Muddy eats: The Poet, Matfield
Having driven past The Poet numerous times and telling myself I really needed to try out the food there, Mr Muddy Kent and I finally got round to booking a table a couple of weeks ago. Word had reached my shell-like that exciting new changes were taking place at this country pub and that it was starting to make its mark on the foodie map – so slave to the job that I am, in I swooped, napkin tucked in at the ready.
The Poet can be found in the middle of picturesque Matfield and it’s fairly off the beaten track (my kind of place) meaning that it’s probably not a place you’re going to stumble over. The first thing to tell you really is how ‘pubby’ this place is. Despite its serious food credentials, and lots of gorgeous quirky details in the decor (like this typewriter, above,) The Poet has a very laid back local feel to it. It’s the kind of place you’d feel very comfortable nibbling on some bar snacks with a glass of wine or possibly taking your kids to for an early dinner, although I have not actually eaten there with the Mini Muddies and there is no Children’s Menu as such (there is a board offering traditional kiddie fare, so a good sign).
The countryside already has its fair share of done up light and airy gastro pubs with polished wooden floors and Farrow and Ball high ceilings. The Poet is not one of those places, nor does it want to be. As a listed building the owners are limited in the extent of the facelift they can give it – it’s all low beams, brickwork and fireplaces, which admittedly makes it rather dark inside. But then you can’t have everything – the original features and the fabric of the building is its most attractive feature. I get the impression the owners are trying to offer an alternative to the overly styled result of many a pub makeover.
To drink there’s a selection of craft gins, handpicked wines and quirky cocktails – I went for the cow milk vodka – just to try something, you know, a bit different. The food is presented with much more of a flourish than your average pub meal and I soon find out why – Head Chef Petrous Madutlela is very much a rising star in the culinary world, an irrepressible character who’s really starting to rub off on this traditional pub.
For a Starter I had the Pea & ham soup, followed by a rather post-modern interpretation of the Nicoise Salad (see above). I’m a massive fish fan, and happily it was stunning. For Dessert (yes, three courses, hear that waistband strrrrrrretch) I opted for a Guinness & dark chocolate pot. De-licious. Plate after plate of beautifully presented, flavoursome food. I would say it’s aimed to please more refined palates, too fancy for some possibly, but Mr Muddy was in his element.
From his early days as a kitchen porter in South Africa, Chef Petrous Madutlela (who has only been at The Poet since the end of last year), worked his way up including a stint at The Savoy and even a turn on Master Chef: The Professionals. Back home he was Judge of South African TV show Ultimate Braai Master which gives him some serious credentials for his next project – revamping the beer garden and putting his top barbecuing skills to good use with an outdoor grill. The plan is to transform the outdoor space before high summer (which is currently a bit scruffy but with heaps of potential).
In case it’s of interest (fact fans) First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon, was born on the outskirts of Matfield village, hence the pub’s name (if you’re in the area you can take a peek at Weirleigh, the old-fashioned, slightly creepy building where he spent most of his life, or what the local kids refer to as the Scooby Doo house).
When would I use this place? Well Mr Muddy is a real foodie, so it makes a good option for a *cough* grown-up evening meal out (although, Lotharios take note, the pub setting means it’s not a quiet, slick romantic night – which is absolutely fine by me). There’s a slightly older crowd on the whole and the staff were accommodating and friendly. The rural setting and pretty Kent countryside make this an ideal light lunch stop off after a weekend walk.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Relaxed foodies – this pub wants to put itself on the food map, so if you’re after a plate of plain old fish ‘n’ chips (hey, I’m not knocking it, it’s one of my fave dishes) you probably won’t find it here. Culinary delights come alongside a casual, local vibe which is a welcome alternative to the more stiff and starchy fine dining experience.
Not for: This wouldn’t be my first choice for a family meal out. It’s not that children aren’t welcome but I don’t think they’re the focus and that’s fine by me. Those that like unfussy fare. This is a foodie pub.
££: Pretty much in line with foodie pub prices: A La Carte Starters range from £7.95 for the soup to £11.95 for scallops. Mains start at £16. However you can go for the 3 Courses for £19.95 Set Menu which is a good value option.
The Poet, Matfield, Maidstone Rd, Matfield TN12 7JH, Tel: thepoetatmatfield.co.uk