Looking every inch a historic watering hole, with a wealth of interesting features and traditional architecture, the Woolpack Hotel, right at the heart of Tenterden, was just too inviting to pass.
Walking past the sign for a secret garden we entered through the side door and stepped over the junk mail which had landed in front of the log store. Although none of the fires were alight when we were in we were immediately met by the atmospheric smell of old wood smoke.
We waited at the bar for a little while before anyone came through and I would describe the welcome as courteous, rather than polite or friendly.
Faced with a couple of more unusual options on tap I sampled both – Jakes 4.3% IPA and Cellar Head’s 3.8% session pale ale.
In the end I chose the former as it had a smoothness and a slight nuttiness which suited my Saturday lunchtime mood, though I also made a note the Cellar Head was easily good enough to be my next pint.
Mrs SD wasn’t able to go for her usual as someone had already drunk the bar dry of Sauvignon Blanc and, although it was drier and slightly less fruity, she reckoned the Pinot Grigio was a decent substitute.
The next decision was food and, having considered both the main menu and lunch bites, we decided upon a pair of ciabattas – at £22 the pair, they weren’t cheap but I loved the sound of a chargrilled bavette with pickled shallots and Kentish blue cheese and Mrs SD can’t resist a Cumberland sausage.
We needn’t have worried about the price though as my order was met with a short, sharp: “We don’t serve any of that on a Saturday”.
After a little deliberation, and again considering the price, we decided to share a portion of halloumi fries, pork cheeks and fish cakes – these, I’m pleased to report, were available.
While we waited for the food we considered our surroundings and agreed the low, beamed ceilings with traditional stone, or heavy wooden floorboards are exactly what you’d expect to see in a 15th century pub like The Woolley.
The trendy lightbulbs and green paint (see previous reviews for explanation of green/grey paint) have obviously been added more recently but also look good. However, there are a few bits of frippery Mrs SD took exception to and she insisted I took a picture of ‘the complete nonsense’ which had been placed in a small jar as a table centrepiece – such things don’t offend me personally, but she was adamant.
The food arrived reasonably quickly and everything was extremely tasty.
The halloumi fries were served with spiced mayo and the fishcakes with tartare sauce, the pork cheeks were accompanied by some lovely bits of light crackling. It was all hot, very flavourful and there was plenty for the two of us – the total cost was £21.50.
By this time the manager had taken up position behind the bar and, with his impressive, flowery shirt (he assured me he owns 35 similar shirts), and even more impressive beard, made an immediate impact as the staff brightened up measurably.
The bars at the front of the pub had filled up considerably so as extra folks came in for lunch they were shown through to the larger dining room at the back.
Having eaten, I took a wander around and discovered the secret garden at the back of the pub behind the car park.
Empty, unsurprisingly on a slightly chilly February lunchtime, it is a decent-sized area and I can imagine it is buzzing on warmer summer days.
There were plenty of folk passing in and out of the pub and when I checked with staff they informed me all the hotel rooms were taken and it was quite a busy weekend.
I saw several signs promoting Six Nations rugby games as well as a number of others advertising future live music gigs.
A part of the Balfour Hush Heath Estate at Staplehurst, there are seven other pubs in the group, dotted around the south east – each promoting and selling Balfour wines and Jake’s beers.
Each venue has been carefully selected and I’m sure The Woolpack is well-loved with many townsfolk as well as visitors, though I can’t help feeling it’s better suited to a one-off special occasion, rather than a regular watering hole.
The Woolpack Hotel, 26 High Street, Tenterden TN30 6AP
Decor: I loved the low beamed ceilings and traditional floors. I also thought the whole place was beautifully decorated, but Mrs SD insisted one star had to go for the table decoration! ****
Drink: I sampled both the IPAs available on draught before starting with a pint of the Jake’s 4.3% ale and followed it with an equally good session IPA from Flimwell-based Cellar Head. The Sauvignon Blanc was sold out, but the Pinot Grigio was a good substitute. ****
Price: The Jakes IPA was £5.50 and the Cellar Head session IPA a fraction less at a fiver. The large Pinot Grigio was £8. We chose three dishes from the ‘Nibbles’ menu - halloumi fries £6.50, pork cheeks £8 and fish cakes £7. **
Food: The dishes weren’t our first choice, but all three were extremely tasty and well presented. ****
Staff: There were plenty of staff on duty and, whilst they couldn’t be described as effusive, they were effective and courteous. The bar was left unattended occasionally but the turnaround in the kitchen was much better. ***
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