Hidden away off the beaten track, The Redstart at Barming is not a pub you’re likely to come across by accident, although that’s exactly what I did.
I’d turned up North Street because of traffic lights on the A26 into Maidstone and was looking for a cut through to Hermitage Lane but, having discovered what might be a hidden gem, I pulled in for a swift pint.
My first impression was it all looked very glitzy, dare I say, almost chintzy. There’s no arguing it’s not well maintained and spotlessly clean, but the decoration reminded me of one of those fancy mobile homes on a posh caravan site.
It’s also much more restaurant than pub, but there were still three guys at the bar, all perched on immaculately upholstered stools, enjoying a pint – even their accompanying mutt was allowed a stool.
I took a seat under a chandelier where I had a good view of all the witty sayings on the wall opposite and listened while these three guys began putting the world to rights.
They clearly feel this place is an oasis protected from more unpleasant surrounding areas and unwelcoming boozers – it certainly has plenty of CCTV protection. Maidstone itself, literally just down the road, was quickly written off as a complete dump and best avoided if at all possible.
Hits Radio, displayed on the screen on the wall, was playing gently in the background and the guys moved on to discuss caravan holidays so, having entered the realm of true Middle England, I decided to order a Wadworths 6X - a decent tasting bitter, if slightly flat, with a good deal of nuttiness to it.
The master caravaner settled his weekly tab ahead of his hols but in response to dog owner Tom’s question as to whether he was having another produced the fastest 'yes' I had ever heard.
I left them to it, took my pint and headed through the side bar to check out the garden area at the back, which turned out to be extensive.
Again very well maintained and ordered, there is something of a hidden, secret garden feeling here too with a children’s play area and an arched doorway in the hedge leading to a pathway at the back.
One old boy, heading home via the secret doorway, stopped long enough to tell me the ‘new’ owners had worked wonders here and really turned it around from the ‘dodgy’ boozer it used to be. I later found out ‘new’ owners (Kasia and Edriss) have been in place more than a decade so they might have made major changes but not exactly an overnight turnaround.
Becia, the barmaid from Poland, has been here since the day they took over 12 years ago and says it’s as good a place to work as anywhere.
There’s clearly been an emphasis on encouraging families but the ‘heaven’s waiting room’ tag was probably more apt while I was in – and I can’t remember another pub where a punter walked in and hung his straw hat on a peg at the door.
Further exploration revealed a slightly tatty looking petanque track but I’m assured it is still fully operational and anyone is free to use it, you just need to bring along your own boules.
I also discovered a blackboard with a whole list of cocktails available for £6.95 and a smoking area with very similar plastic flowers to inside and more decorative lights.
I went back in through a different door and, as I was passing, took advantage of the facilities. The gents haven’t received the same glitzy makeover as the rest of the pub and are a little more old fashioned, but the urinals did feature colourful mats and there was a plastic orchid on the windowsill in the cubicle – generally very fresh and clean.
Back inside, Becia brought the caravan conversation to a conclusion by discussing the poor production performance of her allotment and the dog who’d previously been content on his stool decided he heard enough and insisted it was time his owner Tom and his caravan loving pal made tracks.
I too decided my journey had been delayed long enough for all this gardening/camping chat and headed for the door, passing as I did a board advertising a Thursday steak night with two sirloins for £30 and the straw hat which seemed to have been forgotten altogether.
The Redstart, 70 North Street, Maidstone ME16 9HF
Decor: Glitzy, bordering on chintzy, the trendy grey paint is supported by plenty of floral patterns, mirrors, plastic flowers and fairy lights. **
Drink: There’s a good selection of beers and lagers available and the bitter I selected was a decent pint. Maybe next time I’ll try one of the cocktails on offer. ***
Price: My pint of Wadworths 6X cost me £4.50. Those choosing the increasingly popular lager of current choice, Madri, were paying £5.10 but cocktails are probably the best value at just £6.95. ***
Staff: Becia’s done a dozen years behind the pumps at The Redstart, so it must be a decent place to work and there was a good relationship between the staff and regulars. ***
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