Published: 11:30, 24 July 2020
| Updated: 12:20, 24 July 2020
Meeting a mate in Aylesford, I thought I had the perfect opportunity to visit the Little Gem, which I seem to remember held the distinction of being Kent’s smallest pub.
I’m sure I’d read somewhere it had been bought and done up ready for a reopening earlier this year. However, peering through the old door and greeted by clouds of brick dust it was apparent the builders are still in. I’m not sure what’s caused the hold-up or when this little beauty might welcome punters again but it’s certainly not open yet.
Undeterred I headed further up the High Street to The Chequers which has also undergone a massive facelift, but reopened earlier this month.
The Covid regs are written so large, and carefully, on the outside of the pub they almost look like blue plaques.
No booking was required so having used the auto hand sanitizer machine at the cleansing station we were straight in. There was a little confusion over tables so we decided to try a seat on the new wooden benches overlooking the River Medway.
There was just time to take in the view, gaze enviously at the pub boat and receive a paper menu and a pint before the rain set in and we were forced inside.
I took my pint of 4% Betty Stogs with me for fear of it becoming watered down and found a table in the dry – each one is identified by the empty bottle sitting on it, ours was Sharish Gin. Unfortunately the Skinner’s Brewery’ pint was a fairly flat affair – the Stogs is not the dog’s!
This privately owned free house has been done up completely during lockdown (as many places have) and is owned by the same people who’ve got the Hengist restaurant in the village and the Walnut Tree in Yalding.
For me it’s gone just a fraction too twee and, as a result, moved into a price range that’s also a fraction too high to justify.
Yes, the decoration looks great and I’m sure both the wonderful fireplaces will be brilliant roaring away in winter. I also appreciate that whilst they couldn’t resist the trendy-looking, ineffectual light bulbs they avoided the temptation to buy in a whole stack of restored chairs without a single one matching. No, I can report the chairs are all the same and very comfortable.
But, a good deal of the character and heart to this place, that I fondly remember, has been lost. It’s been replaced by funny sayings written on the beams and hiked prices.
Don’t get me wrong, I bet a lot of locals will love it and it will prove a huge success, but I already knew Sir Winston said: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me”. I wonder if this will now need to be overwritten, in light of Churchill’s questionable past?
This said, our waitress with the ginger ponytail, was very pleasant and helpful and having decided the ‘lighter bites’ on the menu offered the best value we ordered halloumi fries, pigs in jumpers and skinny fries. On the menu, the halloumi was a fiver (although we were charged £6.50), the pigs in jumpers £4 and the skinny fries £3. I have to say the portions were very generous.
The barman was chatty too and also sported a ponytail - Mrs SD declared him very well-spoken. He agreed with me about Betty being unimpressive and recommended a Gamma Ray.
There was then a bit of trouble with the pump, but when this fresh 4.5% IPA from Beavertown arrived it was a huge improvement and worth the wait.
The music level was sensible and when Harry Styles came on the song was almost immediately changed, so there’s clearly a level of good taste. He was replaced by Keep it Simple, Matoma and Petey, featuring Wider Woods.
The new-look low-beamed Chequers is uncluttered by fruit machines, dart boards, quiz games, pool tables or even a jukebox.
It was quite busy for a lunchtime and I counted four staff in the bar so they’ve clearly been busy since lockdown ended.
If you’re a fan of the industrial look then you’re going to love the gents – I’ve never seen so much corrugated metal work and even the paper towels and toilet rolls are stored in metal cages.
Obviously having been completely re-done, they were fresh and clean.
The Chequers has been busy since re-opening and I’m sure it will continue to be a great success – you pays your money and takes your choice.
The Chequers Inn – 63 High Street, Aylesford ME20 7AY
Decor: They’re clearly very proud of the renovations, as confirmed by the barman who said as much. It certainly looks slick and cared for, but I fear some of the character has been lost. ***
Drink: Like many similar places, they place a good deal of emphasis on the gins but a good selection of other drinks are available. The Gamma Ray IPA was an excellent pint. ***
Price: The burgers and pizzas are in the £12/£13 range, so we went for the ‘while you wait’ range at £4/£5. The Gamma Ray was £4.90 and a large glass of white wine £6.50. **
Atmosphere: For a lunchtime it was busy and while social distancing makes chatting difficult, there was a reasonable buzz. ***
Staff: Both sporting ponytails, our barman and waitress did everything they could to make us feel welcome. ***