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Secret Drinker reviews Kent's oldest pub, Ye Olde Yew Tree Inn at Westbere, Canterbury


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Is it or isn’t it? Well off the beaten track, Ye Olde Yew Tree, near Canterbury, claims to be the oldest pub in Kent and can date its history back to 1348, but is it really the county’s oldest?

Like many boozers of this vintage it plays all the usual aces – Dick Turpin hid out here, kings and queens have stayed here and, of course, it has a selection of resident ghosts.

It’s hidden away, well off the beaten track, but it’s well worth taking a diversion to experience Ye Olde Yew Tree in Westbere
It’s hidden away, well off the beaten track, but it’s well worth taking a diversion to experience Ye Olde Yew Tree in Westbere

The Westbere inn stops short of playing the Shakespeare slept here card but does say it was converted into a hospital to treat wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

But, putting the questions surrounding 700 years of history to one side for now, what could the Yew Tree offer for a pint and a bite to eat on a Saturday night?

The car park is down a drive to the side and you walk back past a very pleasant pub garden to get to the incredibly impressive back door.

This is the back door – who wouldn’t want to visit a pub with an entrance as impressive as this?
This is the back door – who wouldn’t want to visit a pub with an entrance as impressive as this?

Whether it’s Kent’s oldest might be open to question, but the pub is certainly packed full of history.

The dark, heavily beamed interior has an inglenook fireplace to die for and floorboards that feel as if you’ve set sail on a fairly choppy sea.

You walk straight into the bar, which has a few high stools for those simply looking for a pint, but beyond it opens out into a series of open areas which are all set up for dining.

Once you’re through the bar, the rest of the pub opens up into a large dining area with separate ‘rooms’ only divided by ancient, upright beams
Once you’re through the bar, the rest of the pub opens up into a large dining area with separate ‘rooms’ only divided by ancient, upright beams

We were served quickly and led to our table pretty much straight away.

Mrs SD went for the usual Sauvignon Blanc and the apprentice chose to Oil his Neck, while I selected a pint of Wantsum Brewery’s Imperium. It turned out to be a great choice for my surroundings as the heavy, earthy, woody flavour matched the dark brown, aged beams perfectly.

The waitress with plaits, who Mrs SD was convinced looked like Sarah Pascoe, was on hand swiftly to take our order and, after what they’ve been doing in my garden recently, I ordered the salad with pigeon breast - the other two decided to share the bread basket.

I’ve been a big fan of the beers produced by Thanet's Wantsum Brewery for a little while now. Imperium wouldn’t be my No.1 choice, but it’s certainly full of flavour.
I’ve been a big fan of the beers produced by Thanet's Wantsum Brewery for a little while now. Imperium wouldn’t be my No.1 choice, but it’s certainly full of flavour.

Mine was absolutely superb, the best cooked pigeon I’ve ever had on a very fresh salad with grilled honey walnuts. The bread basket was nowhere near as exciting and arrived with only a single knob of butter.

Drink-wise I rated the Imperium but it’s not for the faint-hearted and I wouldn’t want too many.

The wine was declared top notch and the apprentice assured me the Neck Oil was as good as ever. The beer’s certainly not cheap though, a Neck Oil will set you back £6 and a Peroni a tad more than that at £6.20.

Served on a fresh salad with parmesan shavings and grilled honey walnuts, I can highly recommend the pigeon as a starter
Served on a fresh salad with parmesan shavings and grilled honey walnuts, I can highly recommend the pigeon as a starter
The bread rolls were fine and were served warm but my accomplices were a little disappointed with the lack of variety and just a small knob of butter
The bread rolls were fine and were served warm but my accomplices were a little disappointed with the lack of variety and just a small knob of butter
The first round of drinks – Mrs SD played true to form and there was no chance of confusing the Neck oil with the Imperium
The first round of drinks – Mrs SD played true to form and there was no chance of confusing the Neck oil with the Imperium

The main courses came out in a timely fashion and two of us chose the homemade cheeseburger on a brioche bun with hand-cooked chips and salad. I’m not normally a huge fan of brioche but with this particular burger (beautifully grilled and moist) it was ideal.

Mrs SD is never one to turn down the chance of a pie and reckoned this beef and mushroom variety, with a good slice of puff pastry, was a great selection.

Unlike the other pair, I know my limits and I left them to peruse the pudding menu while I took a closer look around the pub.

My main course, with the apprentice following suit, was the homemade cheeseburger on a brioche bun with hand-cut chips and salad. It was cooked perfectly and was incredibly succulent – cost £15.
My main course, with the apprentice following suit, was the homemade cheeseburger on a brioche bun with hand-cut chips and salad. It was cooked perfectly and was incredibly succulent – cost £15.
Mrs SD can’t resist a pie and declared this beef and mushroom version, with a huge slice of puff pastry, was cooked really well – there wasn’t a crumb was left - £16.
Mrs SD can’t resist a pie and declared this beef and mushroom version, with a huge slice of puff pastry, was cooked really well – there wasn’t a crumb was left - £16.

The furnishings are perfect for the place – a few tasteful horse brasses, several ancient looking lanterns and just the right number of candles.

Everything is done within reason and nothing is overdone. Though there was one thing which didn’t quite fit in – I’m not sure why but our table was just one of two which was covered by a sticky plastic tablecloth

Of course, there is no pool, no darts, no jukebox and certainly nothing as vulgar as a fruit machine, though I did spot an ancient looking wooden bagatelle.

A few traditional tankard-shaped pint pots hang over the well-stocked bar
A few traditional tankard-shaped pint pots hang over the well-stocked bar
This is about as traditional as you’ll find so there’s no darts, pool, or any other type of pub game, though I did spot this wooden bagatelle
This is about as traditional as you’ll find so there’s no darts, pool, or any other type of pub game, though I did spot this wooden bagatelle
You can’t miss the impressive history of this building wherever you look – the inglenook fireplace is stunning
You can’t miss the impressive history of this building wherever you look – the inglenook fireplace is stunning

But there was background music being played at a low level and I did spot a sign advertising a quiz night on Wednesday, May 11.

The gents are as traditionally decorated as the rest of the pub with tiles in the sorts of colours you’d have witnessed 50 years ago in your nan’s bathroom.

Though they were very well maintained, clean and fresh with several very interesting looking old signs – I’d love to know the history of Whitbread’s headless Quiet Woman free house.

This chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream was the choice of the apprentice but I made sure I got an extra spoon and it was good
This chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream was the choice of the apprentice but I made sure I got an extra spoon and it was good
The red berry frangipane was served with pouring cream and ‘someone who will remain nameless’ didn’t wait long enough for me to get a picture
The red berry frangipane was served with pouring cream and ‘someone who will remain nameless’ didn’t wait long enough for me to get a picture

I didn’t see either of the resident ghosts or anything which could definitively prove the age of the pub and cement its claim to be the county’s oldest.

What I did see was more than enough wonderful history to at least justify its right to be included on a very small, select, short list for the honour.

And, I am very happy to confirm its current standing in the modern day – it is indeed a great place to visit on a Saturday evening to enjoy a pint and a bite.

A few hardy souls were braving the early evening sunshine on the far end of pub garden but as soon as they found themselves in the shade they came scurrying back inside
A few hardy souls were braving the early evening sunshine on the far end of pub garden but as soon as they found themselves in the shade they came scurrying back inside

Yew Tree Inn, 32 Westbere Lane, Canterbury CT2 0HH

Decor: Beams, beams and more beams. Somehow the pub has just enough candles and lanterns to make it light enough. The furnishings are also exactly what you’d expect to find in such an historic inn, one star lost for our tablecloth. ****

Drink: The 4% Imperium isn’t the best beer I’ve sampled from the Wantsum Brewery, but it’s still a very decent dark beer. My accomplices were very pleased with their respective choices of Sauvignon Blanc and Neck Oil. ****

The sign demonstrating the gents was fairly straightforward, but I’m not so sure about the history of the sign advertising the headless Quiet Woman Free House?
The sign demonstrating the gents was fairly straightforward, but I’m not so sure about the history of the sign advertising the headless Quiet Woman Free House?
As traditional as the rest of the pub, the gents look a little old fashioned but they were extremely well maintained, clean and fresh
As traditional as the rest of the pub, the gents look a little old fashioned but they were extremely well maintained, clean and fresh

Food: The pigeon starter was the real star of the show but the cheeseburgers were also superbly cooked and beautifully presented. Mrs SD put her beef and mushroom pie fairly high on the pecking order too. ****

Price: My pint of bitter was £4.40, but the Neck Oil was £6 and Mrs SD’s medium sized (that’s a first) Sav Blanc was £5.50. A Peroni is £6.20 and a Moretti £5.80. **

Staff: It was reasonably busy but we were still well looked after and everything was delivered in good time. ***

A couple of covered outdoor areas looked very inviting but personally I’ll want the evenings to get a little warmer first
A couple of covered outdoor areas looked very inviting but personally I’ll want the evenings to get a little warmer first

Join the debate: Is the Yew Tree really Kent's oldest pub?

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