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Secret Drinker reviews East Malling pub the King & Queen and the North Pole in Wateringbury


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The wait’s been driving me crazy, but we’re finally allowed back in the pub, well the garden at least. And, having been so patient I couldn't resist the chance of a Secret Drinker two-for-the-price-of-one.

A snowstorm before lunch, a sunburned face cutting grass in the afternoon and a couple of pints in the garden, the pub garden that is – thank the Lord the world’s back to normal.

The King & Queen faces onto the road, but you need to find your way round the back to get in
The King & Queen faces onto the road, but you need to find your way round the back to get in

Magic pub-opening Monday had me working in West Malling so Mrs SD and I simply headed into the first boozer we came across, the King & Queen in East Malling.

Entry was round the back, down a narrow passageway and in through the garden, a bit tricky to find, but once in everything was straightforward.

All the various regulations were met and after signing in we were shown to a picnic table right under a deceptively powerful speaker.

Like everything else, the entrance to the pub follows all the rules and you’re encouraged to sanitise
Like everything else, the entrance to the pub follows all the rules and you’re encouraged to sanitise

Our order was taken promptly and the drinks arrived in a timely fashion – a large Sauvignon Blanc for her and a pint of Harvey’s for me.

All was fine with each group of folk sitting sensibly at one of a dozen or so wooden picnic tables covered, in most cases, by a Strongbow umbrella.

Dogs were allowed in, as were children, and a couple of cars with Simon Miller stickers emblazoned across them showed estate agents were also welcome – very easy to spot, I’ve never seen three people look more like estate agents.

The tables at the King & Queen are evenly spaced and the vast majority have a Strongbow umbrella just in case the heavens open
The tables at the King & Queen are evenly spaced and the vast majority have a Strongbow umbrella just in case the heavens open
The Harvey’s at the King & Queen looked great and tasted as good as it looked – one of the best I’ve sampled
The Harvey’s at the King & Queen looked great and tasted as good as it looked – one of the best I’ve sampled

The long-awaited beer was a decent pint and the wine passed my good lady’s rigorous taste-test, which hasn’t been seen in public for many, many months.

We might have stayed for a second but having already had Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl inflicted upon us, Toto’s Africa on full volume proved just too much.

And, when the bill arrived, revealing the price of a large wine for the first time, I realised I’d made the right decision to leave after one - this must be the most expensive glass of wine outside The Smoke.

The gents have obviously been included in the full lockdown makeover and were clean, fresh-smelling and very smart
The gents have obviously been included in the full lockdown makeover and were clean, fresh-smelling and very smart

Following the strict one way system I paused briefly to visit the gents and was impressed by the redecorating job, the same blue as the rest of the pub, very smart tiles.

Predictably the doors are clearly marked for kings or queens and there didn’t seem to be a queuing system in place.

The pub has adapted fairly well, but is certainly cashing in.

A view of the garden over the fence from the King & Queen car park – there are stacks of spaces to the front, back and side of the pub
A view of the garden over the fence from the King & Queen car park – there are stacks of spaces to the front, back and side of the pub

Pub number two was perfectly matched to the morning weather – the North Pole is just a mile or two away from the K&Q but is officially in Wateringbury.

Each separate table is fenced off and the whole place is superbly laid out and organised.

At the front door you book in and are allocated a table. The waitress took one look at Mrs SD and said I’ve got the perfect spot for you – it turned out to be the ‘dog garden’, I decided not to comment!

Each area in the North Pole garden is clearly defined and you are directed straight to your specific area
Each area in the North Pole garden is clearly defined and you are directed straight to your specific area

The draught beer here was Youngs which was perfectly fine but didn’t have quite as much flavour as my first pint.

The wine was declared to be very similar to the first glass, except for the vastly different price!

This is a place which has risen to the current challenges and produced a pub garden experience which is excellent. Each area is separated off and there is full size, adjustable parasol over every table to protect you whatever the weather.

You don’t walk all the way in, but you need to approach the North Pole front door to book in
You don’t walk all the way in, but you need to approach the North Pole front door to book in

Not only this, but there’s a full box of wonderfully snuggly blue blankets – and, if you’re wondering, yes I did, I’m old enough not to care what I look like.

There was a ‘strictly no smoking’ sign, which was accompanied by the words ‘gas tank in garden’ so hopefully even the most ardent nicotine addicts will comply.

Our waitress was very friendly and chatty despite working a double shift and said she couldn’t believe how many steps the new garden system was making her do.

Every table has a full box of freshly laundered blue blankets, to avoid your fingers and toes turning the same colour
Every table has a full box of freshly laundered blue blankets, to avoid your fingers and toes turning the same colour

By her own admission already thin, she said she was worried she’d turn into a stick and should definitely have worn her watch.

My response was to order two packets of crisps and received the best packet of salt and vinegar I’ve ever tasted.

Don’t worry about the name, this North Pole’s adapted to ensure both a warm welcome and a warm stay.

The salt and vinegar crisps at the North Pole were so tangy I wasn’t even able to concentrate on taking a decent photo!
The salt and vinegar crisps at the North Pole were so tangy I wasn’t even able to concentrate on taking a decent photo!

THE KING & QUEEN: 1 New Road, East Malling ME19 6DD

Decor: The whole pub has had a makeover and when you get the chance to move inside in April you’ll see they’ve made a pretty good job of it. ****

Drink: Mrs SD declared the Sauvignon Blanc passed the taste test and my Harvey’s was one of the best examples I’ve sampled. ****

Price: WOW! A 250ml glass of wine for £10.95, that’s just plain crazy. A pint of bitter will set you back £4.60. *

Food: This one will need to wait for another visit once we’re allowed back inside.

Staff: Friendly, helpful and efficient – all the staff were on top of the new rules and arrangements right from day one. ***

Work your way to the back of the King & Queen and you’ll discover this alleyway through to the garden
Work your way to the back of the King & Queen and you’ll discover this alleyway through to the garden

NORTH POLE: 434 Red Hill, Wateringbury ME18 5BJ

Decor: I didn’t get to see that much of the inside of the pub, but the garden is laid out superbly. ****

Drink: The Youngs is a reasonable pint and the Sav Blanc also stood up to the challenge and passed the taste test. ***

Price: Much more reasonable, the total bill for a large wine, pint of bitter and two packets of great crisps was just £11.40 – now that’s better value. *****

Food: The meals looked great but I was heading home for dinner so it was just a snack for me – very tasty. ****

Staff: Chatty, upbeat and, despite all the exercise she was getting, declared she was delighted to be back working. ****

The gents at the North Pole were clean and fresh, complete with the obligatory social distancing sign
The gents at the North Pole were clean and fresh, complete with the obligatory social distancing sign

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