A Big Deal
Where the cool and the sensible are perfectly balanced, achieving a laid back air of superiority backed by ocean vistas and a thriving highstreet. By Olivia Riccini
Heralded by The Times as one of the best places to live in the UK for no less than three years in a row, the Georgian fishing town of Deal is well and truly flourishing after having emerged from a long, sleepy chrysalis. In its post Victorian years, Deal was for a time known as a quiet coastal spot, left forgotten and slightly desolate after the closure of its Royal Marine Barracks (now converted into gorgeous sea-view apartments) and the nearby Kent coalfields. But shaking itself out of this bleary period of dormancy, Deal chose to follow in the wake of its coastal Kent cousins, transitioning into a cool beachy hotspot perfect for soirees by the sea and dreamy staycations under the Kentish sun. Unlike those loud and lairy cousins that lead the way back to being put on the map, Deal instead took a more sophisticated, sedate route when it came to achieving its stylish label.
But, let’s take it back to a time before the highstreet was swankily resurrected by art galleries, delicious delis and vintage interiors shops. It was the fact that Deal’s beach, of pebbles rather than sand, meant the town escaped Victorian development into a full-blown seaside resort of the ‘bucket and spade’ variety. Instead, the architecture, where quirky fishermen’s houses meet elegant Georgian townhouses, has altered very little in character since the 18th century and has thus retained an idyllic charm and is now a conservation area. Deal Seafront and Middle Street are the best locations for this historic architectural quirk to be admired, with the former being one of the most picturesque to be found anywhere on the southeast coast. The conservation area, sat away from the highstreet with its quiet alleyways, traditional cottages and houses, many of them colour-washed, is a delightful place to explore and stay. The French House, available through www.keeperscottages.co.uk, is a perfect example. Grade II listed and built in 1870 over three floors, it has three double bedrooms (one en-suite), two bathrooms, a double sitting room with wood burning stove and comfortable single sofa bed, large kitchen with dining area and a courtyard garden. The French House’s size makes it an ideal place for friends and family, while its central location makes it just right for exploring the town on foot and heading out for meals and drinks in the evening.
The best place to view the seafront, however, is Deal Pier. Perhaps Deal’s most photographed spot, many walk along this lengthy structure balanced out above the ocean to look back at the town behind them and marvel at the charming line of hotpotch historic houses that stretch the length of the town overlooking the sea. At the end of the pier, you will find Deal Pier Kitchen; take out a cappuccino or cold drink from their takeaway bar and admire clear ocean views, or book a table inside to enjoy their famous steak and lobster on Friday and Saturday evenings and their brilliant bottomless brunches at weekends. Back on the beach, festooned with fishing boats, enjoy an atmosphere alive with traditional seaside activities such as crabbing, sunbathing, ice creams from Deal Beach Parlour and fish and chips from Middle Street Fish Bar. For those wanting a cold glass of Kentish ale or locally brewed beer, visit the famous Kings Head pub on the seafront, adorned with hanging baskets and bunting, with a large seating area between the beach and the pub itself. With lots of live music acts and a party atmosphere, this is the ultimate summer spot under the sun in Deal.
For those looking to intersperse their trip to Deal with local knowledge and appreciation for the town’s heritage, visit the Deal Museum on St George’s Road. Situated in stables once used to house army mules, here you will now find a large collection of models, murals and other memorabilia relating to the maritime history of the town. History buffs should also look out for the Timeball Tower near the landward end of the pier. Built in 1795 to give time signals to ships, this four-storey tower had a curious device whereby a black copper ball was dropped down its shaft to mark 1pm every day and let sailors know the time. Close to the Timeball is yet another of Deal’s most iconic historical buildings: Deal Castle. With its distinctive lilypad shape (curved walls for better defence from objects such as arrows and cannon balls), this artillery fort was built by King Henry VIII in the early 1540s. The castle was actually designed to resemble a Tudor Rose and was the largest in a chain of five coastal defences built along the southeast coast in case of French invasion. The ruins of another of these, Sandown Castle, can be seen at the northern end of the town and a permanent exhibition inside Deal Castle describes their defensive role throughout history.
It is this eclectic mix of the ancient and carefully selected modern flourishes to the town that has made it the charming yet sophisticated destination it is today. A place of parallels, Deal’s arty end of the highstreet with its boutiques and wine bars is juxtaposed against the more traditional opposite end, with its practical highstreet stores, family greengrocers, butchers and bakers. Remnants of the town’s past have been salvaged and reimagined too, including places once tired and rundown such as The Rose. Once known as a ‘drinkers pub’, The Rose is now one of Kent’s finest boutique hotels and most-raved about places to eat, as is its restaurant neighbour Frog and Scot. A lively English tapas bar, Frog and Scot guarantees a fun and relaxed environment where customers can swing by for a drink, book an intimate bistro table for dinner, or lounge in the cocktail area with friends. You can even while away the afternoon on the heated outside terrace, watching the world pass by on the bustling highstreet.
For large parties, there is a beautiful 10-seater dining table sat in the huge on-street windows, perfect for celebrating special occasions or just getting together with friends to enjoy a selection of small plates, or some of the specially made ‘sharing mains’ (think huge bowls of mussels in fennel, apple and cider and whole beetroot tarte tatins). Dishes are prepared using ingredients that are ‘ultra-local’, seasonal and fresh, many being supplied by the local community gardens or foraged from the Deal coastline itself. Taking a flexitarian approach to much of the menu, most dishes are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, with any meat or fish dishes ethically sourced and coming directly from local Kent farms and fishmongers. Drinks and cocktails also have the seasons in mind, with many being made using locally foraged ingredients fermented in-house. Draught beers are from Deal’s Time and Tide Brewery, and with organic, natural and vegan wines on tap, you can enjoy a carafe of house wine while you work your way through the delicious small plates menu. As well as scrumptious food, look out for kitchen takeovers, DJ sets and wine tastings.
More reimagined spaces come in the form of gorgeous boutique holiday lets, which includes The Flat in Deal and The House in Deal (@theflatindeal / @thehouseindeal). insideKENT spoke to owner, Suzanne Hemming, to get some insight into why she loves Deal so much and the inspiration behind the designs of her holiday homes. “When we bought the house I wanted to keep it quite light, bright and coastal chic. I drew on our love of the Île de Ré, which is a beautiful island off the coast of France where we love to spend time. It’s all blues and whites, shabby floorboards and gorgeous French vintage chateau styling. Hence the white floorboards throughout the house that only get better as they age. And the vintage vitrine in the dining room which I was so excited about when I saw it on eBay, I think I’d bought it before we’d even completed the sale on the house! I filled it with vintage glasses my mum gave me and old crockery from brocantes in France. The Flat has a different vibe as it’s darker and moodier. We drew on the age of the iconic building it’s in (Guildford House – actual age unknown!) hence adding in a lot of Georgian panelling, and again vintage pieces to create an old but luxurious feel. And the view! Oh how I love that view! Whether the sky is blue and the sun is shining, or there are stormy clouds and crazy seas, that view is wonderful. I had to put a daybed under that window, and you’ll often find me there with a coffee, a good book and our little dog Jasper, who loves to sit on the window sill and people watch.”
As well as an abundance of places to stay whether it be a boutique holiday home or a larger, luxurious hotel such as The Royal Hotel, which sits resplendently on the seafront, Deal has a myriad of unique shops to visit too. Mileage Vintage is brimming full of vintage furniture, ornaments, curios and collectables – visitors are destined to find something unique here and perfect for taking home as a memento of their trip. Hoxton Store is a divine little boutique shop with gorgeous gifts (think beaded and jewelled items for the home, tasselled parasoles and stunning caftans) whereas the No Name Shop offers all sorts of delectable deli items including the very best of Kent produce. After a look around the shops, stop by at Pop Up Café for brunch. Try out their veggie breakfast with fried halloumi, garlic mushroom, sweet potato, scrambled eggs, dukka and harissa on toast, or simply settle for a sweet croissant and cappuccino. Another fantastic spot for brunch nearby is The Lane, which in the evening turns into a vibrant bar with delectable cocktails and funky music.
For those wanting to appreciate the arts in Deal, there are plenty of venues that provide the opportunity. The Astor Theatre has an array of varied events and entertainment all year round with everything from plays, musicals, comedy, orchestra and bands to film and their very own gallery. This month, enjoy the music of The Marvin Gaye Song Book as well as a Seaside Variety Show and much acclaimed live music from local band Gentlemen of Few. More of the arts can be found at various galleries throughout Deal including the Don’t Walk Walk Gallery, an independent artist-run gallery boasting a punk-rock ethic and a strong desire to offer something a little different – including the works of Noel Fielding and Jim Moir, aka Vic Reeves, who owns a house nearby. With artists selected for the gallery for offering refreshing, challenging and thought-provoking perspectives, expect pieces that range from abstract fantasy to linear with stark representational honesty. More art and knowledge can be discovered at the Kent Museum of Moving Image, which is currently showing four exhibitions. These include 35,000 Years to Catch a Shadow: A Reflective Exhibition, which challenges visitors to explore the phenomenon, arts, and technologies of the shadow; World War One on Film and in the Media: Representation & Remembrance, Art & Authenticity; Passport to Ealing: The Films and Their Posters, 1938-1958: a major retrospective of a unique moment in cinema history; and Dissolving Views: Victorian Super-Spectacle, a new exhibition of 19th-century magic lanterns and equipment.
For those with a preference of the more active kind, visit Betteshanger Park, an incredible country park built on the former Betteshanger colliery. As well as being home to The Kent Mining Museum, the park offers an exciting range of activities and this summer their schedule is packed full of extra things to take part in. These include a cycle school, forest school, archery sessions, bushcraft sessions and of course bike hire to explore the park itself.