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Secret Drinker reviews the Halfway House pub at Challock, near Ashford


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How long is it since you’ve had a pickled egg? In my case it’s been a long, long time, although I’ve never forgotten the golden rule – don’t, under any circumstances (no matter how drunk you are) buy the last one in the jar.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself with all this culinary reminiscing. The Apprentice SD and I had found ourselves a little off the beaten track, due to another bloomin’ weekend closure of the A249, so popped in to wet our whistles at the Halfway House in Challock.

The entrance to the Halfway House in Challock is less imposing from the side bordered by the car park. It sits on a crossroads with a car dealership opposite.
The entrance to the Halfway House in Challock is less imposing from the side bordered by the car park. It sits on a crossroads with a car dealership opposite.

I’m not quite sure why, but something about the entrance from the car park reminded me of a Little Chef but once we were through the door the fire had just been lit and the pub felt warm and welcoming.

Landlord Jason happened to be behind the bar as we walked in and stepped up to serve us immediately – the apprentice was intrigued by the Guinness pump and does occasionally opt for a pint of the black stuff, but had also spotted an even bigger favourite on tap, so went for a Curious Brew (4.4%) from just down the road in Ashford.

I’m not quite sure what I was thinking, or wasn’t thinking, and chose a pint of London Pride, 4.1%. Not surprisingly the Pride can’t compete with Curious Brew on taste, but I have to say it was nothing like as watery as I remember it.

The central bar area is bright and inviting enough – if you’re a gin lover then there’s certainly plenty of choice
The central bar area is bright and inviting enough – if you’re a gin lover then there’s certainly plenty of choice
The open fire at one end of the main bar had just been lit but the leather chairs out front were already in use so we found ourselves a pair of stools instead
The open fire at one end of the main bar had just been lit but the leather chairs out front were already in use so we found ourselves a pair of stools instead

We sat at a barrel on a couple of high stools and took in our surroundings. As I say, an open fire had already been lit and at the other end of the room the fireplace was decorated with fairy lights – probably the best use for them.

The rest of the place is decorated pleasantly enough and there’s a reasonably-sized area set aside for younger children to play safely inside. Though any decent kid worth their salt will insist on visiting the outside play area with proper swings etc – this is sensibly positioned away from the pub at the bottom of a decent-sized garden.

Back inside Jason was telling us the super-charging Guinness tap, which can power up four phones at once, would have set him back £180 but fortunately the rep just happened to have a ‘free’ one in the back of his van.

The Guinness pump has four charging points available for use by customers who need to boost their phone power
The Guinness pump has four charging points available for use by customers who need to boost their phone power

Service at the bar now fell to barmaid Sammi and she’s clearly more suited to sales than the boss as when I purchased a couple of packets of crisps she jumped in 'eggcitedly' to recommend a pickled egg, insisting they are the best around. This claim, she says, is partly down to the pickling process but mainly due to the fact a ceramic hen called Vera looks after them behind the bar!

Another, shall we say ‘more senior’ barmaid called Julie admitted to the existence of Vera the hen but then, in more hushed tones, said Sammi is really the special one, adding: “We only let her work Saturdays.”

Either way the sales pitch worked, as not only did I sample a pickled egg for the first time in a decade, I went on to try a balsamic one by way of comparison too. The apprentice was completely appalled by now and busy making plans to sit at least three yards away from me for the rest of the day.

I’d already reintroduced myself to the joys of a pickled egg by the time I was persuaded to sample this slightly more exotic, balsamic vinegar version.
I’d already reintroduced myself to the joys of a pickled egg by the time I was persuaded to sample this slightly more exotic, balsamic vinegar version.
At the back of the pub there is a decent sized paved area with a covering over a large part of it to keep the worst of the weather at bay
At the back of the pub there is a decent sized paved area with a covering over a large part of it to keep the worst of the weather at bay

There is no pool, no darts, no fruit or quiz machines, no jukebox or any other electronic nonsense to concern you – but, as I explained to the apprentice, that’s the reason we spoke to a number of the drinkers – and why I allowed a slightly batty barmaid to slip me a couple of eggs.

By now Sammi had moved to the empty bar at the back to polish cutlery and when the music shifted to Celebration by Kool & the Gang began singing along enthusiastically.

Though she stopped chirruping when it shifted to You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. The apprentice reckons this was because she wouldn’t want to be accused of singing along to a song from Ice Age – I’m not sure he’s got that quite right.

I chose the pickled egg route, but for those wanting something a little more substantial the menu is chalked up on a large board over the fireplace
I chose the pickled egg route, but for those wanting something a little more substantial the menu is chalked up on a large board over the fireplace

Chatting to Julie, she was honest enough to say there have been some serious challenges at the Halfway House in recent years. Jason took on the lease in November 2019 so the timing wasn’t great and they’ve struggled to attract good new staff. The good news is that the pub is now doing okay and the staff are turning it around but ‘the youngsters’ need a deal more training out back before they can be put front of house.

Visiting the facilities before making our 'eggsit' I struggled to differentiate between the lads and ladies as both doors were wide open.

It’s also a fraction disconcerting standing at the urinal and still overhearing the chat in the bar. For some reason there was also a sign advising me to carry my dog and hold children firmly – not advice I’ve received in the toilets previously.

It’s safe to say the Halfway House is currently a work in progress and may still only be half way there but they’re making a decent effort and are certainly willing enough – I hope they can discover the additional staff they need to succeed.

One side of a lean-to area at the back of the pub has been set aside with a number of items of play equipment to keep younger visitors happy
One side of a lean-to area at the back of the pub has been set aside with a number of items of play equipment to keep younger visitors happy

The Halfway House, Canterbury Road, Challock, near Ashford TN25 4BB

Decor: It’s not got real ‘olde worlde’ charm but the place has been thoughtfully decorated throughout and you’ve got to love a bar with pictures of both Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix. ***

Drink: What was available was absolutely fine. Curious Brew will always keep the lad happy and the Pride was better than I remembered but, as a free house, it would be good to have a few better ales. ***

Food: The crisps were fine and I have to agree that, after a break of many years, I quite enjoyed a couple of pickled eggs – even better (and Mrs SD agrees) there were no serious after effects. ***

To the right hand side of the entrance is a large dining table which can accommodate eight diners, to the left there is another large dining table bordered by a pew
To the right hand side of the entrance is a large dining table which can accommodate eight diners, to the left there is another large dining table bordered by a pew

Price: ** A London Pride was £4.50, the Curious Brew was £4.80. Crisps were a pound a bag and the eggs 50p each.

Staff: There’s no denying Sammi was the special one but Julie was also very helpful and welcoming. We only saw Jason briefly but he was doing his share and was equally pleasant. ****

Fairly old fashioned and a little tatty around the edges, the gents were however clean and pong free
Fairly old fashioned and a little tatty around the edges, the gents were however clean and pong free
The doors to both the Ladies and the Gents were left wide open, presumably a result of Covid ‘non-touch measures’? The challenge for new visitors is to decide which is which?
The doors to both the Ladies and the Gents were left wide open, presumably a result of Covid ‘non-touch measures’? The challenge for new visitors is to decide which is which?
I’m used to being given advice in the toilets these days – now wash your hands, stand closer… etc but being told to carry your dog is a first. This sign is alongside the urinals.
I’m used to being given advice in the toilets these days – now wash your hands, stand closer… etc but being told to carry your dog is a first. This sign is alongside the urinals.

Read all Secret Drinker's Kent pub reviews here

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