Muddy eats: The Milk House, Sissinghurst

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Sissinghurst, you’ve put a spring in my step (and I’m not just saying that because I like alliteration). I nipped over to this particularly picturesque part of Kent on Wednesday. The kids were back at school, the sun was shining and I enjoyed a girlie lunch out at a great gastro pub, The Milk House, that I’ve had my eye on for ages. And yes, it lived up to expectations – great service (tick), awesome food (tick), stylish interiors (tick) yet an unpretentious buzz (tick).

Straight away it was plain to see The Milk House (TMH) is many things to many people. With its handsome façade, perfect positioning right on the roadside between Goudhurst and Biddenden and quality menu this is definitely a destination pub (there’s a decent size, easy to access carpark – these things are important, I know.)

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The place also looks after its locals and works hard to keep the feel of a pub at the heart of village life with sofas in front of the fire, paintings by local artists decorating the walls and community nights like Warm and Fuzzy Winter Wednesdays – when complimentary bar bites are provided and (on the first Wednesday of every month) acoustics from local musicians.

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There’s a great outdoor space (every parent’s prayer) which lends itself to other bigger events throughout the year and attracts visitors from further afield. In March the Kent Ferrari Owners Club are coming to launch the re-opening of TMH’s outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. And for those who can’t choose between peppers and pepperoni, piccolo pizzas are also on the menu – a mixture of little bite sized offerings so you can try many different flavours, kind of like pizza Tapas. And in over the August Bank Holiday there’s the family food and music festival, Milk Fest (so popular last year that they had to do an emergency beer run half way through the day) – all making it clear that this is a pub going from strength to strength.

Napkin tucked in? Then let’s get on to the food…

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Joining me for lunch was my colleague and friend Sarah, who oversees Marketing at Muddy Kent. Now I tend to take fish over a heavy steak mid-week so TMH fish pie, above, was well received. Sarah, like me, went oceanic, trying the sumac-crusted sea bass with quinoa, pomegranate and parsley salad, below. There was also loads on the menu for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

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This was our power lunch during which we were going to discuss our plans for Muddy Kent’s world domination *mmwwhahaha*! I’d say we managed to stay on topic for the whole first half of our glass of Charquino Albarino (tasty Spanish wine recommended by the owner). Then we got on to much more important stuff like which films we most wanted to see from the Muddy Top 10 guide and which super funky recycled leather tote we were saving up for from the Muddy Boutique (black/tan or pink/tan – that is the question!). Then we got further distracted by the puddings…

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TMH blood orange and polenta Jaffa Cake for me and rhubarb and pomegranate cobbler for Sarah

Like a lot of gastro pubs TMH is divided into unofficial ‘zones’ – with a more relaxed bar area, where diners can choose from the Classic or Grazing Menu and the dining area, where, as well as the Classic Menu, there’s a more formal Dining Menu too. And pizzas outside in the summer. That probably makes it sound more complicated than it actually is and certainly all the areas flow smoothly into one another. I like this in a gastro pub – to me it just means flexibility and the knowledge that I could just as easily come here for a grown up (*cough*) lunch with the girls as I could a pizza with the Mini Muddies when quite frankly I can’t be bothered to cook at the weekend.

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Husband and wife team Dane and Sarah Allchorne who own and run TMH have put a great deal of care and attention to detail into both the look of the pub (that’s Sarah) and the fab food it provides (that’s Dane). We asked for a quick tour of the rooms upstairs and were seriously impressed by the stylishly furnished interiors (see above) – and the almost-as-big-as-the-bedrooms en suites. TMH is now top of my list for places to put up family and friends when we have a big get-together (Easter, Christenings, big birthdays) and I need an ‘overspill’ venue that I know they’ll love at a reasonable price (current Low Season prices start at £80 for double bed and breakfast – bargain). In fact most of my relatives would much prefer staying here than squashing into mine, and when they wake up they can stroll through the apple orchards (after a leisurely breakfast) to visit the beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle (gardens about to reopen – on Sat 12 March).

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If you’re on your way to the shops in Tenterden or off for a family day out at Bedgebury Pinetum (only 10 mins away) this is the perfect place to refuel and try out the new Spring Menu (about to be launched on 14 March). I’ll definitely be back for a Pimms in the garden on the next sunny day (we are nothing if not positive thinkers on Muddy). So to sum up? Lively, local, properly decent food and amazing alternative accommodation to keep in your arsenal (ahh, lovely alliteration to end on…)

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Foodies for Sunday lunch, friends and family relaxed get-togethers – get outdoor space too. Those who like a local vibe with added style.

Not for: The super flashie, while The Milk House is high on style, it’s also very unpretentious and children are very welcome here too.

£££: Mid-range and varied. Dining Menu starters £5-11 and mains £14-£24. Classic Menu £5-£12. Kids Menu £6 mains and £6 puddings.

The Milk House, The Street, Sissinghurst, Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2JG. Tel: 01580 720200

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Kent