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Secret Drinker reviews the Grove Ferry Inn at Upstreet, near Canterbury


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Copulating dogs, a barmaid armed with an axe, a verbose postie and a mountain of Halloween paraphernalia - it was one of those days you just don't forget in a rush.

The Grove Ferry, sitting right on the bank of the Great Stour River in Upstreet, could offer visitors the perfect setting for lunch at a country pub.

Grove Ferry Inn,Grove Ferry Road, Upstreet, Canterbury
Grove Ferry Inn,Grove Ferry Road, Upstreet, Canterbury

Bumping over the railway crossing you need to drive round the bend and pull into the entrance to Grove Ferry picnic area to get to the pub’s car park.

At first I wasn’t sure we were in the right place as it looked more country house than pub and didn’t have a sign but fortunately the world’s chattiest postman turned up right on cue to usher us through the door.

Once in there was a brief cheery welcome from both landlady Jaine and hubbie John – although neither was going to lose concentration on what they were doing. He didn’t dare take time off from sorting out the Halloween decorations and she appeared pre-occupied behind the bar.

There were a multitude of other staff around, I counted at least seven at one point, all dressed head-to-toe in black, but only two ever seemed to be doing any real work. John. As I’ve already mentioned, John was No.1 decorator and totally obsessed, everything else fell to waitress Jaimie while the rest drank, nibbled crisps or chatted.

John, hidden behind Terry the Tarantula, puts up another Halloween decoration
John, hidden behind Terry the Tarantula, puts up another Halloween decoration
The only space that had so far avoided a Halloween makeover was the large tropical fish tank in the front bar
The only space that had so far avoided a Halloween makeover was the large tropical fish tank in the front bar

There was no sign of real ales and none were mentioned so I settled for a pint of Bear Island pale ale and Mrs SD went Sav Blanc.

Despite the place already looking like a trick or treat dungeon John continued adding light-up spiders, monster cobwebs and giant talking skulls while Jaine sat centre bar.

Waitress Jaimie came over to take our order – brie bites to share as a starter, a Spaniard pizza for me and a scampi with chips and peas for Mrs SD, she also asked if the tartare sauce could be switched for mayo. Not a major issue, but unfortunately this message didn’t get through to the kitchen.

The food wasn’t too bad but certainly wasn’t as warm as it might have been and wasn’t presented as well as it could have been.

This is The Spaniard pizza – chorizo seasoned with smoked paprika, herbs and garlic, pecorino sheep’s cheese, peppers, Parmesan and oregano. The cheese made it a little dry but it was tasty enough and filling
This is The Spaniard pizza – chorizo seasoned with smoked paprika, herbs and garlic, pecorino sheep’s cheese, peppers, Parmesan and oregano. The cheese made it a little dry but it was tasty enough and filling
Mrs SD’s scampi, chips and peas took her back in time when they arrived in a red plastic basket – she hadn’t had a meal served this way for many years
Mrs SD’s scampi, chips and peas took her back in time when they arrived in a red plastic basket – she hadn’t had a meal served this way for many years

At this point one customer refused to order lunch as she said she couldn’t eat with dogs around but Jaine informed her it was a dog-friendly pub and that was just the way it was.

The starter arrived swiftly, delivered by Jaimie of course, as no-one else moved.

Terry the Tarantula, with his red flashing eyes, was looking menacing over the bar and the mini skull on the windowsill nearest me was clearly noise activated and it cackled along with Jaine at regular intervals.

Just about every inch of the pub is currently filled with Halloween decorations
Just about every inch of the pub is currently filled with Halloween decorations

At this point yet another staff member, meandered into the bar to pick up a small chopper and wandered out again – I wondered if it might be part of yet another elaborate Halloween decoration or costume but my mind was put at rest when she harmlessly reappeared with a box of kindling.

But, it was the serving of our mains that coincided with the most bizarre entertainment.

Another couple eating at the table next to us had brought along their faithful mutt, a rescue dog from France, who had until now laid obediently at their feet.

However, the introduction of blond dog Bonnie aroused Gallic urges and a copulating dog show was allowed to continue uninterrupted for the next 10 minutes. It only ended when John decided enough was enough and broke away from decorating to dampen the ardour.

The arrival of Bonnie, the golden retriever sparked ‘animal urges’ in a visiting French male dog. The bonding session was allowed to continue for far too long before John stepped in and I’ve spared your blushes by not including more explicit shots!
The arrival of Bonnie, the golden retriever sparked ‘animal urges’ in a visiting French male dog. The bonding session was allowed to continue for far too long before John stepped in and I’ve spared your blushes by not including more explicit shots!

Having rushed through my pizza I took a break from the sideshow with a walk in the garden.

This must be one of the biggest pub gardens anywhere and runs right alongside the river - it must be spectacular in the summer.

I spotted a lovely little electric boat moored up right outside the pub but river trips are only available at weekends in October and this was a midweek lunchtime so no escape for me.

Back inside, Mrs SD had finally managed to gain the attention of one of the army of non-working staff and was ordering a chocolate fudge cake.

Now we’re into October, river trips on the electric Ellen Mary are restricted to weekends only
Now we’re into October, river trips on the electric Ellen Mary are restricted to weekends only
Like the starter we shared a pudding. Though I only remember a couple of spoonfuls of chocolate fudge cake coming my way
Like the starter we shared a pudding. Though I only remember a couple of spoonfuls of chocolate fudge cake coming my way
The fence running down the side of the pub garden is directly against the path at the side of the river with boats moored all the way along
The fence running down the side of the pub garden is directly against the path at the side of the river with boats moored all the way along

We hadn’t been asked if we’d like another drink despite having empty glasses for an age, but on my travels I’d overheard someone being offered a pint of Late Red so made a determined effort to get some service.

It seems this autumn special was available on cask in the back bar so, having enjoyed this deep red richly-flavoured ale previously, I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately this particular pint didn’t live up to memory and although it packed a fair bit of flavour it was nowhere near as good as other Late Reds I’ve sampled.

The waitress with lengthy lashes and even longer nails actually got up off her bar stool for the first time to serve our pudding but was quickly back in her seat and reaching for a bowl of crisps.

Fortunately, for once, we had time on our side and, as well as not being in any rush, were able to laugh off hugely inattentive staff and highly over attentive hounds but other customers may be less understanding.

The outside garden area is absolutely immense with a mass of picnic tables that stretch right into the distance. There’s a boule pit on one side and a couple of table tennis tables
The outside garden area is absolutely immense with a mass of picnic tables that stretch right into the distance. There’s a boule pit on one side and a couple of table tennis tables

The facilities, like most things, just felt they could be presented so much better. I certainly wouldn’t say the gents were filthy or smelly but they were a little tired and uncared for in areas.

This could/should be a much better pub in what is a spectacular position, but ill-directed staff and frankly average food meant our visit fell far short of expectations.

A start would be slightly less concentration on mass decorations with more thought spent on service levels, food and drink.

Sadly, as we left, the landlady started making plans to order more Halloween frippery.

Just a little tatty and uncared for really – the gents, like so much in the pub, could do with a little more TLC
Just a little tatty and uncared for really – the gents, like so much in the pub, could do with a little more TLC
After the recent rainfall the grassed area in front of the pub car park has been turned into a little bit of a mud patch
After the recent rainfall the grassed area in front of the pub car park has been turned into a little bit of a mud patch

Grove Ferry Inn,Grove Ferry Road, Upstreet, Canterbury CT3 4BP

Decor: Much, much too much emphasis on Halloween when concentrating elsewhere could make the place so much more inviting – there is a stack of potential here. **

Drink: It was just the usual Shepherd Neame suspects, until I overheard a conversation about Late Red. Sadly this 4.5% autumn special wasn’t at its seasonal best. **

To the left of the pub there is another large space – the lodge is currently set up to be used as a conference room
To the left of the pub there is another large space – the lodge is currently set up to be used as a conference room
The BBQ and pizza station were not in use but I imagine they’re busy in the summer
The BBQ and pizza station were not in use but I imagine they’re busy in the summer

Price: A large white wine was £6.30 and a pint of pale ale £4.35. The scampi in a basket was £9.95 and the 12 inch pizza a pound per inch. Brie bites cost £5.95 and the fudge cake £6.95. ***

Staff: There were stacks of staff milling around but the majority did very, very little. *

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