Michelin star dining in Mersea Island

man and lady wearing aprons sitting in restaurant

Stark broke the mould of traditional Michelin restaurants - there is loud music, dark walls, no white table clothes or frills and famously, Chef Ben works alone in the kitchen of the intimate venue, meticulously crafting the frequently changing, seasonal six-course tasting menus.

It started life as a tiny sandwich shop on an inconspicuous street in Broadstairs, which Ben and Sophie transformed into a destination dining spot. Ben won The Good Food Guide's Chef to Watch award in Stark's second year, and it became the only Michelin star restaurant in Thanet by its third year, which they retained since 2019.

Their motto is 'good food, laid bare' and the new restaurant offers the same pared back decor and skilled flavour combinations using seasonal ingredients, as Ben says: "If it's not in season, it has no flavour and no right to be on the plate."

Close up of fillet fish with radish garnish

Expect £90 set menus featuring two meat dishes, like the duck liver parfait, confit leg, ginger bread, hazelnut and apricot; two fish courses, like mackerel, cucumber dashi, lardo and borage, and two desserts, like the clean and fresh goat's curd, pistachio sorbet, lemon puree and grape. Guests can accompany this with an optional wine flight for £55 from natural wine aficionados, Les Caves de Pyrène. They are bold and uncompromising in their offering, not catering for allergies or dietary requirements, due to the nature of the set menu, Chef Ben personally preparing all dishes, and to reduce food waste - every diner is served the same menu each evening.

Before opening Stark, Ben worked at Michelin star restaurant The West House, Kent, where he cut his teeth working with rockstar-turned-Michelin-chef Graham Garrett, before competing in MasterChef: The Professionals in 2014.

dark restaurant interior with bright leather chairs

He almost left the restaurant business in 2015 due to a bout of depression, which he discusses unflinchingly in his must-read book, Stark - an important insight into mental health and cheffing with gorgeous recipes. But the 2016 launch of the original Stark saved him, allowing Ben to continue his passion for food, while having a better work/life balance for him and Sophie with their three young children, which now continues in Mersea Island.

Address: Stark, East Road, East Mersea, Colchester, Essex CO5 8TQ
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Saturday. Tables are available from 6pm-8.30pm

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