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Secret Drinker reviews Dungeness pubs The Pilot and The Britannia


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It’s the largest expanse of shingle in the world, the wind will blow you off your feet and the landscape looks like the end of the world - but there are still two pubs competing for your custom.

So, I’m delivering an early Christmas present and going double bubble this week to bring you two boozers from the most Marmite place in Kent - Dungeness.

Setting off down a wet and windy boardwalk, this intrepid visitor made it across the shingle to the sea’s edge before returning for a pint
Setting off down a wet and windy boardwalk, this intrepid visitor made it across the shingle to the sea’s edge before returning for a pint

Love it or hate it, this most southerly tip of the county is besieged by visitors braving the howling wind to experience a unique landscape and boy do they deserve a drink.

Entering the Britannia Inn, which looks more gift shop/garden shed than pub, Kim behind the bar assures me they only get weather like this two days a year – yeah, yeah!

The welcome is warm, unlike the pub, but the staff are busying themselves trying to get the radiators up to speed. Apparently the fire can’t be lit because a new, powerful extractor fan has been fitted and it sucks belching clouds of smoke back into the boozer.

The interior has a bit of a beach hut look and is more than a bit tatty, but there’s a down-to-earth honesty about the place.

A single storey building, like the majority of places in Dungeness, The Britannia, in keeping with the area, is constructed from dark wood
A single storey building, like the majority of places in Dungeness, The Britannia, in keeping with the area, is constructed from dark wood
Painted blue and white inside, with the furniture covered in striped material, there is something of a beach hut look to The Britannia
Painted blue and white inside, with the furniture covered in striped material, there is something of a beach hut look to The Britannia

The decorations look as if they came out of my nan’s house and Mrs SD said the first thing she’d do is take down the dirty St George flags hanging over doorways and give them a darned good wash.

Selecting from the list of Shepherd Neame staples I chose a pint of 4.5% Whitstable Bay Blonde and Mrs SD went the usual Sauvignon Blanc. Both did the job and were well served.

The hallway to the toilets and the facilities look as if they might have been the last thing on the decorating list and I particularly appreciated the porthole-style window in the gents. I can report they were clean, fresh and sweet smelling.

A dog-friendly place, this pooch couldn’t have been better behaved during his visit. to The Britannia
A dog-friendly place, this pooch couldn’t have been better behaved during his visit. to The Britannia
To get to The Britannia you first have to walk through an entrance area that doubles up as a visitors’ shop and an ice cream kiosk
To get to The Britannia you first have to walk through an entrance area that doubles up as a visitors’ shop and an ice cream kiosk

Back in the bar I noted that there’s no jukebox, fruitie or darts, though one light arrangement did suggest there might once have been a pool table in situ.

What I did spot, was a yellow and black whirly wheel on the wall that must have come from a greyhound track or a bookies. The barmaid said she wasn’t sure where ‘he’ had got it from but the idea was to let visiting kids use it to win prizes.

Unfortunately, like a few things, it wasn’t quite functioning properly and always ends up landing on the same number. The result is kids make do and just spin it as fast as they can.

Spin the wheel to see if you can win a prize – the trouble is, it always lands on the same number!
Spin the wheel to see if you can win a prize – the trouble is, it always lands on the same number!
There were three specials chalked up on the blackboard the day we were in – steak and stilton pudding, seafood sharing platter and a house burger
There were three specials chalked up on the blackboard the day we were in – steak and stilton pudding, seafood sharing platter and a house burger

We decided not to spin the wheel and take our chances with the weather instead as the rain had relented a little and we had another stop to make.

This next stop was the second pub perched on ‘the UK’s only desert’ and it was immediately clear this place is used to being a good deal busier than our previous port of call.

This single storey building proudly proclaims it was created from the timbers of the 1633 Spanish vessel Alfresia, which was wrecked nearby, though this isn’t immediately apparent.

What is clear is The Pilot, and all its staff, are far more commercially aware than anything or anyone at our first stop.

Built to withstand the vagaries of the local weather, legend has it The Pilot was first constructed from timbers taken from the wreck of The Alfresia in 1633
Built to withstand the vagaries of the local weather, legend has it The Pilot was first constructed from timbers taken from the wreck of The Alfresia in 1633
Fully timbered throughout, even The Pilot's specials board is listed across a ship’s wheel
Fully timbered throughout, even The Pilot's specials board is listed across a ship’s wheel

It’s specially created logo can be seen everywhere – on T-shirts, the menus, mugs that cost £6, even the cutlery sleeves. And the waitresses and bar staff are all keen to sell the place but no-one is sure exactly where, if anywhere, the surviving timber from the Spanish wreck can be found?

The local Romney Marsh Brewery has joined forces in creating several beers for the place and I decided to try a B17 Sleepytime Girl. This 5% American pale ale isn’t a showstopper but it was a big step forward from my previous pint and left a decent slightly hoppy aftertaste.

The Sauvignon Blanc also received a strong thumbs up from ‘Er Indoors and with a combined cost of £11.40 the drinks didn’t quite break the bank.

The B17 Sleepytime Girl American pale ale is specially brewed for The Pilot by Romney Marsh Brewery
The B17 Sleepytime Girl American pale ale is specially brewed for The Pilot by Romney Marsh Brewery
There are plenty of tables available and very soon after taking this photograph the vast majority were taken.
There are plenty of tables available and very soon after taking this photograph the vast majority were taken.

For food we selected a broccoli and stilton soup each, which came with chunky bread and butter – this I must say was excellent, just creamy enough with a good strong taste of the blue cheese running through it.

I decided it would be rude not to sample the Baileys cheesecake so close to Christmas but by some strange quirk of fate this arrived with two spoons – and, one mouthful was gone even before I managed to get a picture to show you. I can report this one also achieved a top mark of approval.

The full menu has plenty of choice on it though unsurprisingly there is a leaning towards the pub’s speciality of fish and chips. A large portion, which did look massive, will set you back £15.95 but you can choose from plaice, cod, huss, haddock or skate.

The broccoli and stilton soup was served with large chunks of crusty bread and butter
The broccoli and stilton soup was served with large chunks of crusty bread and butter
Serving the Baileys cheesecake with two spoons was not my idea – and I didn’t take the first spoonful before taking the picture!
Serving the Baileys cheesecake with two spoons was not my idea – and I didn’t take the first spoonful before taking the picture!

The facilities were fine and had been maintained fairly recently but the futuristic hand drier, with its flashing blue lights, did give off an unfortunate aroma.

As you’d expect by now the place is festooned in Christmas decs, all of which look a good deal newer than at our previous venue, and whilst Yuletide tunes are perfectly reasonable in December I could have done without a double playing of Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child.

The Pilot is much better organised and run than The Britannia and as a result must get many, many more feet crossing the threshold but I couldn’t help feeling there is an element of style over substance. This said, it was where we chose to eat at The Pilot so draw your own conclusions.

The End of The Line. This is the modern, renovated station for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, probably the best way to travel to Dungeness. (53767061)
The End of The Line. This is the modern, renovated station for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, probably the best way to travel to Dungeness. (53767061)

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The Britannia Inn, Dungeness Road, Dungeness, Romney Marsh TN29 9ND

Decor: In need of some freshening up, there is a limit to how far you can take shabby chic and the decoration is now looking very dated. *

Drink: The Whitstable Bay Blonde is as good here as it is anywhere else but it’s no show stopper. Mrs SD put her wine in exactly the same bracket and, unlike outside, it could have done with being a tad cooler. **

Food: I can’t score this one as we didn’t eat. Although the fellow on the table next to us reckoned his fish and chips were the best available locally.

Price: It was a straight fiver for the lager and £6 for a large glass of white wine – the former is a little overpriced, while the latter was probably fair. ***

Staff: Welcoming enough and chatty without being over-attentive – mainly because they were more interested in getting the radiators functioning. ***

In keeping with the nautical feel, you have a great view of one of the lighthouses through a porthole window in the gents
In keeping with the nautical feel, you have a great view of one of the lighthouses through a porthole window in the gents

The Pilot Inn, Battery Road, Lydd-on-Sea, Romney Marsh TN29 9NJ

Decor: Comfortably furnished all round with lots of wood and plenty of nautical paraphernalia. ****

Drink: Created specially for The Pilot by the Romney Marsh Brewery, the B17 Sleepytime Girl American pale ale, 5%, is a decent enough drop. ***

There is a model of the Spanish ship Alfresia which was wrecked off the Dungeness cost in 1633. Legend has it locals used rescued timbers to build The Pilot pub.
There is a model of the Spanish ship Alfresia which was wrecked off the Dungeness cost in 1633. Legend has it locals used rescued timbers to build The Pilot pub.

Food: The broccoli and stilton soup, served with chunky bread, hit the spot on a chilly day and the Baileys cheesecake was creamy and melt-in-the-mouth. ****

Price: The soup was £5.95 and the cheesecake £6.95. Obviously known for fish and chips, they cost £13.95 for a medium and £15.95 for a large (a ‘senior’ portion is £9.50). The pint and wine totalled £11.40. **

Staff: Efficient without being too effusive, they might not be able to locate an original timber but they know it’s commercially important to maintain the legend. ***

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