chip has opened a branch in town serving the El Chappo and the Kevin Bacon. Dr Legumes, Sole Kitchen and numerous other independents fill up the Harbour Arm, making it nigh-on impossible to visit Folkestone and end up with just a polystyrene box of fish and chips.

Boquerones, Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone
Pick Up Pintxos’ boquerones come in a ‘glorious glut of extra-virgin olive oil’.

There are bigger things afoot, too. We headed to the new-ish Basque restaurant Pick Up Pintxos, which serves the likes of txuleton beef rib from San Sebastián and whole turbot cooked in a clasp, as well as a variety of cold and hot pintxos, which could roughly translate as “small, delicious snacky things”, or at least it does when you’re reverberating around the backstreets of Gros, fuelled on buttery Basque cider and txalupa (AKA langoustine).

Whether the culture of eating pintxos could ever translate to a sit-down restaurant in Blighty, decorated like a slightly posher Nando’s, is debatable, but on a Saturday lunchtime in August, while all Folkestone’s other dining spots were heaving, Pick Up Pintxos was serving gildas, boquerones and morcilla and membrillo balls, and was very, very quiet. It would help if they had any staff who could enthusiastically sell the concept, or indeed act as if they’d ever been to a restaurant, but instead this was an odd, disjointed experience, with cracked glasses, plates stacked up on tables or whisked off mid-course, 182-month Pyrenean beef served without a sharp knife, and so on and so forth.

Serving membrillo balls at Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone.
Morcilla and membrillo balls at Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone.

To be fair, I’ve eaten in several other places that are so bewilderingly run, or not run, of late, not least because staffing issues are dire across the country. But it’s particularly a shame here, because there is some feisty cooking and fantastic produce going on, such as silky, silver-skinned sardines marinated in sea salt and Valdespino sherry vinegar and served in a glorious glut of Arbequina extra-virgin olive oil. The gildas are excellent, salty anchovies stuffed inside plump gordal olives and skewered with ferocious pickled chillies.

‘Whole turbot cooked in a clasp’ at Pick Up Pintxos, Folkestone.
‘Whole turbot cooked in a clasp’ at Pick Up Pintxos in Folkestone.

Chef Gianni Modena has a strong grasp of seasoning, textures and presentation, and I doubt you’ll find a better piece of txuleton in the UK today. That said, one silver lining about the inexperienced staff is that none of them recited the lengthy life story of the cow, which was à la mode in London in 2017, when all Galician beef came accompanied by a traumatic Pixar plot. Charles, who cares little for such sentimentality, took the remnants home with us and spent the night on the sofa resembling Captain Caveman. The turbot, in a truffle and vermouth dressing, was less successful. A beef tomato salad featuring exemplary, meaty, vivid-red fruit was wonderful. Pudding was a forgettable slice of tarta de queso crema, or Basque cheesecake to you and me, followed by a long wait for the bill.

After an hour or so in this rather soulless and quite dark restaurant, I was rather keen to go. The place means well and is full of good ideas, but it needs some sort of a reboot. And I empathise because, at some level, don’t we all?

Pick Up Pinxtos 2-4 South Street, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1RW, 01303 250544. Open Wed-Sun, noon-11pm (5pm Sun). About £35 a head, plus drinks and service.

Listen to all the episodes of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast here.


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