Once the centre of Kent’s wool trade, the pretty village of Bethersden, sitting between Ashford and Tenterden, has a more recent claim to fame as host of the farmhouse featured in Darling Buds of May.
We hadn’t visited before so decided to take pot luck and just set off.
I spotted a sign for The George on the main road so took the next right turn and, having meandered through the village, the pub hoved into view.
Sadly it was quickly clear pints have not been pulled here for many a moon so we drove on.
Back on the A28 it was only a matter of seconds before we spied another pub, a Shepherd Neame house, The Bull.
Unfortunately, although we did make it as far as the bar this time, we weren’t able to get a table here either as the barman made it clear the kitchen was understaffed and he couldn’t accept ‘walk-ins’.
So, we hit the road again and, after a couple of minutes, pulled into the extensive car park at the Pig and Sty where we hoped it would be a case of third time lucky.
On this occasion we got past the bar and, at the entrance of the restaurant, requested a table for two.
Clearly stressed beyond belief our ‘greeter’ was dismissive at best and said he hadn’t really got any tables and even if he had we’d have to wait an hour-and-a-half for food.
Despite this less than friendly welcome we were hungry and finally persuaded our cheerless host to allow us to sit in the bar.
Compared to the packed, feeding frenzy in the massive eating area at the back the bar area was relaxed and easy going.
I closed the wide open window, firstly because it was a little chilly and secondly because the place had an aroma to match its name.
Of course, the pub can’t be blamed for farmers spreading muck on their fields.
After all this is a rural pub in a rural setting and it’s about as natural as it comes, but the smell was there all evening and proved overpowering at times.
Not to be put off we got a food order in immediately – a pie and a pizza, even before ordering the drinks, a pint of Curious Brew for me and the usual for Mrs SD.
There were stacks of staff, all in black uniforms with yellow badges, buzzing around like busy beavers but either they weren’t properly organised or were over-run.
I managed to get a barman’s attention just long enough to order food at 7.15 and hoped our greeter was either being overly pessimistic or just trying to get rid of us.
I filled the time taking in the surroundings. The bar has been given the full trendy fit out with copper pipes, flashy lightbulbs, black and white tiles and very impressive floorboards (so good, you have to look very closely to see they’re plastic).
The music switched across to Wet, Wet, Wet but fortunately the food arrived, in just 25 minutes, and it was pretty darned good.
The pizza wasn’t all that warm, but it was fresh and well cooked. The pastry in the pie was a little dry, but the vegetables were very fresh and the gravy was tasty.
The Pig and Sty is part of the Elite Group and is one of 13 pubs on the company books, although it is currently looking to sign up number 14.
I greatly admire the group’s enthusiasm and positive approach, but I am concerned it doesn’t run before it can walk and take on more than it’s able to handle.
Okay, this was a busy Saturday evening, and I know it’s tricky getting staff numbers right, but service wasn’t very good and certainly didn’t come with a smile.
Being completely fair, in soccer parlance, this was a visit of two halves – when it was busy in the run up to 8, staff seemed so pressured they didn’t even have the time to be polite.
However, once things quietened down, they were far more approachable, helpful and generally pleasant.
There are some nice touches, a fruit bowl on the bar, pictures of pigs on every wall, logs lining the porch entrance and exposed brickwork but it still feels more like a restaurant than a pub.
And, unless they staff up, or reduce covers to a manageable level, I fear the desire to make profit could outbalance the ability to deliver a quality dining experience.
The Pig and Sty, Ashford Road, Bethersden, Ashford TN26 3LF
Decor: *** The bar is incredibly trendy and the various eating areas superbly maintained, though it does feels more like a restaurant than a pub. Personally I’m glad we had to eat in the bar.
Drink: *** There is a good selection of drinks available and they were well kept and served. I saw a good few cocktails being ordered as well as several trays full of speciality gins.
Price: ** A pint of Curious Brew was £5.50, a large white wine £9.75, the pie was £15 and a quarto stagioni pizza £13, though I did pay an extra quid for pepperoni.
Staff: ** Very much a case of a game of two halves. Later on the staff were friendlier and more approachable, before 8 o’clock they were pretty darned rude and wouldn’t have got a single star.