previous post, I would now like to reveal the three former Whitbread pubs which re-opened recently, after benefiting from having new owners who have lavished a lot of TLC, as well as hard cash, on their purchases.
The first pub, and the one which required a new roof and a major re-build, is the Kentish Hare; formerly the Hare & Hounds. It is located in the centre of Bidborough, a small village just to the north of Southborough, which has given its name to the ridge on which it is situated. Bidborough Ridge affords spectacular views northwards across the flatlands which lie between the High Weald and the Greensand Ridge, and on a clear day it is possible to see for miles right across and along this attractive area of West Kent.
The pub’s saviour realised that something more than just a village local was necessary to ensure a viable future for her investment, so she engaged the services of experienced restaurateurs, Chris and James Tanner. The pair opened their first restaurant "Tanners" in Plymouth, in 1999, which proved to be the start of a thriving family enterprise
As might be expected, the emphasis at the Kentish Hare is on food, and a step inside reveals that a considerable amount of money has been spent internally, as well as externally. However, with a number of different areas, including a separate restaurant plus conservatory, drinkers need not feel out of place. In fact there is a separate bar area at the front of the pub, where the rather brutalist-looking stainless-steel hand-pulls are the first thing to greet the drinker.
Harvey’s was the only cask beer I recognised, as “Kentish Hare” must be a so-called “house beer”. There is also provision for a “guest ale”. I didn’t find out the identity of the latter, as it was a scorching hot June day (remember them?), when I visited, so unashamedly I ordered a nice cool pint of Estrella Damm, from Barcelona.
I drive past the Kentish Hare each morning, on my way to work, and I also pass the next pub which is situated in the impossibly pretty, picture-postcard village of Penshurst. The village is home to the Leicester Arms Hotel, which is a fine looking, ivy-covered building, dating back to the 16th Century. It is right in the centre of Penshurst, and is just a short hop from the gates of the historic Tudor Penshurst Place; home to the Sidney family and former home of Anne Boleyn. For those old enough to remember vintage Hollywood, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, famously stayed at the pub whilst filming a period drama at the nearby Tudor property.
Thankfully the Leicester Arms has now re-opened, but not before a substantial amount of money was spent on the building, putting right years of neglect by its former owners. Today it offers 13 well-equipped en-suite bedrooms, a restaurant and a function room, but happily the front, right hand side of the building still functions as a pub.
The bar is also dog friendly; as befits a proper country pub.
Although there is a strong emphasis on food, this does not encroach on the pub part of the business, and the bar itself seems to me the same as it ever did. If you do fancy a meal the items on the menu are perhaps a quid or two more than I’d prefer to pay, but considering the surrounding and the location, are not unreasonable.
Wheatsheaf was closed for quite some time. Both pubs were at one time run by the same couple; as mentioned in the previous post, but given the amount of work necessary to bring both buildings up to modern standards, it is perhaps not surprising that this husband and wife team decided to call it a day.
Fortunately a local businessman stepped in, and today is busy serving food and drink to the dozens of tourists who visit the nearby attractions of Chiddingstone and Hever castles. The benefactor in this instance is the same person who has recently taken over the tenancy of the historic Castle Inn, in the nearby National -Trust owned village of Chiddingstone. He is also reported to be a director of Westerham Brewery, which might explain the number of Westerham beers on the bar.
Wheatsheaf on a couple of occasions since it re-opened; the last one being a couple of weeks ago. I had a half day off work, so I called in just before 12.30pm. The pub was quite quiet, but it was a Monday and the weather was not exactly what you would call summer-like. Even so I was brave enough to sit out in the rather splendid garden after I had bought my pint of Westerham Viceroy. Other beers on tap included Harvey’s Best, Larkin’s Traditional plus two other Westerham beers; slightly too many in my view!
The pub interior is divided into a number of smaller areas, each with their own individual charm, and has been renovated in a tasteful manner, sympathetic to the character of this old inn. The building is rumoured to date from the end of the 14th Century, and in Tudor times it served as a hunting lodge for nearby Hever Castle. Various clues to its age and previous owners have been uncovered during renovations, and some of these can be viewed in the pub.
Today the Wheatsheaf majors on food, much of it locally sourced. The pub even has its own “kitchen garden”, which the chef and the staff are rather proud of. Given it close proximity to the local historic attractions, it is understandably popular with tourists. The large car-park at the front of the building is testament to this popularity.
Like I said at the end of the previous post, these three pubs have become “destination” eating places, and one is also a thriving hotel. Whilst traditionalists might bemoan the fact they are no longer the simple country alehouses they once were, the fact they are still open and are continuing to welcome both casual and local drinkers, is definitely worthy of applause.