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The Dove, Dargate

Muddy checks out this popular country pub that's had a fresh injection of life - with a new team and swish refurb - so what did we think? Napkins at the ready!

The Dove in Dargate, a Shepherd Neame pub, has had a long-standing reputation for good food but had slipped off the radar in this department. However, it now seems to be back with a new and young team at the helm and was a finalist for Best Destination Pub at this year’s Muddy awards, so it was high time that we checked it out for ourselves. Situated on Plum Pudding Lane (yes really), in the pretty village of Dargate, we were already licking our lips in anticipation.

THE LOCATION

The Dove is set in the heart of the Kent countryside – 15 minutes from the pretty seaside town of Whitstable and 15 minutes from the beautiful city of Canterbury – so you are in the right surroundings for a bracing walk afterwards around the country lanes, or on the beach or a potter around the shops in Canterbury.

THE VIBE

The Dove was refurbished and reopened in August 2018 under new ownership, Head Chef Will Shenow-Brady and Manager Sophie Webb, who are business partners having previously worked together at Kathton House just outside Canterbury. They are a young team, considering the industry-norm for hospitality, and have done a great job in bringing this traditional space up to date with dark blue walls, pendant lighting, statement clocks yet not losing any of the rustic and rural charm of which you might expect of a village pub.

It’s an intimate space with a total capacity for 35 covers and local history plays a large part here with black and white photographs charting The Dove’s evolvement since the 1800’s and original wooden ladders have also been retained and are now used for decoration and lighting.

It’s a very much family affair all round as pictures of Will and Sophie’s grandparents (and great grandparents) picking hops in the Kent area, are dotted around the pub. It was Sophie’s mother that refurbished the very smart chairs plus she also tends to the allotment out back as well as Will’s dad who helps with the maintenance of the garden and Sophie’s grandad, in return for a cup of tea, prepares the veg for Will twice a week in the kitchen!

In addition, there is a lovely garden with plenty of outdoor seating for the summer months which is a great venue for live music and there’s a cosy log-burning fire inside for the colder months.

SCOFF & QUAFF

This is a pub where the food is the hero, and this is evident with the daily-changing lunch menus and an evening menu that changes every six weeks too. Will prides himself on shopping local and heads to the Goods Shed in Canterbury to get a lot of his produce (plus his allotment out back) as well as key local suppliers such as Lazy Lobster who provide the fish – funnily enough.

This is my kind of place as there is a small but oh so perfectly formed daily lunch menu so no dilly dallying around here, with a choice of four starters and four mains. Before the food even arrives, you are off to a pretty good start with a tray of warmly baked homemade bread rolls (two made with pesto – YUM) along with rapeseed and olive oil infused with homegrown herbs and home smoked sea salt. You get the impression that where possible, everything is made from scratch and this comes across in the quality of food.

Before we can even get onto our starters, we are treated to an ‘amuse bouche’ which entertained my taste buds greatly as it was smoked salmon marinated in chive, lemon and gin with cherry tomatoes, wasabi mayonnaise and radish. This was followed by Salt & Chilli squid with cherry tomatoes, spring onion and Coriander salad in lime dressing with a Bread-Crumbed Brie with tomato and onion chutney for my plus one. And let’s just leave it that our plates were pretty much licked clean.

Belly of Pork in Apple Brandy Jus with these fabulous potato puffs and Graffiti Aubergine stuffed with Ratatouille with a Twineham Grange (that’s a type of cheese) crust served on coriander cous cous, followed. The Belly of Pork won the best Mains race hands-down but the Aubergine dish did deliver, and in my diet maths meant that I could definitely go nuts on the pudding front.

For puddings, you can go for a plate of English cheeses which are rather intoxicatingly placed on the pub counter, willing you to try them but I ended up being won over by Dark Chocolate Fondant (the gooey middle when you shove the spoon in gets me every time) served with Clotted Cream and my friend chose the Lemon Posset with fresh strawberries which was light and very very tasty.

On the Quaff front, we had a glass each of Coleridge Hill from Three Choirs Vineyard which was perfectly nice but it would have been good to see some more local wines on the menu especially as Will takes such care with sourcing his food locally.

It is also worth noting that there were a couple of daily sandwiches on offer e.g. sirloin of beer with horseradish for the drop-in crowd and maybe also good for those mid-way through a walk in the surrounding countryside. Sunday Roasts are also a big thing, as you can well imagine, with different cuts of meat, or lentil nut roast, served alongside roasties, Yorkshire puds, Honey roast Parsnip, Tenderstem Broccoli, Savoy cabbage and Carrot so you won’t leave feeling hungry. Will also rates his Rack of lamb and Gumbo prawns as his favourite dishes that feature on his menu so I shall be returning to sample these very soon.

KID FRIENDLY?

Kids are very welcome here but there is not a dedicated menu for them – you can order mini portions for them from your own menu or if you are hard-pushed trying to get them to enjoy the chilli squid as much as you, they can whip you up pasta and tomato sauce or sausages and the like. I would say that the summer months would be the better option for kids as the garden has lots of places to explore and run around plus, they do more bbqs then with hot dogs and burger which are more kid-friendly fayre.

OUT & ABOUT

I would love to come back and do the three mile walk through Blean Woods which starts from The Dove, and does a loop back to where you started, meaning you have well and truly earnt your lunch – with or without the kids. You also have Victory Woods nearby if you are after more of a stroll than a stomp and dogs are welcome which is good news if you want to take them with you.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Since Will and Sophie are relatively new on the scene, they are still finding their feet a little but there is talk of more foodie based events coming up such as cheese and wine nights so watch this space for the fun stuff and there is also still space for their New Year’s Dinner (Christmas lunch was sold out months ago!) which will be a five-course affair with the obligatory bubbles so get in touch if that tickles your fancy.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Those who appreciate good food and would work for date night, girls’ gathering or a family affair since it is such a relaxed environment, plus any of those who like to do a good walk before filling their faces.

Not for: Those who like a white tablecloth and more of a fancy affair when it comes to going out. Stilettos should be left behind for this excursion.

The damage: A two course lunch (daily and Sunday) costs £24.50 (three courses for £28.50) but on Sundays, you can choose to have just the one course for £18.00. It is on the pricier side but reflective of the quality of food and in line with similar-minded pubs in the area.

The Dove, Plum Pudding Lane, Dargate, Faversham, Kent, ME13 9HB, dovedargate.co.uk

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