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Secret Drinker reviews The Coastguard pub at St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover


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Last Saturday I headed for St Margaret’s at Cliffe, near Dover, purely because I’d seen a couple of pictures and fancied a look around.

Sadly it took the rest of the SD family so long to get ready by the time we arrived it was pitch black so I put my foot down and insisted we head straight for the pub – so much for sightseeing.

It was a busy Saturday night so although we did stop in for a drink they didn’t have a table for dinner at The Smugglers on High Street, St Margaret’s at Cliffe
It was a busy Saturday night so although we did stop in for a drink they didn’t have a table for dinner at The Smugglers on High Street, St Margaret’s at Cliffe

The first place we spotted was lit up on the High Street, so having found a free car park we picked our way back along the dark road and into the bustling Smugglers Inn.

A quick march to the bar, and I soon had a pint of Flanders Field in my hand. Created by Greene King in conjunction with the British Legion, it was first brewed to mark the centennial anniversary of the end of the First World War.

This time a contribution went to this year’s Poppy Appeal, which has to be good, and the beer wasn’t a bad drop either.

However, Mrs SD and the apprentice now declared they were hungry and, as The Smugglers couldn’t offer us a table, I reluctantly led the team back into the darkness.

Vowing to stop at the first pub we saw, little did I realise I would be in France before another drop touched my lips!

Reaching the sea’s edge we parked and headed back up from the beach to the beacon of light I now know to be The Coastguard in St Margaret’s Bay.

Lit up like a beacon in St Margaret’s Bay, The Coastguard, right down on the beach, is the closest English pub to France
Lit up like a beacon in St Margaret’s Bay, The Coastguard, right down on the beach, is the closest English pub to France

Looking nautical enough to be piped aboard, we entered through the porthole-style entrance and received a lovely greeting from a bright, upbeat barmaid.

She said they did have a good few bookings but could fit us in so we took a barrel table in front of the bar.

A glance across the taps told me it was a Shepherd Neame pub but all our mobile phones informed us we were on French soil and all calls/texts would be charged accordingly.

The apprentice was so shocked he almost switched his phone off.

It’s safe to say the apprentice was not happy to be told he faced international charges on his phone
It’s safe to say the apprentice was not happy to be told he faced international charges on his phone

I selected a pint of the 5% Five Grain lager which was fresh and well balanced – I’m also led to believe it’s made with French hops so that’s appropriate too. The apprentice played safe with a Bear Island IPA and Mrs SD had a large Runnymede Island Sauvignon Blanc.

The drinks arrived in a timely fashion and we ordered up starters – one baked brie to share and a portion of halloumi fries for his nibs.

These weren’t particularly cheap but were tasty enough and made a fair start to our meal.

For a starter Mrs SD and I shared a baked brie, served with bread, rocket and drips, for £6.25 and it was fine
For a starter Mrs SD and I shared a baked brie, served with bread, rocket and drips, for £6.25 and it was fine

We loved the way the place has been decorated and the pub’s position just up above the beach is fantastic. But, just as we were singing the pub's praises and planning a summer visit in the sunshine the main course arrived. Seldom has the SD clan been in such agreement about anything but our disappointment at what we were served was unanimous.

Perhaps made worse by having our expectations dashed so badly, there could be no hiding our dismay when the plates arrived.

I’d gone for the fish and chip (£13.95) which weren’t too shabby but Mrs SD’s ambitiously named ‘Moving Mountains veggie burger’ (£12.95) couldn’t have looked more listless or unappetising. The apprentice’s meal, the Cajun spiced chicken burger (also £12.95), was identically as bad and just as limp and average.

Mrs SD and the apprentice both went for burgers. The former opted for the veggie version and the latter a spiced chicken variety – both were priced at £12.95, both were very disappointing
Mrs SD and the apprentice both went for burgers. The former opted for the veggie version and the latter a spiced chicken variety – both were priced at £12.95, both were very disappointing

Mrs SD did her best but said it was the most tasteless, slippery thing she’d had in a long while and, shock horror, the apprentice didn’t eat his either - now him not clearing his plate, I assure you, is a first and particularly telling.

I must be fair and say the sad state of the food was a world apart from the quality of service, which was great. We were given a warm welcome and looked after from the moment we walked in.

When we expressed our concerns about our mains we were thanked sincerely for our frank feedback and supplied with a couple of free puddings.

These were better and did ensure we were at least left with a feeling the staff wanted to do their best.

The two puddings both came free, this one is the Black Forest cheesecake. The apprentice had a Bailey’s chocolate mousse
The two puddings both came free, this one is the Black Forest cheesecake. The apprentice had a Bailey’s chocolate mousse

After visiting the gents I did briefly get the chance to look upstairs and the first floor balcony, which looks out directly onto the bay, must be great in the daylight.

The toilets, however, were at a lower level and felt a good deal damper and colder than the rest of the place– maybe they were missed off the decorator’s list when the pub last received a once over?

To sum up, whilst the location is idyllic and the potential for this pub considerable, they are failing in many key areas. The food is overpriced and what is being served is extremely underwhelming. However, if the kitchen could be taken in hand and standards improved it could be excellent.

On a positive note, everyone at The Coastguard displayed a very up-beat attitude and the management needs to build on this positivity while it can.

The bar area is fairly small and inside the pub is set out much more with diners in mind, rather than folks popping in for a quick pint
The bar area is fairly small and inside the pub is set out much more with diners in mind, rather than folks popping in for a quick pint

The Coastguard, Bay Hill, St Margaret’s Bay, Dover CT15 6DY

Decor: An interesting nautical feel all round befitting of the pub’s coastline location but, whilst cosy and warm enough, I can’t help feeling this one comes into its own when the sun shines. ****

Drink: The Five Grain had a fresh, full flavour and is a well-balanced pint of lager. The Bear Island IPA (4.8%) went down well and Mrs SD said the wine was absolutely fine. ***

Food: The starters were okay and filled us with expectation for the rest of the meal. Sadly,the less said about the mains the better. The free puds weren’t too bad but couldn’t rescue this culinary calamity. *

Price: The large glass of white wine was £7.70, a pint of Five Grain lager was £5.10 and a Bear Island IPA £5.20. Two starters cost £13.75 and two burgers and a fish and chips cost a total of £39.85. *

Staff: I cannot fault the service in any way from the moment we walked through the door until we left. The barmaid and waitress were attentive, knowledgeable, pleasant and approachable. *****

Behind the bar at the side is a store area – it didn’t seem to be fitted with a door
Behind the bar at the side is a store area – it didn’t seem to be fitted with a door

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The gents felt a little bit cold and more than a little bit damp – at the very least they could do with a deal of freshening up
The gents felt a little bit cold and more than a little bit damp – at the very least they could do with a deal of freshening up
Just outside the toilet there was a selection of black and white photos showing the history of the area
Just outside the toilet there was a selection of black and white photos showing the history of the area
The pub seen on a summer's day, when (I would imagine) you may even be able to spot France on the other side of the Channel
The pub seen on a summer's day, when (I would imagine) you may even be able to spot France on the other side of the Channel

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