Having been a student in this neck of the woods more years ago than I’d care to remember there are a few pubs which hold a special place in my heart.
The Old Neptune in Whitstable is one such place so, after decades away, I decided it was time to head back to the beach and see if it’s as good as I remember.
My last visit left me with a flashback of coming to lying on a stony beach, more sunburned than I would have liked, alongside a Dutch girl called Gerda.
January 2020 in the Old Neptune was very different, but the place is incredibly dog friendly so I was accompanied by the SD hound and tied her firmly to a table leg. In fact, the place attracts so many dogs I began to wonder of it was compulsory to take a four-legged friend.
It was fairly buzzing, particularly for a Monday lunchtime, and we only just got a table. It was busy enough to have two barmaids working. One of them reckoned it was colder inside the pub than outside, but she was clearly mad and I declined her invitation to feel how cold her ears were.
When I was last here the students spilled out across the beach with their drinks and there are still plenty of picnic benches out front but, unsurprising, they were empty at this time of year. In fact, the clientele was much less student-like and more your ageing hipster types – where are my earrings and red and white neckerchief, not to mention long grey hair, when I need them?
I kept things straightforward with a pint of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale at 3.9% (when in Rome hey) and a jacket potato with chilli and cheese.
The first, and most important, part of the meal was well poured and delivered exactly what I expected – a refreshing and refined ale with just enough maltiness and fruitiness to tempt me into a second. The spud was also pretty good and arrived in a timely fashion. Unfortunately I then got carried away and ordered a syrup sponge and custard – this certainly didn’t live up to the quality of the spud or the pint and had obviously been heated in its packaging before being plonked on some of the lumpiest custard I’ve come across.
When The Old Neptune first opened in the 1850s it was converted from two cottages and has changed a fair bit over the years.
When I first visited there was a pool table upstairs and another bar but it’s now just accommodation. I also have a vague recollection of the place being badly damaged in a fire when someone left a candle unattended, but I might be wrong?
There are plenty of pictures and knick-knacks dotted about detailing the pub’s considerable history but there are also a large number of paintings and prints with price tags attached.
At this point one of the barmaids pulled on a parka jacket to pop out for a fag, which, more than anything else, date stamped both the place and her.
The food, like everything else, is traditional pub fare and is served through an old-style stable door from the kitchen.
I did hear a few rave reviews about the fish and chips, but most items looked fairly standard.
There's stripped wooden floorboards with an assortment of benches and chairs as you would expect and a number of cushions scattered about to keep the ladies happy. I particularly liked the small log burner which opened on two sides, although it wasn’t lit when we were in.
Over the years, sitting right on the beach (not near it or overlooking it, but right on it) the bar itself has developed a decent slope and, along with its polished brass pumps, adds to the nostalgic feel.
But, the uniforms of the kitchen staff, embroidered with www.thepubonthebeach.co.uk perfectly demonstrate the Neppy, as it is known locally, has moved into the modern world and taken full advantage of its unique position.
It might be a great summer pub and I’m sure we’ll be back when the weather warms up, but both the hairy hound and I enjoyed our winter visit and can recommend this as a great place to end a walk on the beach.