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Secret Drinker reviews The Old Coach and Horses at Harbledown near Canterbury


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Don’t tell the boss, but I was only working 100 yards down the road so it would have been rude not to pop in for a pint, wouldn’t it?

The Old Coach & Horses, sitting half way up Church Hill in Harbledown, near Canterbury, promotes itself as a ‘gastro pub’ and this, added to the fact a pair of metrosexuals, with matching beards and a lack of socks, slipped out of a black Range Rover and into the bar just ahead of me, set alarm bells ringing.

The Old Coach & Horses sits halfway up Church Hill in Harbledown Picture: Secret Drinker
The Old Coach & Horses sits halfway up Church Hill in Harbledown Picture: Secret Drinker

But my fears were misplaced, it might offer good food at slightly steeper prices but there’s also plenty of space for those just wanting a drink and a chat so, kicking off my work boots, I ordered a pint.

I selected The Friar’s from The Canterbury Ales which describes itself as a Kentish Session IPA and is a very decent 4.3 per cent pint which packs the type of flavour you might expect from a far higher number.

It was the barman’s first shift and the waitress was fairly new too, but they were both ably marshalled by the manageress for the day, Olivia.

Plenty of folk were in to eat and there was a steady stream of diners being shown to tables – for a weekday lunchtime it was very busy.

The fellows from the Range Rover had joined other diners upstairs to talk business and I was left to chat to the new barman while he poured drinks for the various tables.

It was the barman’s first shift, but he’d obviously listened well during training as he made a confident start despite it being a busier lunchtime than expected Picture: Secret Drinker
It was the barman’s first shift, but he’d obviously listened well during training as he made a confident start despite it being a busier lunchtime than expected Picture: Secret Drinker
As well as the regular beers on tap, The Coach & Horses also features at least one guest ale each week Picture: Secret Drinker
As well as the regular beers on tap, The Coach & Horses also features at least one guest ale each week Picture: Secret Drinker
I began with a pint of The Friars (4.3%) from The Canterbury Ales which really packed a punch and was full of aftertaste, the Meantime IPA was a decent enough pint too but it didn’t quite hit the highs of the first pint Picture: Secret Drinker
I began with a pint of The Friars (4.3%) from The Canterbury Ales which really packed a punch and was full of aftertaste, the Meantime IPA was a decent enough pint too but it didn’t quite hit the highs of the first pint Picture: Secret Drinker

Although new to this neck of the woods we had a few things in common, apart from our age, and I discovered he now goes to the same college I attended (many moons ago) as well as previously working at a bar I’ve already reviewed, The Malling Jug.

The manageress also found a moment to join the conversation and admitted that, despite its name, the pub isn’t actually an old coach house. That was further up the hill and where we were sitting was in fact the old coaching inn.

Having established this important detail I walked around Charlie, a cross between a deerhound and a saluki, who is too old and established to move for anyone, and got another pint in. This time I sampled the Meantime Pale Ale, which set me back a further 90p a pint and, although pleasant enough, wasn’t as tasty as drink number one.

A second hound, a black Labrador by the name of Bilbo Baggins, was also in but unlike resident Charlie who belongs to the owner, I believe Bilbo was just there for the day as Olivia was looking after him as a favour to her boyfriend.

Anyway, the point is, you can be assured this is a pub which welcomes dogs.

There are no distractions like darts, pool, fruit machines or even a juke box but the music is played at a level where it provides a pleasant background without dominating. I wouldn’t say all the tunes were my era but I did notice KT Tunstall’s Suddenly I See was followed by one of Madness’ best.

There are a number of tables and stools in the bar to accommodate those who just pop in for a pint. Through the archway you’ll find the downstairs dining area Picture: Secret Drinker
There are a number of tables and stools in the bar to accommodate those who just pop in for a pint. Through the archway you’ll find the downstairs dining area Picture: Secret Drinker
The owner’s dog Charlie, a cross between a Deerhound and a Saluki, is getting on in years and is perfectly happy stretched out on the bar floor Picture: Secret Drinker
The owner’s dog Charlie, a cross between a Deerhound and a Saluki, is getting on in years and is perfectly happy stretched out on the bar floor Picture: Secret Drinker
It might not be quite in tune with COP26, but I still like the idea of a two-for-one steak night and might well pop back one Wednesday evening Picture: Secret Drinker
It might not be quite in tune with COP26, but I still like the idea of a two-for-one steak night and might well pop back one Wednesday evening Picture: Secret Drinker
I know the weather has been warm recently but I’m not sure it warrants jettisoning the socks does it? Picture: Secret Drinker
I know the weather has been warm recently but I’m not sure it warrants jettisoning the socks does it? Picture: Secret Drinker
One to show the age – Pugh, Pugh, Barney Macgrew… I actually took this to show Mrs SD as she really fancies a pew in the kitchen
One to show the age – Pugh, Pugh, Barney Macgrew… I actually took this to show Mrs SD as she really fancies a pew in the kitchen
It wasn’t too chilly but I didn’t venture outside to try any of the three levels of garden on offer, though I’m reliably informed they’re great in the summer. Mind you the main road clearly isn’t too far behind the pub judging from the traffic noise Picture: Secret Drinker
It wasn’t too chilly but I didn’t venture outside to try any of the three levels of garden on offer, though I’m reliably informed they’re great in the summer. Mind you the main road clearly isn’t too far behind the pub judging from the traffic noise Picture: Secret Drinker
I was a little concerned the tag of ‘gastro pub’ might mean there wouldn’t be a welcoming bar area but I needn’t have feared Picture: Secret Drinker
I was a little concerned the tag of ‘gastro pub’ might mean there wouldn’t be a welcoming bar area but I needn’t have feared Picture: Secret Drinker

The food had been coming out regularly and both looked and smelled fantastic – not that I’m not grateful for a packed lunch from Mrs SD!

One of several blackboards was promoting a two-for-one steak night which did look good value.

The pub has obviously returned to hosting live events and I spotted promotions for a few bands in coming months. Also, if I’m not mistaken, there seemed to be a discussion about some sort of live theatre show, though this may have taken place by the time you read this.

The gents, at the back of the main bar, is well decorated and maintained, it also offered a choice between hand towels and a hand drier.

The garden rises reasonably steeply behind the pub and there is a fair bit of seating on several levels, however if steps are not your thing there is another very well appointed outdoor seating area at road level.

On the opposite side of the pub, just beyond the front door, there is a sign for a footpath which literally runs along the wall of the pub, so perhaps this could be a good stopping off point after a decent dog walk?

It was a busier lunchtime than the barman working his first shift had been led to believe it would be. I can report there was a good buzz in both the dining rooms and the bar, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular gastro pub.

This photo was taken from inside the pub but shows one of the levels in the outside dining area Picture: Secret Drinker
This photo was taken from inside the pub but shows one of the levels in the outside dining area Picture: Secret Drinker
Relatively small and functional, the gents hadn’t missed out on the latest pub makeover and I can report the facilities are well maintained
Relatively small and functional, the gents hadn’t missed out on the latest pub makeover and I can report the facilities are well maintained

The Old Coach & Horses, Church Hill, Harbledown, Canterbury CT2 9AB

Decor: The dining areas, both downstairs and up, felt open and welcoming but The Old Coach has still created a bar where you feel comfortable having a pint with the regulars, with or without, socks! ****

Drink: A gentleman at the bar said a pint of The Friars might be a little much for me but, as I pointed out at the time, I was prepared to take the risk and was I glad I did – a great pint. They have a guest beer each week to accompany the regular offerings. ****

Price: It isn’t cheap, but given the proximity to Canterbury I don’t think £4.30 was extortionate for an IPA. However, the Meantime version was almost a quid more at £5.20. ***

Staff: They might have been new, but both the barman and waitress were helpful, attentive and keen to learn. And, he’ll soon master pouring a Peroni. ****

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