If you visit another pub and get any closer to the sea than this be careful your pint doesn’t end up with a salty tang.
The Zetland Arms near Deal is right on the shoreline and once you’ve parked on the pebbles you face the decision of either sitting on the beach with your drink or watching the waves from the front window of the pub. With all that healthy salt air constantly hitting the front of the building it’s not surprising the paintjob needs refreshing occasionally and it is currently covered in scaffolding so the painters can reach every inch of this 1863 pub.
The weather was great for my visit and there were even several hardy swimmers sitting at the beach picnic tables to enjoy a drink prior to taking a refreshing dip.
However, we’d spotted a free window seat and couldn’t resist taking a look inside, so walked past the piano on the other side of the door and snaffled one of the best seats in the house.
There was gentle jazz music playing in the background and just glancing around it’s clear there’s been a major facelift and I love the utility furniture and traditional seaside decorations. The walls are rough-boarded and everything is full-on shabby chic, with plenty of rustic cushions loosely slung onto pew-like benches and dried flowers in colourful glass bottles on each table.
We’d already decided we were eating so our drinks, a large Sav Blanc and a pint of 5% Bishops Finger, were ordered from, and served at, the table, along with a trendy looking bottle of table water.
Our waitress was friendly, knowledgeable and encouragingly upbeat – she was also very busy, as the lunchtime service had suddenly got very hectic and I was glad we’d got our order in early.
Most people come here to eat and I didn’t see anyone on a bar stool, or even sitting at a table to just enjoy a pint.
The trendy welly brigade was arriving in force and came straight in off the beach, with assorted spaniels and cross-doodles in close attendance – all were welcomed.
There’s something of the inside of a beach hut about the pub’s decor and there’s no room for anything like darts, a pool table, a jukebox or a fruit machine, although there is that piano near the front door.
Our food arrived in the perfect timeframe - not too long for you to become over-hungry, but long enough to suggest everything had been cooked fresh.
Ordering seafood in sight of the sea can be a gamble so I’m delighted to report Mrs SD’s fried cod with citrus dressing was cooked superbly and the flaky flesh, inside the dry, crisp batter, fell apart. But, no matter how good it was, it played second fiddle to my mussels with leeks, cider and shallots – simply the best mussels I’ve ever been served in this country, absolutely superb, my compliments to the chef.
I enjoyed plenty of the water with my meal but Mrs SD, despite her positivity when it arrived, unsurprisingly hadn’t touched a drop so I left her ordering another wine and perusing the dessert menu to take a look around.
If you’d rather avoid the breeze off the sea there’s a real sun trap of a courtyard garden out back with plenty of seating available.
The gents were not missed when it came to the upgrade and they are also decorated to a high standard, again with boarded (albeit painted) walls and classic white tiles – fresh, fragrant and well maintained.
When I returned to our table, the second wine was already in hand and I was informed I had a dark chocolate mousse with sea salt on the way – apt for the location I suppose but when it arrived I was a little underwhelmed. Or at least I was before I tasted it. Again it was absolutely superb and I was forced to admit that Mrs SD had once again done me proud.
As we left, it was a clear enough day to just about make out the French coast in the distance. Mind you, further along the Kent coast, to the right, I could also see The Coastguard pub at St Margaret’s Bay which, when we visited for a review a few years ago, our phones informed us we were actually in France and charged us accordingly!
No such worries here in Kingsdown and what’s crystal clear is this is a great, coastal pub for a lunchtime visit.
Decor: Inside the full-on shabby chic makeover is complete and we loved the rough boards and seafaring decorations. Once the scaffolding is down I’m sure the exterior will look great too. ****
Drink: It was the usual selection from the Shepherd Neame stable but not all SN pubs stock Bishops Finger and it made a very pleasant change. Mrs SD also rated the Sav Blanc as a very decent drop (why was I surprised she didn’t touch the water!) ****
Price: Serving mussels as good as this, with fries and sourdough, all for £10 and a fish starter for £6 (which, with fries, was plenty for Mrs SD) would score a maximum score, but a pint was £6 and a large wine £7.50. ****
Food: My mussels were simply superb – incredibly tasty, perfectly cooked, it was obvious they use great ingredients. Mrs SD’s fish was also excellent and both our desserts maintained the high standard set. *****
Staff: Our waitress was superb from the very moment she welcomed us through the door. Knowledgeable, upbeat, friendly and highly efficient she could not have offered better service. *****
Catch up on all Secret Drinker's Kent pub reviews here
Click here to follow Secret Drinker on X
Want more Secret Drinker? Sign up here for his monthly newsletter