Even on a dark, damp evening you’re left in no doubt The George on Mount Ephraim is a good-sized Tunbridge Wells free house – you can’t miss it, it’s emblazoned across the substantial front wall.
There are plenty of tables both inside and out and, under the new regulations, we were assigned Table 1 at the front. Everything was good until another couple took their seats at Table 2, which shares a bench with Table 1 – whether he had ants in his pants or was nervous in front of his new date I’m not sure, but his constant shuffling turned the bench into an impromptu see-saw.
So, when it also started spitting with rain Mrs SD agreed to move inside and, somewhat begrudgingly, the waitress reassigned us Table 12 in the front room next to the open fireplace.
The next challenge was signing up to the app to order and pay for drinks. It seems our high street bank is not favoured by the pub’s app and it still didn’t work despite a suggestion to turn the phone horizontal before entering the details. After much kerfuffle the disgruntled waitress took pity on us and, as a one-off, allowed us to pay hard cash.
Deciphering the app as best we could I selected a pint of 6.5% Gun Zamzama, despite, rather than because, it was vegan and my good lady chose the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Whilst awaiting delivery we took stock of our surroundings and, via the wonder of modern technology checked the history of this large, imposing boozer.
It started as a coaching inn back in the 19th century but more recently spent time as a late night venue and cocktail bar. The current owners returned it to the original name and reopened it as a pub to focus on craft beer and food.
In its current incarnation the wooden floors have been stripped and repainted and many, many strings of fairly lights have been installed (please see previous reviews for my thoughts on these). There are also a large number of framed prints on the walls displaying a variety of leaves and twigs.
It’s actually very nicely done and the combination of wonderful architecture and quality furnishings left me in no doubt it would make a lovely house. But, as a pub, it has absolutely no atmosphere whatsoever.
Sure, it’s very trendy in a very TWells sort of way but it’s a major case of style over substance.
I can’t deny there is a great choice of beers and the Zamzama by the Gun Brewery from nearby Heathfield is a powerful pint, packed full of fruity flavours, but it lacks fizz. In just the same way, the pub might offer beautiful views across the rooftops of the town but it fails to create any sort of buzz.
From the totally silent and stilted bar area we heard the unmistakeable sound of laughter from the outdoor area at the back – the barman and waiter were so surprised they both went to steps to see what was going on. Keen to be part of the action we asked if we too could sit in the outside covered area.
Our request was denied as the waitress was keen to finish her shift early and the barman said he didn’t want to walk up and down the stairs too often.
We decided to give the pub a proper chance and did order second drinks – though the 3.8% Long Blonde was a massive mistake – the worst tasting beer I’ve had in many a long year. And Mrs SD was not convinced she received the New Zealand variety of wine she ordered – I really do need to get her back onto half a lager!
There’s not a great deal more to say, food’s available four days a week at various hours, dog bowls in and out suggest hounds are allowed in, the stairs to the toilets require careful navigation and when you get there you’ll find a baby changing facility in the cubicle in the gents.
In a first for me since starting to write this column, I left my pint half full and in a lifetime first, Mrs SD left her wine unfinished.
Wandering just a few yards around the corner we came across a much more down-to-earth and, in my humble opinion, a much better pub.
The Rose & Crown (Craft Union) on Grosvenor Road is clearly a pub for blokes with few airs and graces, but it was a breath of fresh air. We got a pint and a large glass of white wine for £7.60 and received a warm welcome from a barman wearing a shirt with more life to it than The George in its entirety.
If you’re thinking of popping to the George then I’d suggest you wander on round the corner.
The George – 29 Mount Ephraim, Tunbridge Wells TN4 8AA
Decor: The building itself is architecturally delightful and has been carefully decorated. The gents doesn’t hit quite the same high standard. ****
Drink: A good choice of beers and the Zamzama IPA (****) was excellent, although I wouldn’t want more than one. The Long Blond golden ale (zero stars) was like dishwater and as flat as an old pancake.
Price: The Zamzama IPA is £4.70 and the disastrous Long Blonde just 50p less. The wine was £7.35. **
Atmosphere: Out back there were some signs of life, it’s just a pity were weren’t allowed to venture out as it would have meant the barman walking down some stairs. **
Staff: Far more interested in what time they were able to leave than they were in making sure customers were well served, the bar staff just went through the motions. *