20 top foodie pubs
Fine dining finds, in a traditional pub setting, making them the perfect place to enjoy a delicious but laid back meal with friends
Bit of a foodie fan? Often understated (sometimes downright down-to-earth and rustic) fine dining, rather than decor – is the beating heart of these pubs. From traditional pubs serving local ales, to modern gastropubs – the one thing they all have in common is food to rival the best restaurants in the country. Now I’m not saying this is an exhausted list – just some initial suggestions – so if you feel a burning desire to have your recommendation added to the list, please leave a comment below. Napkins, tucked in?
Duke William, Ickham
Sitting deep in the chocolate-box depths of the Kentish countryside, this pub boasts a big-name chef, Mark Sargeant who is ex-Ramsay. Low timber ceilings, a wood-burning fire, candles burning in old ceramic beer bottles, mismatched wooden tables and chairs – it’s gone for the classic and quirky vibe. With one of the most picturesque beer gardens you can imagine – open views across corn fields – and top notch food, you can’t go wrong here.
The Beacon, Rusthall
Tucked away down a pretty lane just outside Tunbridge Wells, the interior of this eatery mixes traditional, old school, country house charm with some wonderful modern touches – much like the food they serve. The menu is impressive, not surprising as it was put together by local celebrity super chef, Scott Goss (who oversees the entire I’ll Be Mother umbrella of eateries). And a new rising star Head Chef, Doug Sanham, has just been appointed to take over the reigns.
The Kentish Hare, Bidborough
A busy gastropub run by brothers Chris and James Tanner this place is dapper in terms of both food and furnishings. With a long blue-grey bar, a log-burner by leather sofas, a large antler on a bare brick wall, a big paved garden it ticks all the boxes in terms of decor but most pleasingly the menu can match the setting. From classics like Roast Lamb Rump to more modern takes like Curried Hake, there’s something to whet all appetites here.
The Windmill, Hollingbourne
Run by TV chef, Richard Phillips this popular eatery offers both classic pub grub and fine dining – including everything from light lunch sandwiches to 40-Day Dry Aged Steaks. In the summer sit out on the terrace and soak up the rays while enjoying the new BBQ and smokery where the food is cooked right in front of your eyes, every Saturday and Sunday (as well as bank holiday Mondays).
The Kings Head, Wye
Revamped to give it a fresh modern vibe, this country pub sits in the pretty historical village of Wye, where there’s lots of lovely walking nearby in the North Downs. The owners, Mark and Scott, go to great lengths to make sure you are well looked after and are hitting the headlines for their culinary skills that wonderful mix of urbane cool interior in a gorgeously quaint historic village setting. If you haven’t yet explored the Kent countryside at the foot of the North Downs (and just North East of Ashford) Listed in the Top 50 Gastropub Awards.
The Three Chimneys, Biddenden
While there’s been lots of attractive updates and improvements in recent years (like the relandscaped garden area and stylish new B & B rooms) this place has retained the pubby feel and original country charm. On entering the bar is all low beams wrapped in hops, dusty books decorate inglenook fireplaces and beers, bitters and the like are sold from casks behind the bar. Popular with the foodie country set the daily specials on the menu board features dishes such as Pan Roasted Breast of Duck or Pan Roasted Fillet of Smoked Haddock on Creamed Leeks and Crushed New Potatoes – yum.
The George & Dragon, Chipstead
Open fires, heavy oak beams and period features galore make this a classic gastropub. Right in the heart of picturesque Chipstead (just outside Sevenoaks) the menu here offers everything from Lemon & Chilli marinated King Prawn Skewers to George & Dragon Blue Cheese Jalapeno Venison Burger. Pick up a loyalty card to collect points that can be redeemed on your future visits. There’s also a very pretty little beer garden terrace squirrelled away at the back.
Compasses Inn, Crundale
This rural pub is found down narrow winding country roads tucked away deep in the Kentish countryside, between Canterbury and Ashford. Husband and wife team, Rob and Donna Taylor describe their pub as a ‘muddy wellies and fine food kind of place,’ which sums it up perfectly. There are no bells and whistles here – all very understated – no hint of the awards it’s notching up like Shepherd Neame’s Pub of the Year 2016 and Good Food Guide’s South East Local Restaurant of the Year and Finalist for Best Food Pub in The Great British Pub Awards. With a very foodie menu – try Crispy Pigs Cheeks or Curried Mussel Tart – while sitting amongst garlands of hops, low beams and inglenook fireplaces.
The Sportsman, Seasalter
Once a well-kept secret, but not any more since winning the coveted Morning Advertiser Gastro Pub of the Year in 2015 this foodie haven just outside Whitstable has a near-impeccable reputation. It’s got one of Kent’s few Michelin stars, and now you need to book six weeks in advance to get a table on a Friday, but it remains very deliberately no-nonsense and understated – in fact it’s downright proud of the fact (describing itself on Twitter as the ‘grotty run, down pub by the sea). But that’s a vast exaggeration – it was certainly smart enough for me and it’s charm is in the authenticity – and the food that’s second to none (seafood being its strong point obviously).
The Milk House, Sissinghurst
Situated in a picturesque corner of Kent, this village pub is at the heart of the community (running events such as the popular weekend-long fun, family food festival called Milk Fest in August). This stylish eatery prides itself on a menu that changes with the seasons and uses only the freshest produce from local suppliers. Alongside a seasonal Dining Menu, there’s also a range of classic pub fare, for those that prefer less fuss, a light Grazing Menu and good choices for kids too.
The Duck, Pett Bottom
The Duck Inn at Pett Bottom just outside Canterbury, is a traditional pub with a winning combination of cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and fabulous chef. This pub has built up a great rep in the foodie world, added to that, James Bond novelist, Ian Flemming, wrote You Only Live Twice here in 1964 and it was the first pub in Kent to earn a Michelin star. Another understated, rustic find where food-lovers like to flock.
The Barrow House, Egerton
This gorgeous new pub in Egerton (previously The George Inn) had been sitting empty when it was recently taken over by husband and wife Dane and Sarah Allchorne, the team behind ever popular The Milk House in Sissinghurst. Named after the ancient burial mounds dotting the local landscape (the local area is great for walking). Thoroughly modernised throughout, like it’s bigger sibling, it has all the same foodie credentials and three boutique rooms upstairs.
Pearsons Arms, Whistable
One of the Kent pubs run by TV chef Richard Phillips this has all the hallmarks – stylish interiors, fabulous food and relaxed atmosphere. There’s the obvious emphasis on fresh fish (this is Whitstable folks) and a great choice too – not only is there a full A La Carte and Set Menu there’s also top quality Light Bite/Bar Snacks (no, not Pork Scratchings) which includes dishes like Fresh Rock Oysters with Sherry Vinegar Shallots, Tabasco or Crab Sandwich on Brown Bread, Lemon Mayonnaise & Rocket. De-licious.
The Three Mariners, Oare
Near Faversham, this is a welcoming 500 year old pub set in a sleepy hamlet and boasting views across the marshes to the estuary. Like many good foodie places it’s both a restaurant and also a proper pub, in part, with regulars propping up the bar. Constantly evolving menus offer an extensive range of British and Mediterranean-influenced dishes. The 3-course meals – like the Walkers Lunch are good value (lots of good walks nearby).
George & Dragon, Speldhurst
Formally a rustic 13th century inn – it’s got roaring log fires and dramatic oak beams, as well as seriously tasty food. Classic offerings sit alongside more elaborate dishes and lunch light bites (think Assorted Cheese Ploughmans or Speldhurst Sausage & Red Onion Baguette) offer an alternative to the bigger main meals (think Slow Roast Belly of Pork or Moroccan Butternut Squash & Chickpea Tagine).
The Poet at Matfield
This year’s winner of Best Destination Pub in Kent in the Muddy Stilettos Awards this place is named after the famous World War 1 poet, Siegfried Sassoon, whose family home was just up the road, The Poet offers very refined British fare, more sophisticated than simple and each main dish is accompanied by a carefully-chosen wine recommendation and there’s craft gins on offer too. However the pub itself has a very laid back feel – especially if you relax outside with the summer BBQ or braai, run by South African chef Petrus. Matfield is a very pretty village and there’s loads of good walks on the doorstep.
The Wheatsheaf, Bough Beach
The Wheatsheaf in Bough Beech is an age-old watering hole (dates back to the 14th century – fact fans) offering modern British dishes. With the gorgeous combination of Georgian high ceilings and Tudor beams the dining space evokes a by-gone era. Nab one of the comfortable sofas perched next to crackling open fires or prop yourself up at the striking exposed-beam bar.
The Vine, Goudhurst
Goudhurst stands on a crossroads with a duck pond and is the perfect place for rather lovely walks with great views overlooking the Weald. It’s not somewhere you’d necessarily think of going for several rounds of Cosmopolitans and and elegant dining experience. Luckily however, husband and wife team, Justin and Vanessa, decided they wanted to bring something new to the area. As well as the more traditional pub space downstairs, there is also the new Grill Restaurant upstairs which allows diners to select both a cut of meat and its weight. Up another flight of steps is a cocktail lounge.
The Curious Eatery at The Albion Inn, Boughton Monchelsea
A brilliant little restaurant set up in what was a disused pub in Boughton Monchelsea, so south of Maidstone and just north of Sutton Valence. The immediate surrounds are quite suburban, the pub is tucked down a quiet street and from the outside doesn’t look like much. But step through the door and you’ll find something magical – a really buzzing place that has just won Best Restaurant in the Muddy Stilettos Awards (as voted by you). Run my sisters Lesley and chef Nicole (also known as Pixie) who has cooked for Richard Branson, this is tasty wholesome, unfussy food at its best. Even better – there’s hand-made cakes and a cute little shop upstairs in here too.