Incredibly open plan - that was my first impression of the Wagon & Horses at Charing, along with a feeling there were plenty of staff buzzing around behind the large U-shaped bar.
In fact, I reckon if you included the kitchen staff at this family-run free house then the staff outnumbered the punters.
Normally this would be a red flag and have me questioning whether this sort of imbalance could make financial sense in the long run.
However, two things put me at ease – first, family-run places seem to be able to carry more staff efficiently and, second, the barmaid reckons prior to us walking in it had been a busy lunchtime session.
It was certainly quieter now and there was no problem finding a table, although I think there’d be enough tables available even if a couple of coaches pulled into the car park.
There were three pumps I was interested in – Harvey’s Sussex Best, Sharp’s Atlantic and Dark Star’s Hophead. The barmaid offered me a taste test and enquired whether I would also be interested in a Beavertown Neck Oil. I explained the price normally rules this one out but she said it’s not too bad at £6 a pint. Though she did say her hubby is also partial to a Neck Oil and up in town has paid anything up to £8.20.
Having sampled the three I chose a Hophead, at under a fiver, asked for menus and took a seat by the front door.
Not that anyone would be coming in this way as it’s blocked up and, judging by the speed of the traffic on the A252 outside, this is a very sensible precaution. But, even with it locked up, you can still hear, and even feel, speeding motors as they pass.
I always think it’s a good sign when a pub is confident enough to keep the kitchen door wedged open and from where we were sitting I could see all the goings-on. Although until our order for two baguettes went through there was no action, other than the chef drinking from a bucket-sized yellow mug with the words ‘Massive Legend’ on it.
There are plenty of traditional knick-knacks dotted about, including horse brasses and several things Mrs SD’s nan used to have in her front room.
There is no pool table, dartboard, jukebox or fruit machine so you’ll need to make your own entertainment.
There wasn’t any background music playing either, although the kitchen staff had got their tunes cranked up, so if you listened carefully you’d be able to recognise every other one.
The food arrived in a timely fashion and the baguettes were served warm with a small side salad and a handful of crisps. There was plenty of filling and the bread was fresh – we were only seeking pub grub, and that’s exactly what we got.
Once we’d finished eating I took a wander around and discovered a huge pub garden with another mass of tables and chairs. I can imagine this being packed in warmer weather and there’s also a large open field area.
Back inside, I visited the gents and was pleased to find the superbly tiled toilet was impeccably clean and fresh. Generally uncluttered, there were however two frames on the wall hanging conveniently at eye level above the urinals. Not everyone will be a fan of ‘saucy’ postcards these days but I think they’re a bit of fun.
Open plan and massive, both inside and out, there is plenty of room and I suspect this is a favoured pub for dog walkers. To be fair, it was quiet when we were in but, even with upbeat friendly staff, I couldn’t help feeling it was a little lacking on atmosphere.
At times there were five or six folk behind the bar at any one time and whilst they were quick to serve customers, they were also taking time to enjoy each other’s company – it felt like a close tight-knit team.
WAGON & HORSES, FAVERSHAM ROAD, CHARING, ASHFORD TN27 0NR
Decor: It’s a little bit like your nan’s old front room, as demonstrated by the horse brasses and a variety of other decorations, but it’s also very open plan which doesn’t create too much atmosphere. **
Drink: The Sharp’s Atlantic was okay and the Harvey’s Sussex Best was a good example but the Hophead was the best of a decent selection. Mrs SD rated the wine as above average. ***
Food: The full menu was available but we were only looking for pub grub-style sarnies and chose two baguettes. They were served warm, with plenty of filling but something about the side salad and crisps reminded me of a time gone by. ***
Price: The baguettes were £16 the pair, a pint of Hophead was £4.80 and a large Sauvignon Blanc was £7. If you fancied a Neck Oil it was £6. ****
Staff: There were staff aplenty, perhaps an advantage of a real family-run boozer. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. ****
Catch up on all Secret Drinker's Kent pub reviews here
Click here to follow Secret Drinker on X
Want more Secret Drinker? Sign up here for his monthly newsletter