My favourite vegetarian restaurant in Folkestone fell foul of the pandemic and is no more. Its successor, The Nook is, however, a fine substitute. The eggy crumpets, soaked and fried on the griddle, topped with avocado, paprika and pea shoots are excellent and my American husband described his American pancakes as fluffy and delicious.
Eleanor Townley and her partner, James Canter grew up in Folkestone. They left at 18 and went to university – James to study Criminology at Southampton, Eleanor to read History and Politics at UEA. Then, they returned to their hometown, because … well …why wouldn’t they? In 2021 The Sunday Times, Harpers Bazaar and The Evening Standard all rated Folkestone as one of the best places to live in the UK.
Eleanor’s mother, Clare, has run Mermaids Cafe on the Lower Leas for more than 20 years. Her aunt and uncle, Jessica and Simon, manage the Champagne Bar on the Harbour Arm. James’ Uncle Paul, a former grill chef at the Savoy in London, ran Paul’s Restaurant on Bouverie Road West for more than 40 years. James learnt to cook from his mother. Between them, these two families know a lot about Folkestone and they know a lot about hospitality.
When they were growing up, the town offered very little in the way of cafe culture. ‘We all used to meet at Starbucks’ recalls Eleanor. ‘After university, most of our friends went to live in London. Now, they have all moved back to Folkestone’. She and James are deeply embedded in the community and they recognise that the support of family, friends and local businesses has been invaluable, especially during these globally challenging times. Siblings help out in the cafe and Eleanor’s sister, Rebecca, who works as an Assistant Producer at the Folkestone Fringe, painted the illustrations for the wall menu.
A family business is generally inherited from the previous generation. What’s unusual about James and Eleanor’s families is that their cafes and restaurants all launched at different times and are independent of one another, with each family providing something a little different to the local community. They are all located within walking distance of each other. ‘It’s a lifestyle choice’ explains James. ‘The freedom to manage our own time is important to all of us. We work weekends and we close on Mondays and Tuesdays. On our days off we enjoy spending time together. Someone cooks, we go on trips, we walk our dogs. We all have dogs’. Bella, who is part Jack Russell, part sausage dog, sits quietly on Eleanor’s lap as we talk.
I will return to The Nook, not just because the food is great and Eleanor and James are friendly people but because I love family stories. And this is a wonderful Folkestone family story.
Adapted from an article published in Go Folkestone, November 2021