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Pub chef cooks up a new menu that divides opinion

By Jodie Nesling

Londoners are flocking to the revamped Fordwich Arms as top food critics rave about its new menu, despite a backlash from locals.

The popular pub in Fordwich, near Canterbury, is now run by award-winning chef Dan Smith, who took the reins from long-serving landlords Sue and Shaun Donnelly after their retirement in November.

He reopened on December 3 after a refurbishment and has since introduced his own style of fine dining, already winning plaudits from restaurant reviewers.

Dan Smith
Dan Smith

However, many regulars have been less than impressed with the changes, which have seen price increases and bar sandwiches ditched.

One of them, Peter L, took to TripAdvisor to express his disappointment.

Describing the changes as “homely to hipster”, he wrote: “It is sad to say there is very little to compliment the pub on. The decor is now sterile with dull lighting.

"Gone is the buzz and atmosphere of a community-based pub. Where once the tables in the bar would have been full of lunchtime diners they now sit empty and forlorn.

"Even with a log fire burning at each end of the bar the place had an unwelcoming chill.

“No longer can you get a sandwich, crisps or, our favourite, a bowl of salty saute potatoes. Complimentary Sunday snacks are, it seems, history. I expected change and was ready to embrace it, but it’s not for me.”

MJandPJ added: “Does this mean they are discontinuing the Steak and Kidney Pudding Club? If so, this is a disaster as I’ve just assembled together a party of 10 old friends to travel down for a night away to partake of this.”

The Fordwich Arms has been restored
The Fordwich Arms has been restored

The critics, however, have been outshone by rave reviews from out-of-towners and locals alike who have been wowed by the new menu, which Mr Smith says showcases the best of east Kent produce.

Bitten & Written, a reviewer with more than 25,000 Twitter followers, wrote: “Sometimes pub revamps do veer into navel gazing pretension, jettisoning most of the bits that make a pub great. It does happen. This isn’t one of them.

“The Fordwich Arms has whacked itself straight into the top tier of my favourite country boozers. In the smallest town, this is a big new player in the pub world. Just wish I was a local.”

Mr Smith, 25, a former Observer Young Chef of the Year by the Observer, is pleased with the launch.

“We could not have asked for a better start,” he said. “Some have said that the character has been taken away, but I think we have restored it.

A duck egg dish on the menu
A duck egg dish on the menu

“There’s original oak, parque flooring and people bring their dogs in.

“The price may be a bit more but everything is freshly made. If you are getting a roast dinner for £9 I can promise you it isn’t fresh.

“We break down whole animals, churn our own butter and bake our own bread. There has been some criticism which has been valid, but we have only just opened and that was a bad day.”

Mr Smith, who cut his teeth at the Michelin-starred Clover Club, has won rave accolades from top food critics but maintains the pub is not pretentious, just dedicated to serving the very best ingredients.

And not all locals have lambasted the changes.

One, Porkpie68, wrote: “It is unreasonable to compare the pub to its previous life as it now has a totally different offering.

Dan's Smith's venison dish
Dan's Smith's venison dish

"We are very pleased to have such a fantastic place to eat on our doorstep; perhaps others should consider this or stay at home.

"There are plenty of struggling old-style pubs around for those who want more of the same.”

Another added: “ I have been coming to the Fordwich Arms all of my life and was so impressed by our recent visit that I had to write about it. I couldn’t fault our visit, it was exceptional from beginning to end.

What do you think? Email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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