The best things come in small packages, or so they say. And, they also say the best things in life are worth waiting for.
Well, being as snug as it’s possible to be and making thirsty locals wait 10 years to get their hands on a decent pint, the Little Gem in Aylesford can lay claim to both.
I last popped into Kent’s smallest pub a couple of decades ago and, despite its slightly dishevelled and disorganised character, absolutely loved it.
So, given the challenges it has faced and the labour of love required to re-open its doors, could it possibly live up to its history and deliver the same delightful charm?
I entered tentatively, not just because I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but also because I still remember smacking my head on the low door 20 years ago.
But I needn’t have worried, either I’ve shrunk with age, become a lot more sensible or just wasn’t in quite the same hurry to get to the bar.
And, judging by the incredibly warm welcome, the familiar layout and the same stunning, no-nonsense beamed interior I didn’t have to worry on this score either – the place has lost nothing of its original appeal.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say a truly wonderful little pub has, if anything, been inched nearer to perfection.
Of course, being taken over by the Goachers brewery was always going to be a massive plus as serving decent beer will always help and the lucky folk of Aylesford, who haven’t poked their head through the door yet, are in for a treat.
I was in, straight from work, on opening day and immediately ordered a pint of dark – not only was it sensibly priced at £3.30 but I was also tickled to be given the choice of a jug, and, have it served on a beermat – heaven.
Of course there is no frippery of any kind to be found here – no pool table, no darts, no fairy lights, no jukebox, no TV screen, no games, and above all, no pretension at all. As a result, even socially distanced as we still are, everyone talks to each other and shares their thoughts about the day – I chatted with several couples, one lovely family and even listened to my new pal Greg’s views on skewed beams and old electric bikes.
I sat right bang in the centre of the pub on one of four stools – as I perched my buttocks on the seat it slipped slightly to one side.
It was at this point I realised I was now at exactly the same angle as the wonky miniature table around the central beam. I was also at the perfect angle to note there’s hardly anything straight in the entire place, which only adds interest and joy.
Three folk were behind the bar at one point or another and main man Ollie marshalled Lindsay and George to perfection.
All were happy to chat and, most importantly, you can tell all are thrilled to be working here.
When Ollie joked he had presents for them and gave them keys to the pub you could sense their delight (with absolutely no sense of irony at all).
Lindsay (I hope this spelling is right) assured me the table wasn’t on a slant the day before but I told her being out of whack just improves it.
By now I’d moved on to a pint of the Silver Star, just 10p more, which was, in my humble opinion, even better than the first brew I sampled.
In fact, listening to the murmurings around the place not only are locals delighted their pub has been saved, they’re doubly happy the Goachers family are the people who did the saving.
Ollie left at this point, just about managing to avoid bashing his head on the way out, and I took the opportunity to have a chat with Lindsay and George.
Her commitment to the place is obvious and she even helped clean the pub from top to bottom ahead of opening day. George plans to move into the place and explained that once the flat above the pub is finished he’ll be taking up residence – those sitting in the gallery will be right alongside his bathroom.
All this chat made me thirsty so I ordered up a pint of the Fine Light, an amber ale clocking in at 3.7%.
This may well have been the tastiest of the trio but it was just a fraction too cool for my preference.
A few folk had left by now but they were quickly replaced by other locals interested to experience or re-experience the Gem’s delights.
One little lad in his school uniform came in and proudly announced it was his first visit. It must have been as he wouldn’t have been born the last time it was open.
And another couple sat down side by side on the bench seat at the back, with both of them ordering up pints – you should have seen the look of disappointment on her face when she was incorrectly served with a half.
Her other half quickly made sure she got a full pint next time and when she popped to the loo explained: "The Hobbit can get a bit lairy if she’s not looked after properly".
Wisely I decided such domestics were not for me and having tried all three brews currently on tap bid everyone a pleasant evening and, following a brief chat with Lindsay about the new till’s technical challenges, headed into the cooling evening rain.
I’m sure there are many, many folk out there with a favourite story to tell about their visits to the Little Gem in years past. Well, my advice is to get along and recount your tale whilst you pop in and enjoy the latest chapter.
Oh, one last thing, I’m told Ollie loves his pets so although there were none in on opening day, room will be made for four-legged friends.
The Little Gem, 19 High Street, Aylesford ME20 7AX
Decor: I give this one five stars, but serve warning to Lindsay if she levels up that table as she’s suggested I’ll have to knock it back down to four! Can’t wait to see the fire blazing in winter. ****/*
Drink: The Fine Light was just a fraction too chilled for my liking, the Dark was excellent but the Silver Star was an absolute delight. Get yourself along for a Goachers very soon. *****
Price: All under the £3.50 mark, I enjoyed three great pints for just a smidgeon under a tenner - £3.20 (Light), £3.30 (Dark), £3.40 (Silver). I’ve no idea what the wine costs as Mrs SD was nowhere to be seen. *****
Staff: You can just tell all the staff are excited to be working here – happy staff = a great pub. *****