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Secret Drinker reviews the The Dolphin pub Canterbury and Woody’s Student Union bar at the University of Kent


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It was like stepping back in time as I persuaded my apprentice to join me for a pint at The Dolphin in Canterbury.

The last occasion I was in here he wasn’t even a glint in my eye but this time he ordered a pint of the black stuff and immediately questioned the choice of music.

I don’t remember everything about this St Radigund's Street boozer from my last visit but it’s definitely undergone some changes in 35 years.

It might look similar from the outside, but how much has The Dolphin, on St Radigunds Street, Canterbury changed inside in 35 years?
It might look similar from the outside, but how much has The Dolphin, on St Radigunds Street, Canterbury changed inside in 35 years?

I can’t deny I was often more than a bit merry on student pub crawls, but even through the haze I distinctly remember three college mates all getting up from the one side of a picnic table at the same time to leave me sprawling and covered in half a dozen drinks.

That garden was a simple grassed patch at the back of the pub then, now it’s a sophisticated, well-designed full-on outside area that can accommodate an army of drinkers all year round.

On a slightly damp Kent afternoon anyone braving the garden was appreciative of the various covered areas
On a slightly damp Kent afternoon anyone braving the garden was appreciative of the various covered areas
The outside of the pub has also received a facelift relatively recently and there’s an area to one side for barbecues
The outside of the pub has also received a facelift relatively recently and there’s an area to one side for barbecues

Anyway, back to the current day, forget for a minute the SD apprentice had never heard Always by Bon Jovi and then, having checked his phone, informed me these soft rockers never even had a UK No 1.

He’d selected Guinness but I chose a pint of the 3.8% Hophead from the Dark Star Brewery in Sussex, and, what an absolutely fantastic pint it is – packed full of flavour, it punches well above its weight and is incredibly moreish.

We received a very warm welcome from both barmen and selected a sturdy looking wooden table at the front with a vase of daffs and a board advertising the quiz night.

There were plenty of good options available but I’m very glad I decided to try the 3.8% Hophead from the Dark Star Brewery.
There were plenty of good options available but I’m very glad I decided to try the 3.8% Hophead from the Dark Star Brewery.

There are now wooden floorboards throughout and plenty of trendy light bulbs and, as you might expect, a good number of equally trendy Canterbury folk sporting colourful berets and flashy body warmers. However, the pub manages not to feel snobby.

But it’s outside where The Dolphin really shines, the garden (much of it currently covered) is fantastic and when the tents come down and the umbrellas go up I’m assured there will be plenty of live music on offer too.

There’s no pool, no darts, no jukebox, the background music is the right level and there are plenty of those ‘humorous’ pub notices: ‘No entry to the kitchen, unless you’re washing up’; ‘No glasses beyond this point, so start chugging’; ‘Good food, good drinks, good times, staff are alright too!’.

The latest makeover at The Dolphin included plenty of trendy lightbulbs and fittings – the colourful sign behind the bar previously graced the Thomas Becket pub
The latest makeover at The Dolphin included plenty of trendy lightbulbs and fittings – the colourful sign behind the bar previously graced the Thomas Becket pub
There were plenty of tables set for dining and the majority of people in were regulars who eaten here several times before
There were plenty of tables set for dining and the majority of people in were regulars who eaten here several times before

The gents, while smaller than I was expecting, was decorated floor to ceiling with traditional white tiles and was perfectly maintained.

The only colour on view appeared in strategically placed road signs though I can report the hand drier was far better than most and the checklist was filled in meticulously.

Back in the bar, whilst there were several folk in for a quiet drink or two, a larger number were in to dine and the vast majority appeared to be regulars giving the food a large thumbs up.

Bright and welcoming, most of the tables at the front of the pub, complete with their vases of daffodils, were taken by folk just in for a drink or two
Bright and welcoming, most of the tables at the front of the pub, complete with their vases of daffodils, were taken by folk just in for a drink or two
Each table was carefully wiped down as soon as anyone left – whether this is due to Covid or just good customer practice, it’s refreshing as tables in the last few pubs I’ve visited haven’t been wiped down from one day to the next.
Each table was carefully wiped down as soon as anyone left – whether this is due to Covid or just good customer practice, it’s refreshing as tables in the last few pubs I’ve visited haven’t been wiped down from one day to the next.

However, just before we left a couple looking for a table for two were turned away as the kitchen closes at 5pm on a Sunday. The barman helpfully recommended nearby pub The Poet as its kitchen stays open until 8pm.

Having harked back to my youth I felt duty bound to share even more of my student experiences in Canterbury with my offspring.

So, we headed straight to Origins which, in my day, was simply known as the Darwin College Bar at UKC. Whether this should count as a pub review is questionable but as it was closed on a Sunday evening the question was redundant anyway.

Instead we ended up in Woody’s Student Union bar on Parkwood.

Stepping back in time - Now called Origins, this is the entrance to the venue I knew as the Darwin college bar. Sadly closed on a Sunday evening
Stepping back in time - Now called Origins, this is the entrance to the venue I knew as the Darwin college bar. Sadly closed on a Sunday evening

In my time at the uni we only had the old Oast House but they now have a sports bar offering burgers, fries, wings, skins and nachos - it is a world apart.

Again, whilst I enjoyed this trip back in time (even though this modern bar perfectly highlights the missing three-and-a-half decades) I’m not sure it should be entitled to a pub review.

Just for completeness, a pint of Pravha was £3.30, a Punk IPA was a student-wilting £5.50, a double vodka Red Bull is a fiver, there’s a pool table and Sam Fender, who the apprentice and I agree about, was being played at a just about manageable level.

With the college bars closed on a Sunday we were advised the only place on campus to get a pint was Woody’s sport bar. It was busy enough but not overcrowded
With the college bars closed on a Sunday we were advised the only place on campus to get a pint was Woody’s sport bar. It was busy enough but not overcrowded
Totally deserted on a Sunday evening, there was absolutely no-one to be seen in the entrance to Darwin College. I don’t remember it being this quiet when I was here
Totally deserted on a Sunday evening, there was absolutely no-one to be seen in the entrance to Darwin College. I don’t remember it being this quiet when I was here

All things considered, it’s probably best just to leave the students to their own devices and get yourself along to the modern day Dolphin – as the guy who fitted my new shed recently said: “It has to be the best pub in the city right now”.

The Dolphin, St Radigund's Street, Canterbury CT1 2AA

Decor: Stripped wooden floorboards throughout and daffodils on every table. Inside it’s trendy and inviting but it’s the garden, much of it covered, that is really impressive. I’m not sure why a Nerf gun is mounted on one wall in the dining room? ****

Drink: Absolutely loved the pint of 3.8 per cent Dark Star Hophead – a wonderfully hoppy and flavourful session beer. I shall return to sample more delights. *****

Price: All pints cost in the region of a fiver – Guinness £5.10, Dark Star, Hophead £4.95, Red Stripe £5.10. A 4-pint pitcher will cost you £18. Not cheap, but not too bad for top end, trendy Canterbury (according to the apprentice). ***

Staff: The barmen, who were both courteous and highly efficient, still found time to share a conversation or two with their regulars and weren’t afraid to join punters sitting at a couple of tables in the dining area. *****

Adding a splash of colour, this large Pimm’s sign is right at the back of the garden
Adding a splash of colour, this large Pimm’s sign is right at the back of the garden
A pair of perfectly presented pints. The apprentice went for a Guinness but when he tasted the Hophead was quick to agree he might have been a little hasty in his selection.
A pair of perfectly presented pints. The apprentice went for a Guinness but when he tasted the Hophead was quick to agree he might have been a little hasty in his selection.

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There’s another tented area at the rear of the outside area, again with plenty of picnic tables available
There’s another tented area at the rear of the outside area, again with plenty of picnic tables available
It was locked up tight during our visit, but I assume this gate is unbolted at other times and can be used as an alternative exit from the pub – assuming you’ve already chugged your drink
It was locked up tight during our visit, but I assume this gate is unbolted at other times and can be used as an alternative exit from the pub – assuming you’ve already chugged your drink
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