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The Maidstone pub where the pizza is claimed to be better than Rome


In the criminally unfunny noughties TV sketch show Little Britain, fictional fat club leader Marjorie Dawes imparted wisdom to hungry members.

If they were to slice a piece of cake in half, Matt Lucas' character nasally wheezed, they could eat twice as much.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams filming Little Britain
Matt Lucas and David Walliams filming Little Britain

Not much else has stuck with me from that thankfully-long-since-departed show but it seems, subliminally, Marjorie's advice endures.

So it was that, on a miserable Wednesday night – the setting for most of these reviews – I found myself in one of my favourite watering holes gazing up at a screen displaying 'Pizza Club 50% off pizza every Wednesday' against a fetching pepperoni background.

The sign faded to reveal an equally tempting list of several real ales.

Is there a better combination in the world of gastronomy than pizza and beer? No, of course not, so let's crack on.

Back to Marjorie and I backed myself to hoover up in this multi-award winning street corner pub, and since it was half price it seemed silly not to order twice as much.

Pizza Club!
Pizza Club!

In the end, a disapproving look, disconcertingly tight jeans and a semblance of pride saw me opt for only 50% more than is strictly acceptable – three pizzas for two people, in the name of thoroughness, of course.

Full disclosure: as mentioned, I've been a semi-regular at The Flower Pot, in Sandling Road, Maidstone, for many years. I've even occasionally eaten the pizza, although not for some time, and never at the 'Pizza Club'.

So why bother to return to review what I already knew to be thoroughly decent scran? To gorge myself on pizza and guzzle beer and claim it back on expenses like some stereotypical '70s hack? No, you cynics, that is merely a happy coincidence.

The reason is when this news site conducted a snap National Pizza Day poll to find the best slice in Kent this humble boozer came top.

One man said it was "better than anything [he'd] eaten in Rome." Quite the claim, and a decent headline too!

Pizza Club at The Flower Pot in Sandling Road, Maidstone (62888604)
Pizza Club at The Flower Pot in Sandling Road, Maidstone (62888604)

We'd travelled through sludge to get here following earlier snow, parked in a scratchy bush along a one-way road and trudged, heads bowed, through icy sheets of rain to reach the painted green door.

It's a good looking pub, yellow and green and lit-up through the gloom, with a black stencilled logo sprayed on the back of the Amazon pick-up lockers outside the Shell opposite in a small act of anti-corporate rebellion.

But while the water gurgled in the gutter and pooled in the potholes, the Trevi Fountain it was not. Rome 1: Maidstone 0.

The first rule of Pizza Club is... buy a pint and wait.

So I did, and then another, as the pizza oven was, predictably, in high demand.

Midway into the first crystal clear pint of Fyne Ales' Jarl (£4.45), which my pizza partner declared "too florally" but I think is delightful, we had settled on a sweet potato & blue cheese (full price £12.50), vegetarian (£12.50) and, to assuage the vocally carnivorous commenters, duck (£12).

A pint of Jarl at The Flower Pot in Sandling Road, Maidstone
A pint of Jarl at The Flower Pot in Sandling Road, Maidstone

I reckon this is decent pricing, especially for a good pint, especially when it's half price Pizza Club night, so Maidstone at this point pulls level with the Italian capital.

As I went to order I was pounced upon and accused of being Secret Drinker, a charge levelled with alarming regularity by a number of people but one which I can categorically deny. Which I suppose is exactly what Secret Drinker would say. Such an ambush would unlikely happen in Piazza di Spagna but it would be unfair to penalise The Flower Pot for this.

The pizzas would be one hour, I was told, and actually turned up after 58 minutes – punctuality which, from my experience of The Eternal City, sees Maidstone pull in front. Sure, it's a long time to wait, but then again it is half price Pizza Club night.

We'd arrived at around 6.30pm (food is served from 6pm) to a pub which was already pretty busy where we only got a table thanks to fortunate timing but, as our pizzas cooked, the population swelled and the volume and atmosphere soared to the point a rain-soaked traveller stumbling in might have mistaken it for a Friday night.

Pubs are struggling as a rule, some through no fault of their own, but many, including The Flower Pot, are shining examples of how to survive and thrive.

The vegetarian pizza
The vegetarian pizza

There are two parts to The Flower Pot, the livelier section where the bands play, pool sharks circle and jukebox jockeys battle, and the bit up some steps surrounding the main body of the bar where the boring folk, of whom I count myself a proud member, talk about hops and spreadsheets.

In this regard the pub has achieved the inprobable, incorporating the look and feel of a backstreet boozer and the cosy fire-side chat vibe of a rural local without conflict.

By contrast if you were to fly to Rome in the hope of avoiding romance, for example, you'd find it impossible and that probably would grate. Rome 1: Maidstone 3.

As it was starting to look like a rout the first of our pizzas arrived, offering hope perhaps to any Italians seeking to win back a point, but so did a poodle in a cool coat which was better than any dog I saw on my trip to Italy. Rome 1: Maidstone 4.

The excellent sweet potato and blue cheese
The excellent sweet potato and blue cheese
A very tired looking pizza fan
A very tired looking pizza fan

The vegetarian pizza in front of us was coupled with my second pint, a tasty Lowline stout (£4.45), and was declared, perhaps prematurely, by my companion to be the best pizza she'd eaten there.

It wasn't my favourite and I thought the courgette could have been seasoned a bit but any concerns were swiftly eased by the arrival of the knock-out sweet potato.

It's the best of The Flower Pot's rapidly-growing menu and combines a crunchy crust and chewy base with well-cooked sweet potato and punchy blue cheese interspersed with pleasant little morsels of walnut.

This pizza is as good as anything I had in Rome but I should declare here I thought the ones in the Italian capital weren't as good as those you can get on the country's coast.

The duck pizza now arrived and I was feeling in good shape to polish it off alone, but my pizza partner, a vegetarian who had earlier warned me off eating too much of "her pizzas" so as to leave room for mine, went feral, scraping bits of bird off here, carving out meat-free-looking corners there.

The duck pizza before it was menaced
The duck pizza before it was menaced

A sad fall from grace for her but probably a good thing in the long run as by the final few mouthfuls truth be told I was struggling, shovelling in squares of dough through drawn-out gulps of Fyne Ales' Double Disco #2 (£4.85).

It was immature of me, really, to turn an innocent enough pub pizza review into some sort of gross eating challenge, but such is life.

The duck pizza was good by the way, but any more extensive review would be tainted by the way it was eaten.

If I'm to be unbiased you cannot say the pizzas at The Flower Pot are "better than those in Rome" or, really, than those at the excellent Vesuvius Restaurant on the other side of town, but, to be fair, I don't think they ever intended to be.

What I would say is that they are great, well-priced (especially on half price Pizza Club night) and the perfect accompaniment to a nice mid-week pint at a pub which is flourishing - even on a Wednesday!

A poodle in a cool coat
A poodle in a cool coat

Out of five:

Food: As pub pizzas go, top drawer. I'm aware of at least one pub that flogs Iceland versions at 600% mark up. Good luck to them but The Flower Pot clearly doesn't do that. Not better than Rome but I could eat the sweet potato every day *****

Drink: In my humble opinion the best choice in town *****

Decor: Proper pub with modern twists like the screens ****1/2

Staff: They were very pleasant. One reassured me a slightly tangy end-of-the-barrel pint "wouldn't kill me" but was very happy to replace it *****

Price: In this day and age £4.45 for a very nice pint is four-star-worthy. Thanks to half price Pizza Club night, which I think I have mentioned, the pizzas were half price and therefore five-star-worthy but I think, generally speaking, the full price of £12.50 is towards the steeper end ****

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