Fancy a day on the ocean wave? There can’t be many pubs closer to the sea than this one – look out of any one of nine large windows and you could almost be on a boat.
Perfectly positioned on a corner plot of Western Esplanade with the sea visible on two sides, the Hampton Inn is pretty unique in many ways. Many a pub can claim to be the ‘heart of the village’, but this one near Herne Bay is the village. It’s the only remaining building in Hampton-on-Sea - a Kent village that was engulfed by the sea and abandoned at the turn of the 20th century.
The pub is unquestionably the jewel in the Shepherd Neame crown.
And the friendly landlord, sat squarely at the bar with a large glass of red, was quick to sing the praises of his brewery.
But, before you can sample the delights this SN boozer has to offer you’ve got to get into the place. A sign on the door reads ‘please push hard’ and believe me they’re not kidding. Add the sea breeze to the weight of the door and the strength of the hinges and it’s useful if you were once a prop forward.
A second sign says: ‘My name is Alexi and I live here! I am very friendly and love to make human and furry friends, however, I may announce your arrival with a friendly bark!’
Sadly there wasn’t so much as a woof from Alexi for my entrance but everyone else on both sides of the bar was incredibly welcoming and vocal.
With the coastal path right outside, a free car park just paces away and spectacular scenery all around it’s hardly surprising this is a top choice for walkers and the pub is often packed with pooches. When I was in there it was just the landlord’s keeshond, two aging labradors and unlucky for some, the pub’s black cat.
There are plenty of bar stools and a few high tables for those seeking just a drink but the majority of tables were set with smart red and white tablecloths.
The two barmaids, both dressed in matching aqua blue polo shirts, the pub uniform and colour of choice, were efficient, chatty and bubbly.
The whole place is decorated with furniture and knick-knacks that would slot right into a beach hut, but it looks great and is obviously a cared for pub. The gents, like the rest of the place, is meticulously maintained.
The landlord and landlady, who showed up later and was equally smiley, have been here for three years and have stamped their mark on the place. But it’s those sea views which mark it out as special.
We had an interesting chat about the other pubs in and around Herne Bay and it was fascinating to hear local views of the Ship Inn at the far side of town and, more specifically and their thoughts about Enterprise Inns (the largest pub company in the UK), which weren’t great. It’s probably no surprise, but their support for Shepherd Neame was warm and sincere.
By now it was a little after two and a couple of real workers, a fellow in a Heritage Building Preservation shirt and his mate Reece popped in for a well-earned pint. The main man was on Guinness, the mate stuck to lager.
I tried all the beers on tap and whilst the Lacons Charter and Master Brew were perfectly fine and well-kept the 4.1% Spitfire Gold was by far the best.
The barmaids took a short break from serving tables to order themselves chips, though keeshond Alexi made sure he got his share.
There is a solitary fruit machine and a shelf full of board games but no sign of darts or pool. This is a pub without TV screens and without other unnecessary distractions.
It doesn’t need them – it has unrivalled views and provides a fantastic, welcoming haven by the sea to meet and make friends. It’s everything a great pub should be.