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Eat My Words: We review Matches Sports Bar, Grill & Social in Elwick Place, Ashford


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I like sports. I like beer. I like food. Therefore, to no one's great surprise, I am a fan of a sports bar.

Although not uncommon on these shores, I still feel it is our cousins across the pond who have really excelled in this particular line of hospitality.

There are plenty of giant screens for taking in the big game
There are plenty of giant screens for taking in the big game

Here in good old Blighty, despite so many closing or turning to food as their focus, the pub still reigns supreme when it comes to the communal excitement of the big match.

And for those with more money than sense, these modern fan zones provide a wonderful place for idiots to gather together and throw expensive pints over one another when the goals go in.

Unfortunately, the proper sports bar – despite being imported from the States decades ago – still feels like a concept struggling to find its place at the British nexus of ball games and boozing.

Strolling into Matches, in Ashford's Elwick Place, on a quiet Friday lunchtime I'm greeted by all the staples of the sports bar. Absolutely massive tellies showing a variety of sports in crisp, high-definition? Check. Sports memorabilia adorning the walls? Check. Gleaming beer taps offering a selection of cold, tasty brews? Check.

So far so good. And bonus points for the general vibe of the place.

Matches sports bar had a relaxed vibe on a Friday lunchtime
Matches sports bar had a relaxed vibe on a Friday lunchtime
All this for just £14.50 thanks to the lunchtime menu at Matches
All this for just £14.50 thanks to the lunchtime menu at Matches

Although it was the end of the week, things were quiet, possibly because pay day for many was still a few days off. Some bars seem to take little heed of the ebb and flow of the day, pumping out chart bangers like it's 10pm on a Saturday night even though only a handful of people are in for a quiet bite to eat.

So well done Matches and your wonderful, welcoming front-of-house team for setting the atmosphere just right. Sliding into a booth to the right of the bar, I felt instantly relaxed and ready for the weekend ahead.

The first thing to catch my attention as I took my seat was not the private TV in the booth, playing some MotoGP highlights as I arrived, but the self-pour beer taps positioned enticingly below it.

Although the exact instructions were not immediately clear, I am on the ball enough to establish the link between the tapping of the contactless bank card and the free-flowing drinks to follow.

Much as an afternoon supping endless pints and watching – checks notes – Aussie rules football on the big screens above the bar appealed, I thought better of tapping in for fear of when I might eventually tap out. Coke on ice it is then.

Personal beer taps make a visit to the bar unnecessary
Personal beer taps make a visit to the bar unnecessary
A side of honey and sriracha chicken wings
A side of honey and sriracha chicken wings

And so to the menu, which is slightly more limited than I perhaps expected. But no matter, I hoped this meant the kitchen had built a core squad of classics, star performers which could be guaranteed to turn it on, despite it being a slightly overcast and drizzly Friday afternoon in Ashford.

I wanted my order to give the food here the best opportunity to shine, so I decided to pair my Match burger – made with Kentish beef – and chips with a side order of honey and sriracha chicken wings.

A slightly larger order than I might have gone for but one that featured the kind of staples any sports bar worth its place in the team should be able to nail.

Unfortunately, the match report for this lunchtime kick-off will reflect the fact the burger turned in a performance that, were your reviewer not determined to finish his lunch, may have seen it subbed off at half time.

Although the iconic hamburger is one of the most simple dishes there is, it's still possible for the quality to vary dramatically.

There were healthy portions but the burger was sadly a little dry
There were healthy portions but the burger was sadly a little dry
Reporter Rhys Griffiths reviews Ashford sports bar Matches
Reporter Rhys Griffiths reviews Ashford sports bar Matches

We're talking beef here, and although steak is now shorthand for the finer things in life – and cooked accordingly – the same does not always apply to its more humble cousin.

This is a sad oversight, and I am always delighted when a server asks how you want your burger done (medium rare, please) because it shows they are taking great care and pride over the food they're serving.

The rest of the burger was tasty and fresh but the patty itself had, to my liking, probably just been a bit over done and was sadly quite dry throughout.

Much the same could be said for the chicken wings, which had also become a little dry after a tad too long in the heat. I really think you should be biting in to find the meat and skin coming away easily, juicy and tender.

But unfortunately, although the seasoning was good and the sauce excellent, the meat itself could have done with a little less cooking time.

The meal was great value and eventually our reviewer was defeated by the chips
The meal was great value and eventually our reviewer was defeated by the chips
Matches Sports Bar, Grill & Social in Ashford
Matches Sports Bar, Grill & Social in Ashford

These are small quibbles though, and I certainly don't want to put anyone off visiting the place because one meal is not enough to know if this was a one-off or the usual fare.

The meal I ate was tasty, the ingredients seemed really fresh, but perhaps they could be a little braver in the kitchen – I know not everyone likes their meat on the rare side of medium, but you can always ask when they order.

My lunch was excellent value, based on the £7 lunch menu with a couple of additions.

For £14.50 I had a sizeable burger, a decent portion of fries, a Coke and six chicken wings.

That really can't be argued with if you're looking for a filling lunchtime pit stop in Ashford town centre.

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Out of five:

Food: Honest ref, I'm not going in two-footed here, but sadly the meal I had was distinctly mid-table. The ingredients seemed fresh but the quality of finishing let it down **

Drink: My Coke from the soda gun was, as expected, relegation fodder. But having sampled beers at Matches on previous visits, overall it still has a chance to beat the drop ***

Decor: The whole place is done out with real quality, loads of big screens, a range of seating options and some great memorabilia on the walls. Back of the net *****

Staff: The gaffer has clearly had a good transfer window because everyone I interacted with in the front-of-house squad was bright, friendly and helpful ****

Price: Transfer fees at the top of the game may have spiralled out of control, but for less than £15 I got a meal, sides and a drink. No sugar daddy required ****

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